Trade commissioner helps bring exponential growth to Montreal company

As a company that plans to increase its revenues 10‑fold in the next five years, bblüv Group Inc. of Montreal doesn’t look for easy international markets to move into.

The company makes and distributes quality baby products that are safe, durable, attractive and make life easier for parents. Today those parents are in 43 countries and counting, with the help of Natalia Wiatrowski, a trade commissioner who is the primary contact for bblüv in the Quebec regional office of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS).

“Natalia is a member of our international team, for sure,” says Michelle Cunningham, bblüv’s director of sales. “The help of the regional office has really opened up things that we might not have been able to do, and sped things along a lot faster than if we had gone on our own.”

Michelle CunninghamMichelle Cunningham, director of sales for bblüv

The company was co‑founded in 2016 by Mathieu Tremblay, today bblüv’s president, to sell baby goods to Canadian consumers. But its market didn’t stop there, with global sales beginning two and a half years ago. “The international interest was a bonus right off the bat, and luckily we were able to move pretty quickly,” Cunningham recalls.

Indeed, the company revenues grew 60 percent in 2020, with as many as 70 percent of its customers outside of Canada and plans to move into five more countries in the next little while, she says. “International is our main business, so that’s where we’re putting a lot of our focus.”

Wiatrowski, who covers the e‑commerce and consumer good sectors, offers lots of help in regular discussions with Cunningham, where the two discuss potential issues and strategies to deal with them. The trade commissioner introduces the company to colleagues in the TCS network, who in turn connect bblüv with their own contacts, including potential distributors and buyers.

Natalia WiatrowskiNatalia Wiatrowski, trade commissioner at the TCS Quebec regional office

“The beauty of working with a regional office trade commissioner is you don’t have to keep telling your story out there in the wider network. They get to know you and they introduce you to the trade commissioners in the field, so that there isn’t any lag time,” Cunningham explains, noting that the trade commissioners on the ground are true experts. “They speak the language, they know their market, the different things like tariffs and duties, all the laws revolving around consumer products. That research is done for us on a deeper level than us doing it ourselves.”

One place where those introductions and connections are beginning to pay off is Japan, which is typically a “very hard market to get into,” says Cunningham. “It can take two or three years to develop and find a contact there. With the TCS, within two or three months we managed to get virtual face‑to‑face meetings with some distributors from Japan.”

Wiatrowski had put the company in touch with Noboru Shimizu, a trade commissioner in Tokyo responsible for the consumer goods sector, who helped bblüv develop a close relationship with one particular distributor in the country. Shimizu says that the distributor has expressed interest in those products and provided valuable advice and insight on bblüv’s goods and strategy in that market.

“In light of this feedback, bblüv is now examining their next steps, including potentially hiring a marketing agency in Japan,” says Shimizu. He thinks there may be some opportunities for the company in Japan, but cautions that it’s a competitive place to do business. “The company needs to have patience and a long‑term vision for the market, which includes planning on and budgeting for regular visits to better understand their competition and the market dynamics.”

Cunningham says doing business in Japan can be challenging but could be lucrative for her company. “The fact that we were able to kind of accelerate that initial meeting is really going to cut down on the time to get a partner solidified in the market,” she says.

“I love it when it’s going fast; it’s like they’re everywhere,” says Wiatrowski, who helps Cunningham to focus on critical issues and provides “to‑do” lists for her to work on. Wiatrowski is gratified to be able to “lead the relationship” with her TCS colleagues abroad and feels that her assistance “is very appreciated.”

Wiatrowski loves her work and recognizes the importance of the TCS regional offices in Canada, from preparing companies for export markets to introducing them to other partners and support programs that can help. “We’re like the glue that sticks everything together,” she says.

Cunningham says that Wiatrowski “helps keep me on track.” The company today has 22 staff and bblüv continues to expand exponentially. It currently sells a total of 50 products through stores and online, with plans to add another 10 new items each year.

The firm especially expects to see good growth in the European market, given the benefits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union and with the assistance of the TCS. It has a warehouse in Belgium, she says, which means that items can be easily shipped around Europe, even in small quantities.

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