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Case Study

The Secret to Success for Plum Products

How the Growth Hub Helped Plum Product to Grow Internationally

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What does the business do?

Specialising in outdoor activity play, Plum Products is a family run business which aims to inject creativity and exploration back into play, getting children off their screens and into the outdoors. Since beginning back in 1988, Plum Products has now expanded, operating in a staggering fifty-seven countries. The business offers a wide range of outdoor play equipment, ranging from swing sets and climbing frames to scooters and trampolines – with a product to suit every customer, it’s no surprise that the business has translated so well internationally!

What’s the history?

Established 35 years ago by Johnathan and Diane Schaffer, Plum Products is a family-owned business which is now led by the founders’ son, Managing Director Paul Schaffer. Johnathan and Paul initially set Plum Products up from their flat in Twickenham, selling and trading in charcoal. Their product offer soon evolved, moving into the garden furniture and equipment market, as well as the sporting goods and outdoor play markets.

Today, Plum Play is the business’s main focus. Whilst starting off as a distributer of products, Plum Play diversified, and is now its own brand, selling both to retailers and direct to consumer. Plum Play is renowned within its field, boasting a unique positioning and identity. The secret to their success? Expanding into international markets and taking their products global.

How did Plum Play begin to expand into international markets?

Plum Products began their internationalisation journey back in 2009 when purchasing their first offices in Hong Kong, China and Sydney, Australia. Acting as a central hub for many suppliers, the choice to set up in Hong Kong was tactical, contributing to increased sales and brand awareness. However, it was not until 2015 when Plum Play began to really focus on their international growth strategy.

Business leader, Paul Schaffer decided that expanding into global markets was to be the company’s top priority, with a specific drive to begin trading in Canada and the US. After three years of penetrating new countries, Plum Products finally secured North America and Canada in 2018 which had an undeniable impact on the company’s growth and success.

How has it helped the business?

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the decision to expand into global markets proved invaluable. As lifestyles changed and people began to spend more time outdoors with their children, demand for outdoor play equipment grew, helping to fast-track sales for Plum Products. As the business was now operating in a number of major countries by this point, the surge in demand and sales was amplified as this increase in demand was consistent across the world, contributing to an astronomical increase in sales globally.

Had Plum Products only been operating in the UK throughout this period, the increase in sales would not have been so significant, meaning that the business would have been unable to grow at the rapid rate it did by having a presence in so many countries across the world. Taking the company global has also proved valuable in many other ways, Paul said:

“Expanding into global markets has massively future-proofed and de-risked Plum Play. If we had kept to trading in the UK only, we wouldn’t have been able to keep sales steady, let alone grow the business to the scale it’s currently at.

“By operating in so many countries worldwide, we’ve found that even if sales are down in some countries, other countries will perform better than ever before. Buying patterns are rarely the same across the globe, and this works to our advantage.

“Plum Products translates well internationally – all kids want to play, that means we would never be short of demand, so taking those steps to penetrate new international markets was really a no brainer”

How did Business Lincolnshire support Plum Play’s international expansion?

Plum Play sought help from Business Lincolnshire upon the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU. As international trading compliance rules began to change, Plum Play decided to reach out for some support and guidance in getting to grips with how these changes to customs regulations and exporting outside of the UK could affect their current operations and strategies.

Paul said: “Business Lincolnshire were super helpful throughout these periods of change. By facilitating customs advice and guiding us through how to accurately fill out important documentation to remain compliant, they really helped us to strip the jargon and navigate these changes in trading rules.”

Do you have any advice to other businesses looking to tap into global markets?

Paul said: “If you’ve been contemplating trading overseas, make the jump. If your product service offer does translate well internationally, and you can identify a demand in countries outside of the UK for what your business offers, it’s something you should take seriously. Taking the plunge and working on developing our internationalisation strategy and expanding our market has given us so many growth opportunities – not to mention the risk mitigation that comes along with it.

“There is so much support out there to help businesses on their international growth journey, and I would advise that you take advantage of what is available to help you along the way.”