When the internet opened the door to overseas business expansion Lisa Balakas and Kate Beaconsfield were quick to identify new opportunities.

Global business expansion strategies

When Lisa Balakas and Kate Beaconsfield launched their maternity wear fashion label, Ripe Maternity, opens in new window, the internet was in its infancy.

It was 1996, the world wide web was still a mystery to most, email accounts were only just emerging and mail-order catalogues were the platform of choice.

Ripe Maternity had just begun operating out of a physio clinic in Victoria with co-founders Balakas and Beaconsfield balancing the fledgling business with their day jobs – and their growing families.

Fast forward 20 years and the company has grown into an established fashion brand available in more than 400 stores worldwide.

The business includes a thriving online store and branded retail stores and concessions across Australia, plus a global distribution strategy that sees products in stores across the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Europe and New Zealand, among others. Ripe Maternity has also secured lucrative wholesale deals with major international players such as Amazon, ASOS, Destination Maternity and Mothercare UK.

So just how did Ripe Maternity grow from a start-up into an international retail business?

Co-founders Balakas and Beaconsfield are the first to admit there have been challenges along the way. Having survived the digital revolution, the global financial crisis, and the unpredictable fluctuations in currencies, Ripe Maternity has proved that innovation and evolution are the keys to turning challenge into opportunity.

Exploring how to expand business online

“When we first started we were hardly on a computer, emails were only just starting and we couldn’t envisage an online business because the internet didn’t exist,” says Beaconsfield.

The online revolution was soon in full swing, however, and the popularity of online shopping was unavoidable, which presented Ripe Maternity with some early challenges.

“When we started looking at online, we weren’t sure that maternity wear would do well in the space.”

Balakas and Beaconsfield’s concerns were that the specialised fit of pregnancy wear would deter customers who would want to try on garments before purchasing. Their fears proved unfounded as the stretchy products were an online hit.

“We now feel that maternity wear lends itself really well to online shopping – arguably more than mainstream fashion – which has been great for us,” says Balakas.

Risks of expanding internationally

Blue sky thinking has played a significant role in the business’ ability to overcome obstacles. When the global financial crisis (GFC) hit in 2008 and 2009, Ripe Maternity, like most businesses, experienced some hard times.

Faced with falling sales, rising costs and fluctuating currencies, Beaconsfield and Balakas jumped on to the front foot. Ripe Maternity shifted its manufacturing offshore to take advantage of cost-efficient factories in China and India. The business began exploiting market fluctuations and boosting imports and exports in line with the rise, and fall, of the Australian dollar. They also moved to buy and sell in US dollars to further remove the risk of currency changes.

“The GFC was a very tough time for us. As an international business, our sales were impacted at every level,” says Beaconsfield. “We focused on markets that weren’t as affected by the GFC."

“We have always prided ourselves on being nimble and flexible. When the exchange rates shifted, and the Aussie dollar changed dramatically overnight, we would move to sell more of our products offshore because it was better valued. Then when the exchange rates changed again, we focused on bringing our growth back home to Australia by boosting our local retail footprint.”

Balakas adds, “We’ve always been good at making changes and refocusing when we need to. We can be reactive and enthusiastic at responding to changes that we see happening.”

Focusing on the core product

One area of Ripe Maternity that hasn’t changed is the core vision and focus of the business.

“The vision from the beginning was simple,” says Balakas. “We wanted to create something affordable and fashionable for pregnant women. We wanted to fill that gap, and to help meet the needs and the current lifestyle of pregnant women.”

Adds Balakas, “We know our business very well and what feels right for us, and we have always followed that.”

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Important information

The information contained in this article is correct as of July 2018 and is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, NAB recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances. NAB recommends that you seek independent legal, financial, and taxation advice before acting on any information in this article.