Getting established in the US is a serious entrepreneurial challenge with two crucial points that should not be overlooked: you need sufficient funds and a presence in the country.
Nine months have passed since we came back from Myrtle Beach.
Although the Las Vegas show wasn’t a failure, the huge success of the Myrtle Beach show made us realize how important local shows could be.
So, we decided to invest in no fewer than four shows by the end of this year, and as we still aren’t in a position to hire anyone or delegate that responsibility, for the time being, we have to be there ourselves. We are still being supported in this by Business France, a key partner for anyone wanting to set up shop in the US.
On our schedule for this next trip were the board sports show and meetings that had been set up by Business France as part of a commercial push focusing on Florida.
Olivier and I therefore set out for Miami, ready to conquer Orlando’s Surf Expo show.🏄♂️
Surf Expo is a twice-yearly show (September and January), with the September show being oriented toward the Caribbean. Attendees are mainly from the world of board sports, owners of surf stores or gift stores. Exhibitors offer targeted products, from surfboards to counter display products by way of surf and beachwear.
We found our stand, after some trouble caused by a few last-minute hiccups, just to make our day a little more interesting. The layout of the stand wasn’t how it was originally supposed to be as our sign hadn’t arrived and we had a table that wasn’t the right size. Nothing too serious, but little details that had us running from pillar to post when we hadn’t a minute to spare.
By the end of the afternoon, our stand was ready to welcome the board sports enthusiasts we wanted to show Callvin’s products and brand off to.
Our space was PERFECT!
And the cherry on top, something worth knowing about American trade shows, new exhibitors get a special spot, right in the middle of the show, to exhibit their products.
We had a clear goal for the show: to meet brands as fun and quirky as our own and set up some promising partnerships for the future.
On the first evening, our plans went awry. Isabelle Tran, the President of the French American Business Council of Orlando (FABCO), brought forward the date of our dinner, which had originally been scheduled for the following day.
She was accompanied by Olivier Monard, the Vice-President of FABCO, who also fits in running an aircraft sales company.
Their status is primarily honorary. It’s a voluntary personal commitment to facilitate business development and relationship building for French and American companies: https://fabco.us/about/
We always enjoy the opportunity to tell our story and talk about how we got to where we are today. Isabelle is an investor who takes a keen interest in everything. Above all, she’s full of good advice. We are still learning and finding out new things about this business culture that is so different from our own.
Isabelle, of course, came to see our team and discover our products.
Thursday, September 7 was the big day when the show opened.
The show was buzzing, and we were more determined than ever to make Callvin a star on the American stage.
As with every show, the first day was all about getting the lay of the land, for attendees and exhibitors alike.
We made the most of it and got to know our neighbors…
Before we left for this trip, among the 200 exhibitors, we’d chosen around thirty brands—some well known, others less so—with good-looking designs. They were mainly T-shirt brands, but there was also an underwear brand. We’d made up some samples with their logo on, and it turned out, by total chance, that @shinesty, the underwear brand in question, was right opposite our stand.
We had a great marketing idea to suggest to them: a customized condom in every pack of underwear with the same design.
They put up an Instagram post which gave them a good idea of the enthusiasm our product can generate.
The second day, things started getting more interesting!
Orders started flowing in, and we sensed real excitement about our brand and products.
People stopped to talk about them and laugh about them, and nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd…
We were also lucky enough to meet the founder of HUGE, a remarkable brand, who is going to become a customer.
He loved the quality of our printing and wanted to come to us for his future orders.
An unexpected connection, but one that will likely be HUGE!
Jackie, our US associate, was the one who sought out the 30 brands we’d carefully selected. They included Billabong, O’Neill, Hurley, and others.
When she came back, we got to hear the feedback she’d received, and it was more than positive. The brands loved the quirky approach and laughed over it with their neighbors. The enthusiastic welcome our products received was simply incredible!
As the Americans put it “It’s soooo Amaaaazing!” … But would they be open to our main goal, turning the condom into an actual piece of merch?
Over that second day, we were pleased to bump into some of our customers, including one of our very first customers in the US. Now we’re working with around twenty stores in Florida alone.
