LEATHER and the Liberal Party may not have much in common, but Danielle Blain is aiming to become an expert in marketing both.
The former managing director of Gosh Leather and current State president of the Liberal Party shared some of her business tips and political goals when she spoke at a WA Business News’ Success and Leadership breakfast last week.
Mrs Blain spent 13 years as managing director of Gosh, a wholly-owned subsidiary of listed company Schaffer Corporation.
She took it from being a small tannery that made many different products to a specialised supplier of upholstery leather to international furniture makers.
Along the way Mrs Blain faced many challenges and learned many lessons.
One of the biggest tasks was breaking into new markets without an established brand reputation.
“We worked very hard on the challenge of developing a brand, and as you can imagine, coming from left field, that was not easy,” she said.
“We marketed Gosh as new, as fresh, as innovative and different.
“The other personal challenge I had was to convince the senior people in our company to spend money on marketing, because they were only ever focused on spending money on production.”
Mrs Blain strongly recommends that aspiring exporters undertake detailed research on potential customers, pricing and product trends, before heading overseas
Her initial research on the US market led her to a town called High Point.
“If I had gone to New York, or San Francisco or LA I would have been in the wrong place, but I went to a little place called High Point, North Carolina, which was the centre of the furniture industry in the US,” Mrs Blain said.
She said universities are able to assist with detailed market research.
“They are always looking for live topics that they can give to their honours and masters students.”
Mrs Blain added that asking simple questions was also useful.
“I have found that people really respond and help if you admit what you don’t know and actually ask them for advice,” she said.
As Gosh’s exports expanded, Mrs Blain learned about the needs of different markets.
“There were very big differences in the way we tackled different parts of the world,” she told WA Business News. “The US was all about romancing Australia, but the critical thing was to sell via Asia.
“Europe and particularly England was all about business logic, they are very formal people, while Asia was all about understanding the culture and having a personal relationship.
“And that personal relationship takes a while to establish.”
The rising value of the Australian dollar and the growth of cheap Chinese exports have made it hard for Gosh to compete in export markets.
“In order to survive it has been essential to become a low cost producer,” Mrs Blain said.
After retiring from Gosh in 2001, Mrs Blain found herself getting more involved in the Liberal Party, culminating in her election as State president last year.
“My platform was to modernise, personalise and energise the party,” she said.
“I, unlike most of my predecessors, am not interested in becoming a member of parliament.”
Her vision is to focus on selecting quality candidates with “experience and personal integrity” and wining the upcoming Federal and State elections, due in the next nine months.
“And we need desperately to modernise the finances of the party and get a sensible financial base,” she said.
Mrs Blain also expressed a personal opinion that WA should introduce daylight saving so the business community does not have to cope with a three-hour time difference with the eastern States.
“To me it is just a reality. If we want to be part of Australia we ought to be changing time when (other States) do,” she said.
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