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Sunglasses manufacturer focuses on export market

08 March, 2006

Being small need not be a barrier to business growth, even in the extremely competitive global market, as a small company in Melbourne's outer eastern suburbs is hoping to prove.

Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Spotters Shades Pty Ltd is a wholly Australian owned company that specialises in the manufacture of high quality polarised sunglasses, and is quietly building a reputation to challenge the more recognised international brands.

Director Doug Phillips says that Spotters is the only manufacturer of sunglasses in Australia.  "Our sunglasses are made to withstand Australian outdoor conditions, and not only meet, but exceed Australian standards - among the toughest legislative standards in the world."

Based in Bayswater and employing 11 staff, Spotters sells its products to retail outlets across Australia, including optical outlets, fishing and tackle stores and sporting specialists, and is making inroads into the trucking and transport market.

Doug believes that the company is producing sunglasses of a superior quality to most brand labels at similar or cheaper prices – a claim that he is keen to test in overseas markets.

"Exporting is obviously a real challenge, but there are tangible benefits if you get it right," says Doug. "Even so, we realised early on that the financial investment involved and the difficulty of establishing contacts in other countries meant we needed to look for some form of assistance."

"I'd have to say that the support we've received from the Victorian Government, and from Austrade, has made a huge difference to what we've been able to achieve."

Doug says that as well as crucial financial assistance, government advice on selecting overseas wholesalers and distribution agents, and practical assistance in setting up contacts and arranging appointments, has been invaluable.

"In late 2003, we made exploratory visits to the USA and Canada with the help of a First Step Exporter grant from the Victorian Government to research the North American market, meet agents and attend a major Canadian Trade Show in Toronto."

"We were able to appoint a wholesale distributor in Canada as a direct result of that trip, and direct exports to the North American market have since increased by over 130 percent."

In early 2004 the company received a Grow Your Business grant to develop a Business Development Plan on Export & Marketing, which helped the directors identify the Middle East as one of their key export regions, and enabled them to attend the Hotel Show in Dubai last May.

Doug returned to Dubai in February 2005 to appoint a potential distributor to add to their current distribution agents in Canada, the US and New Zealand. This distributor has opened 20 new retail stores and spent over two months promoting the brand at a major international show. Spotters now have interested parties from Germany and Spain looking into buying its products.

Doug believes that the company has also gained from registering on the Victorian Government's Export Communications Network, which provides customised and up-to-date export information by email on issues such as government programs and trade missions, market intelligence, and training and networking opportunities.

Spotters has recently taken on extra staff and invested in new equipment, and is intending to move to larger premises when the current lease expires.

For small companies like Spotters Shades, exporting can be a challenge, but quality products and a commitment to long-term planning, backed by strategic support and independent advice, can greatly increase the prospects for success.

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