Well Traveled

Connecting with Customers in Far-flung Markets

Spencer Sutherland

April 8, 2013

The digital age has made the business world significantly smaller. With just a few keystrokes, a company can now push a marketing message out across the globe—and can ship its products almost as easily. The companies that have seen the most success in international markets, however, have learned that establishing a strong brand on foreign soil is not quite as easy at it may seem.

Connecting Across Cultures

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Back in the pre-iPhone world of 2003, future Skullcandy founder Rick Alden found himself facing a major necessity. He needed to find a way to use both his MP3 player and his cell phone while he was snowboarding.

“As he was fumbling between his devices on the mountain,” recalls Skullcandy Vice President of Interactive Brett Barlow, “he thought, ‘there’s got to be a better way to toggle back and forth.’” That digital frustration led Alden to create the LINK system—a pair of earbuds with two cords, one that plugged into a music player and the other into the cell phone.

From there, Alden turned his attention to the earbuds themselves, looking for ways to make the headphones look as unique as the music that was coming out of them. With its colorful patterns and wild designs, Skullcandy soon was dubbed “the world’s coolest earbud” by Fortune magazine.

The Park City-based company now has higher aspirations than just being cool. Skullcandy went public in 2011 and its products are in more than 60 countries across the globe.

“‘Cool’ is so subjective,” Barlow says. Much more important than being cool, he contends, is being relevant. “What keeps us relevant across the world is our connection to music. There is a very real emotional tie between people and the music they listen to. Being a conduit for that connection makes Skullcandy relevant wherever people are listening to music.”

To reinforce its connection to music, Skullcandy has enlisted the help of some of the world’s biggest musical acts to promote, and even design, some of its products. The company teamed up with Jay-Z’s imprint, Roc Nation, to create a line of custom aviator headphones, tapped Snoop Dogg to design a line of its skullcrusher model, and even issued a limited edition headphone in homage to Metallica.

Skullcandy also stays relevant by aligning itself with international athletes. Whatever the action sport—snowboarding, skateboarding, motocross, surfing or BMX—it’s likely that its top performers are proudly wearing Skullcandy headphones—and tweeting about it to their worldwide fan base.

To support its products and brand overseas, Skullcandy now has offices in Zurich, Switzerland and Shenzhen, China. Between the employees in those locations and retailers across the world, the Park City-based company is able to keep its finger on the pulse of worldwide product trends. And what it’s finding is a movement toward higher-end headphones.

“Over the past year and a half, we’ve made significant investments in product research and development,” Barlow says. “We have a team of sound engineers and industrial designers that are taking Skullcandy’s audio performance and design aesthetics to the next level.”

Skullcandy is working its retail and social channels to get the word out about its new products, but knows the strongest endorsements always come from satisfied customers. “When people experience [the products], they tell the story for us,” Barlow says. “We can say we’re different, or that our headphones sound great—but when our customers start talking about us, that’s powerful.”

Manufacturing Your Own Success

Lifetime Products is another Utah company that specializes in cool products—dozens of them. “We sell a lot of products that give families an excuse to spend time together,” says Lifetime President Richard Hendrickson. That includes basketball hoops, soccer goals, kayaks, backyard playgrounds, tables, chairs and much more.

Though the Clearfield-based company operates six retail locations in Utah, the vast majority of its business is done through U.S. mass retailers like Sam’s Club, Costco, Walmart and Lowe’s. Lifetime also works with large retail chains around the world, selling products in 74 countries.

Hendrickson says the key to Lifetime’s sales success—both at home and abroad—is a result of its manufacturing capabilities. 

“Lifetime is a vertically integrated company,” he says. “For example, instead of buying steel tubing to make chairs, we buy steel from the steel mill, make our own tubing, and then make the chairs out of the tubing.”

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