Back to Lithuania from the USA to sell a unique product for US ladies
With Lithuania encouraging return of emigrants to the motherland, the number of inspiring examples of successful comeback and business start-up is growing. Vilmantė Markevičienė, the author of the Gentle Day brand and product designer, came back from the USA, found a niche for her business, but has not cut the ties with the overseas: together with her husband she is rapidly expanding their business from Lithuania and Europe to the USA – and they do succeed in that.
The Gentle Day brand born in 2009 introduced patented, organic sanitary pads with anion strip to the pharmacies and supermarkets.
‘We opened a new niche, which appeared to be eagerly awaited by ladies – top quality, organic, non-irritant and highly absorbent and comfortable sanitary pads with natural protection against bacteria and odour – yellowish anion strip. These are the only ones pads with the invention patent’, told Ms. Markevičienė.
Having started with the sanitary pads, today the company can offer the whole line of organic hygienic products: from tampons to menstrual cups and even panties, which were designed and patented by the businesswoman herself. Products are manufactured in Lithuania, Spain and China, while they are available on the market in as many as 15 European countries.
Under different name to the USA
According to Ms. Markevičienė, she with her husband became interested in the US market five years ago, when they were searching for distributors who could supply their products to the US market. The search was unsuccessful; therefore they founded a company last year. Having failed to have the Gentle Day brand patented, they chose the Genial Day name.
‘We have chosen this country because we are familiar with this huge market. We have excellent employees who we can trust; there are also about 20 brokers in charge of introduction of the products into shops. We communicate by emails and on Skype, we visit the USA several times per year to see everything with our own eyes and to feel the rhythm’, told the founder of the company about the work carried out across the Atlantic.
According to the businesswoman, it is early days to say yet that the company has already consolidated its position in the US – actually only the first steps have been made yet. According to her, though products are already available in some shops, lots of work needs to be done yet: ‘Getting on the shelves is one thing, while bringing a potential consumer to them at the lowest marketing costs possible is a different thing’, admitted Ms. Markevičienė.
Getting on the shelves is not easy
In the US, Genial Day products are distributed by one wholesaler yet, who works with several thousand shops. Negotiations with several more wholesalers are being carried out. The businesswoman is pleased to see their products in several small retail chains of organic products, while the largest retail chain they have been accepted to recently has 140 shops.
‘Today, our products are available in about 500 shops and outlets spread all over America. Our goal is to enter at least one big US chain, e.g. Target or Whole Foods, though it may take a few years. I am pleased to see ladies happy with our products. Besides, in one of the largest exhibitions of food supplements, healthy food and hygienic products in Las Vegas, our sanitary pads were chosen among five most innovative and market changing products’, said Ms. Markevičienė.
Establishing in Lithuania is easier
According to her, Lithuanian and American markets are very different. In Lithuania, the Gentle Day brand has no more than 10 rivals, while in America there are hundreds of them – brands with long-standing history, which have already gained customers’ trust. Therefore, in Lithuania it is much easier for the new brand to consolidate its position and advertising costs are lower. On the US market, different methods are used to market the brand: advertising on Internet, participation in exhibitions.
Ms. Markevičienė is happy that in Lithuania work with the banks is much easier for business: In the US, some companies still pay by cheques, international transfers are complicated, one needs to go to the banks in person. Banking system is Lithuania is much more advanced.
‘American market is not simple. It depends on the product itself, whether it will manage to stay on the market, therefore something really exclusive needs to be offered and lots of attention must be devoted to marketing’, advised Ms. Markevičienė. ‘If marketing budget is limited and hiring a marketing agency is not possible, then you yourself have to exert many efforts, creativity and work. It is important to have a reliable partner and employees. Determination and persistence are needed, because sometimes you need to call or send a letter ten times until it is answered’.
When talking about the formula of success, the businesswoman says that big companies are grown by those who do not give up and consistently work for many years, manage to survive during crises and are patient: ‘Neither in the US nor Lithuania you cannot become a millionaire in three years, but after 10 years of consistent work it is possible. Therefore, we do not expect quick results. Five years should pass before we could say if we succeeded or not. The larger the country, the harder and longer it takes, therefore we need to tighten our belts, to work patiently and of course to believe in our success’.
A comment by Vadimas Ivanovas, Chief Analyst of Enterprise Lithuania
Both large and small Lithuanian manufacturers have opportunities on the US market. One and the same rule applies to them all – they need to do their homework diligently, to learn about the market, requirements on the market, to estimate costs. To prepare oneself for a long process that will take several years until the US customers will trust, appreciate the offered product.
According to the forecasts, the US economy is steadily growing, same as consumption. In the global value chain, the US is one of the most important players, therefore such trends promise to foreign partners a favourable, less bumpy road towards the huge market.
According to the estimation of Enterprise Lithuania, the US market remains one of the most promising foreign markets, offering lots of opportunities for establishing commercial contacts. Last year, the country was second in the list of Lithuanian export partners and the US share in the export of Lithuanian companies accounted for 8 per cent, while in the recent five years, the export to the US doubled.
In 2016, Lithuanian companies exported goods to the US for over EUR 1 billion. It must be noted that aviation fuel accounts for nearly two thirds of the share of the Lithuanian origin goods export to the US. The US market is important for manufacturers of various chemical products – export share to the US accounts for nearly 30 per cent. According to our estimations, furniture manufacturers still have unused opportunities, for whom the US market is the seventh largest market at the moment, as well as food, engineering industry, textile and other industries have not used their opportunities yet.
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Ingrida Olendraitė, a doctoral student at Cambridge University, an alumnus of Vilnius University, had little expectations that her meeting with an old acquaintance during Life Sciences Baltics will evolve to an international project together with the greatest minds in the field of virus research.