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Growing globally: How many New Zealand businesses don’t realise they are world-leading?

Many New Zealand businesses could do well overseas, says FAB Group's Jackie Smith. The problem: many don't realise just how innovative they are.

Just about every private business owner has heard about the apparent measurement of success in New Zealand – the "three Bs" of the boat, the bach and the Beamer.

We all know people who have made it that far; they have developed very successful small businesses within New Zealand and, once they have attained the three Bs, that’s the job done.

When my husband David and I started our business in 1994 we thought about what success would look like and, after toying with the classic three Bs, we came up with a different set of three Bs – Business Beyond our Border. A target that created a much greater challenge for us.

Once we had established our business and were sure we knew what we were doing, we wanted to explore its full potential.

Like a lot of Kiwi businesses, we dabbled with vertical expansion and companion businesses to bolt on to our core business, but we’re experts at what we do and learning how to take our skills offshore seemed like the real challenge.

We have a great team with the skills and experience to take the business to another level. Ultimately, it would have been a disservice to them if we’d limited our growth to within New Zealand.

The idea of building FAB Group offshore was (and sometimes still is) a little scary. But after researching potential countries to launch in, we found that FAB Group was unique. We occupy a unique position in the industry – we sit in between plastic surgery and beauty therapy, as well as offer our clients’ membership benefits and payment plans.

We had always assumed there would be lookalike companies in other markets, but we haven’t found one yet.

This was encouraging to us. I wonder how many other New Zealand companies are unique in their field globally? How many business owners in New Zealand have scoped out offshore markets to see if there is a niche for their business? After our experience, it is worth doing if you are up for international expansion.

One of the surprising things for me was there are few companies running as many clinics as we do in New Zealand. We will have 50 clinics open in New Zealand this year – making us one of the biggest chains globally when compared to the size of our population.

After doing plenty of market research we discovered that, surprisingly, London is underserved by the appearance medicine industry. We see a significant business opportunity there for FAB Group and have decided to focus our initial offshore growth in London.

As of May, we have three clinics open in London – Hanwell, Belgravia and Putney Bridge. We have plans for further acquisitions to get us to 40 clinics in the UK in the next few years. To enable this growth, we have set up our support office in London and David and I have been living there for almost one year.

What makes me laugh is that we learnt how to operate at scale, without realising that we were classed as a big chain globally. We just got on and built a great business for New Zealand.

So for other New Zealand businesses who are considering taking the leap, my advice is don’t be afraid to scope the opportunity. We were blown away by how we compared to businesses offshore and that’s what convinced us to push our business beyond our border.

Jackie Smith is FAB Group co-founder and director.

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