Originally published in Globe and Mail - Print & Online
Want to sell to the U.S.? Better do your homework
Less than a year after they started selling their Eatable alcohol-infused popcorn in Canada, entrepreneurs Charlene and Vince Li decided it was time to give Americans a taste.
However, getting their product across the border wasn’t easy, even though the United States is the world’s biggest popcorn market.
The couple became quickly enmeshed in shipping, currency, tax and regulatory challenges as they prepared to launch online sales in the United States in December.
The obstacles faced by Toronto-based Eatable Foods Inc. are similar to those faced by most Canadian small business owners with big ambitions – and offer a window into how to crack the world’s largest economy.
Study import rules and shipping options
The top piece of advice Ms. Li has for other Canadian companies seeking to enter the U.S. market is to do your homework.
“We were reading as much as possible, attending seminars that are focused on the topics of import and export, having conversations with retailers, distributors and marketers that have experience bringing over other brands,” Ms. Li says.
The biggest challenge Eatable faced was shipping, which can be expensive when it involves crossing borders. It can also be a struggle for small businesses to compete with the growing number of U.S. retailers now offering free shipping and Amazon’s two-day or even same-day shipping options.
“You constantly have to compete against really low domestic shipping costs within the U.S.,” Ms. Li says.