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Taking a homegrown brand international: The Koh story

How eco-friendly cleaning solution, Koh, earned a loyal fan base on social media and is now building its international market.

It all started when Koh’s founder, Adam Lindsay took on the household duties. The more he used regular cleaning products, the more aware and concerned he became about the chemicals in them. He then questioned why he hadn't come across an all-in-one, eco-friendly cleaning solution for every surface which was also cheap and effective.

Adam approached a local Sydney university’s chemistry team to help him develop a formula for this cleaning solution he envisioned. The team spent time formulating and testing solutions on naturally occurring minerals and within a few months, they had a minimal viable product in hand.

A thrilled Adam spread the word about his new product, prompting a fellow work-from-home dad, neighbour and friend, Justin Alexander to come on board as a co-founder. Together, they grew Koh from a local Bondi business at farmers’ markets to one that has now getting ready to expand internationally.

“We always had a vision to become an international brand,” says Adam. “We just had to first prove our hypothesis that the Australian public would embrace a fragrance-free, all-in-one cleaning system.”

Marketing on social media 

Koh’s early marketing strategy involved pitching up at two or three farmers’ markets every weekend for six months. This face-to-face time with their customers gave them a chance to collect direct feedback and understand their cleaning pain points. They then launched Koh on social media to a ready and enthusiastic audience.

“Our social media marketing strategy was to be as authentic as we were at the farmers’ markets so we turned the demonstration we did at the markets into a social media video,” says Justin. “Traditional cleaning products are generally sold using CGI animations of germs running away from sprays. We wanted to keep our demonstrations real to build trust.”

The strategy worked. Koh’s down-to-earth online demonstrations resonated with customers by showing the efficacy of the products without the bells and whistles. Some of those videos have surpassed one million views on Facebook.

“Everyone tells you that short form video works because of people’s short attention span,” says Justin. “But what actually works for us is longer form video. It gives us an opportunity to demonstrate the product and also get our core pillars of value, efficacy, safety and being environmentally-friendly across to our customers.”

Adam adds that social media has given Koh the ability to communicate directly and in real time with its customers – from answering their questions to hearing their feedback on existing products and what new products they would like.

“It has also given us social validation, especially since this is a new way of cleaning for many people, and helped spread our message. This would never have happened in the way it has if we were a bricks and mortar store.”

Staying local; going global

A long-time customer of Australia Post, Koh has recently launched in the UK and will soon be available in the US. The process however, was far from straightforward.

“There was a lot of complexity in trying to manage a business in Australia and also setting up a branch overseas,” Adam says.

“Cash flow was a big challenge. We also had to get the right local certifications, find suppliers and set up a production facility. To do all that remotely and in a different time zone was hard!”

His advice for small businesses looking to expand overseas?

  1. Do your market research. “Don’t presume that the new market will demand exactly the same thing and want the exact solutions that you’re offering your current market. Things can be very different. 
  2. Make sure you have buffer for both stock and cash flow. “The unexpected will happen so I recommend having a buffer of at least 20% to protect you from any surprises.”
  3. Make sure your business is ready. “Moving into the UK meant doing things remotely and working to a different time zone. We had a skeleton team there but the bulk of our resources and knowledge were here in Australia so getting it all set up was a challenge. Also make sure your processes can handle fundamental change to the business and test this before moving ahead with your strategy.”
  4. Weigh up your priorities. “How are you going to continue delivering good customer service to your existing market while also supplying resources to opening up a new one?”

Creating an empathetic and stress-free customer experience

Putting the customer first at Koh goes beyond creating and selling quality products. It also involves a deep commitment to delivering the best customer experience in every single interaction.

“Good customer service starts with genuine intent and ours is to always to make sure our customers are happy,” Adam says. “If we have an unhappy customer, we work with them to either find a solution to their issue or failing that, provide a stress-free and easy refund process.”

“I constantly emphasise to our Care Team that we must be grateful to anyone who has spent their hard-earned cash on Koh. Luckily for us, the majority seem to love the product but for those who decide it’s not for them, the best way for us to thank them for trying out Koh is to honour our money-back guarantee.”

He recalls an incident last year where a warehouse error impacted several thousand customers whose orders were significantly delayed. The team worked around the clock to make sure every affected customer received their orders, a refund or in really severe cases, both.

“If I had to sum up our customer service approach in one word, it would be "empathic," Adam says. “You can't offer really great customer service without being truly empathic to your customers’ needs and issues.”

This level of commitment helped Koh win the 2018 ORIAs People’s Choice Award for Best Small Retailer.

“We never entered a competition before, so we didn’t really have any expectations,” Adam says. “But when customers kept letting us know they had voted for us, we realised we might be in with a chance. As a small online business, winning this award felt incredibly validating and humbling.”

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