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Exporting an idea: How one Aussie business is doing it

Export doesn’t have to be just about physical products. One Aussie company is showing the world how it’s possible to build a successful company based on the export of ideas.

Every time you walk into a supermarket or service station, your eyes are being surreptitiously drawn to particular products. Do you feel like a Red Bull? There’s one in the Red Bull fridge. Chupa Chup? Right there on the counter.

It’s not just a random thought process that encourages you to buy these products, however. Very often it’s the creative minds behind Creative Instore Solutions that encourages that impulse purchase. The point of purchase solutions company are the award-winning minds behind some truly innovative point of sale campaigns, such as the Red Bull petrol bowser fridge, which won display of the year at the North American POPAI OMA Awards (the global association for marketing at retail), or the BIC semi-permanent modular display, a multiple winner at the Australian and New Zealand POPAI awards.

While impulse purchasing for consumers is immediate and almost thoughtless, for the company that designs the stands, theirs is a very carefully thought out international business.

Acting on impulse

Husband and wife team Steve Howell and Georgie Torrens have become innovators in the point of purchase industry. Their company, which has been running since 1995, has not only won numerous awards around the world but has been securing business with some of the world’s most recognised brands.

“We’re now working with companies like Red Bull, Vodafone, Hewlett Packard, Garmin and Pepsi Co. and we’ve just done the new BIC lighter,” Howell says. Coming from a background in industrial design, Howell got the company started when he noticed a gap in the market for full service point of purchase (POP) production. “The big FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies like Cadburys were saying ‘great idea but can you supply it for me?’. So the penny dropped that I had to provide the complete service and that was the beginning of Creative Instore Solutions.”

Today, Creative Instore Solutions has clients all over the world and has set up a network of international offices to ensure these clients are well looked after. “We’ve got a guy in Mumbai, a big office in Shanghai, offices in Sydney and Melbourne, a big office in London and I’ve got someone in New York. We sell our ideas now to some 70 countries, and we win lots of awards,” Howell says proudly. “In the end those awards launch us into other markets.”

Taking Australia to the world

Despite their success in setting up offices in key markets throughout the world, Howell and Torrens have been determined to keep the main part of the business, the design and project management hub, in Australia. This doesn’t however prevent them from giving their clients the best service they can. “We received a brief for a client in America at the end of the American day,” Torrens explains. “So we contacted one of our designers in the UK, he worked for the next 10 hours on the presentation and when the client woke up in the morning in the US, there’s the presentation for the concept that he was after. So we can provide that response around the world by utilising those designers.”

The aim however is keep all of their management and the main design force operating our of their Sydney office in Terry Hills. “We’re building an Australian business but with the opportunity to export to lots of different countries,” Torrens says.

In their line of work, in order to truly achieve success, it was important that CIS hit the export market just so they could reach a larger customer base.

“I had some meetings in New York last month with guys trying to launch different brands just in New York State alone. There’s nearly 20 million of them there, so if you want to test something, it’s a good place to see how it goes,” Howell explains. “In Australia it’s competitive, and the clients want a great idea but then they only want to order 200 products. The BIC lighter campaign we just created, we’ve sold 50,000 of them globally but they’ve only bought 500 here. So that’s why we had to change and start thinking about global opportunities.”

The world is your office

Having offices all over the world hasn’t only opened up a potential network of new clients, it has also given the team at CIS the opportunity to work in a variety of markets. “Everybody in the business has the opportunity to travel to any of our offices anywhere,” Torrens says. “We had people that were on leave in the UK so we had people from the Sydney office go over there to assist. We can do this because we’re utilising the same infrastructure in different locations.” This streamlining of processes across the whole business no matter where the office, means that CIS can maintain consistent quality and service for their clients.

In order to meet fast turnarounds and to promptly deliver to their customers, CIS outsourced production to China but have kept a close eye on each stage of the process so they could maintain quality. “We showed our Chinese partners what we wanted and together worked on their designs. We didn’t want to micromanage, but they understand the quality that we’re after,” Howell says. “It’s a true partnership in the sense that we bring ideas and show them what equipment they should invest in and things like that. Now, they’re starting to market internally in China with the ideas we’ve taught them. If you’re going to succeed you have to have a true partnership with the client and with the backend because if you can’t supply the quality, you’re dead.”

Torrens agrees that working with your supply chain, as well as keeping up a close relationship with every office in your business, is the key to a successful export business. “Every designer, production person and even the finance team go over to China, so they understand how it works and the mechanisms of manufacturing. Then they come back and offer ideas and challenge the ways we do things to do it better.”

She emphasises that the idea behind their export business isn’t to simply export Australian business ideas. “It’s not like we’re taking the Australian way of doing business and putting it overseas, we’re bringing everybody together with their own culture and then trying to work out how to do business the best way.”

Torrens also acknowledges the importance of local knowledge. “We hire nationals in all the countries we’re in. We hire people that have the right skill set but that also have and know the culture there. I think that’s a benefit to us.”

With Australian design and business acumen behind them, CIS have proven that international POP customers are keen to use Australian design and innovative ideas to market their products, and with such large clients on board, CIS’ reach extends into some surprising places. “I saw our BIC display in the backend of Paris,” Howell says. “I was telling people that it was designed in Terrey Hills, Australia. The French are probably saying who the hell is Terry Hill?”


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Rhiannon Sawyer

Rhiannon Sawyer

[NB: Rhiannon Sawyer no longer works for Dynamic Business]. Rhiannon Sawyer is the editor for Dynamic Business online. She also looks after online content for Dynamic Export. She loves writing business profiles and is fascinated by the growing world of homegrown online businesses and how so many people can make money in their pyjamas.

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