We also caught up with Daniel, our famous Myrtle Beach customer! He was delighted with our products and wanted to put our display stands in his other stores too.
To end the day, we had the pleasure of a dinner with Gabriel and Claudia, future partners we’d met in Las Vegas.
They’d come to see us when they were visiting France, and since then, they’d opened their home and their hearts to us. Proof, if ever it were needed, that you can mix business and friendship.
On the third and final day of the show, we decided to get there well before opening time.
It’s a quieter time, ideal for taking another look around the show and dropping in on our prospects.
We could see that they really liked our approach. Nevertheless, they were there to sell and not to buy. That kind of deal could be struck after the show.
That last day was the best in terms of turnover. Customers took the time to come see us, and some of them had been to see us every day of the show.
A lot of firm orders were placed on the last day, which meant we ended on a real high.
That September show was oriented toward the Caribbean Islands, and we were pleased to get a foothold in that new part of the world.
The show came to an end, and we left feeling satisfied but still skeptical.
Our presence at these shows is now a must every time they are put on. But even if they remain financially viable, with twenty or so new outlets every time, how long will it take us to get our products in with the big groups? How long to get into the country’s tens of thousands of sales outlets without a dedicated sales force?
We know, in that country, one encounter can change everything, and that stroke of luck will come along one of these days. However, it’s a stroke of luck that needs a little push to help it on its way…
We got back on the road, headed for Miami, with a very full schedule, thanks to @businessfrance in particular, among others.
Our first meeting was with @CédricMontagnana, Principal CEO USA of Panier des Sens, a French cosmetics brand. We were welcomed with open arms. He really liked our project, and he knew what it was like trying to get yourself established in the US. He did it himself around fifteen years ago.
He gave us four hours of his precious time, and he listened to our story and told us his.
His advice was worth its weight in gold! Amazon, websites, transportation, we talked about everything… And he was quite categorical about what he saw, which tallied with our own feeling. With a concept like ours, we were sitting on a gold mine.
However, it could be years before we really hit a rich seam.
He told us about a concept that we don’t have in France: permanent showrooms.
Imagine Maison & Objet all year long and in several regions of the US.
You have a stand set up for a year, and when the shows take place, twice a year, you come to show your products.
The rest of the time, salespeople, who are exclusive and paid by the showroom, represent your brand and set up meetings. It’s an excellent way to reach the big players.
Here was our chance…
(At the time of writing these lines, our collaboration with Cédric M. is taking a new turn)
After that, we met the Director of Miami International University of Art & Design.
Adnan Razack is a colorful character; a former associate of Yves Saint-Laurent, he has worked in fashion in Paris, London, and NYC.
He was so enchanted with our project that he needed no persuasion. His university worked on the basis of four-month terms, and the next was due to start in October. He suggested putting a whole class on our project, getting them to work on designs and run our US social media.
We worked on the idea and suggested creating a dedicated space on our site to showcase his students’ work. We were, of course, delighted and curious to see this collection that would be entirely designed by American students…
(At the time of writing, the donors of this private university have shut off its funding, as happens all too often in the US, and the university is having to close down. It’s a shame for staff and students alike).
Our final meeting was with Annabelle Pottier, Executive Director of the French–American Chamber of Commerce in Miami.
She only had ten minutes to spare for us, but in the end, she was drawn in; she asked questions, made comments, and ended up taking an interest in our off-the-wall small business for almost an hour.
She suggested we join the Chamber of Commerce.
We were invited to present our products at French Weeks at the end of October. We couldn’t be there in person, but our products will be represented at several events, including the grand opening evening.
It was a great end to the first of our many visits to come…
We made a brief stop while we were in Miami to visit Surf Style, one of our customers there, to make sure everything was going well!
And we even found time for a well-deserved quick break for two days in the Keys!
And Cédric Montagnana?
We needed to identify the showrooms where we wanted to be represented, and Cédric offered to put us in touch with them. In the end, having been really taken by our product, he offered to represent us in a project aimed at collaboration with the showrooms. The offer was a godsend for us, and, of course, we accepted.
This collaboration might really speed things up…
And to think that all this started in my kitchen…