In December 2016, we spoke to entrepreneur Luc Jalbert about the success of his Moncton-based company Prelam Enterprises and its Just’a Drop and Just’a Spray bathroom products. At that time, Jalbert had recently returned from a New Brunswick government-led trade mission to China. Since then, the company has pivoted with regards to their China strategy and recently announced a major breakthrough in that important market.
ONB caught up with Jalbert on the eve of his next visit to China as part of our latest trade mission, which begins on January 13.
ONB: A lot has happened for your company since 2016’s Trade Mission. Tell us about your recent success in China.
Jalbert: As of November, Prelam products are available at Aolaigo locations; that’s a major Chinese retail chain. We decided to focus our efforts on brick and mortar locations as an entry point into China, rather than e-commerce. There is very strong preference there for international brands versus domestic, at least within the growing middle class. So there is a surge in retail locations specializing in products like ours, made in New Brunswick.
We also just got confirmation that we will be moving into another chain retailer based in Hong Kong that focuses on premium foreign products, it’s very exciting news. We have really created a strong footprint in that part of the world. Thanks to our trips there with ONB and the provincial government we have learned how to effectively operate there. I have great distribution partners there now too; they ensure we have product delivered on time and are helping us with marketing and promotion.
It’s taken a year or so, but the hard work of all involved has paid off.
During our last chat, you mentioned online sales were the focus. Why the pivot from e-commerce to brick and mortar retailers?
We determined that going online first would have been a mistake because nobody knows the product. Brick and mortar was the proper starting point; it’s better for creating awareness and letting people see and sample our products for the first time. We’ll be focusing on the online space over the next year, looking to get on Alibaba, JD.com and other major online players. We will be doing plenty of targeted social media promotion as well. The key now is getting the product in front of people in stores and letting them try us out. They’ll then know what to search for when they’re shopping online.
Speaking of Alibaba, you were part of ONB’s Toronto trip this past fall. Our Export Development Team attended the Gateway ’17 event with over 20 New Brunswick-based organizations; tell us about that experience.
Events like that are essential, and Gateway was a very interesting and informative experience. It was also highly motivating. It will not be cheap to set up on Alibaba or JD.com; those platforms are expensive, but they do reach a massive consumer audience. We are now working at setting ourselves up on Chinese social media platforms like WeChat and Sina Weibo and looking to land key opinion leaders (KOL), Chinese celebrities that could endorse us on their own social media. We’re also hiring a consultant that will help us develop that brand strategy in China.
ONB is heading east again this week as part of our big multi-sector Trade Mission to China. You’re part of the delegation again, what are you hoping to accomplish this time out?
As with previous missions, we expect ONB will lead the way for us in terms of matchmaking. That’s really what this mission is about, finding new leads while further strengthening our existing relationships. I’m optimistic that more business will come from new matchmaking efforts, and that we’ll learn even more about how to do business in China.
You learn something new every time you visit. For example, since visiting last year we’ve learned about labelling; stickers require a production date and need to be translated. For our next batch — manufactured here in Moncton — we will buy and make the stickers here. Previously, we paid to get a third party to create and apply stickers for us; you learn as you go.
This will be my fourth time in China over the past year; that’s what it takes. Right now, approximately 300 million consumers make up the Chinese middle class, and over the next 24 months, that’s expected to reach 500 million. Prelam is well positioned; they love foreign brands, our early reviews are very positive, and consumers there simply aren’t used to unique products like ours. Every time I met with buyers during the last mission I was surprised to see how much people seem to love it. There is a huge opportunity for Canadian companies there.
ONB works to facilitate New Brunswick companies’ growth and market diversification efforts via a variety of services, including identification of market leads through trade missions and events. Find out where the ONB team is headed next by visiting our Events page.
Written by Jason Boies