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How I expanded my online business internationally

Dean Ramler started online furniture store Milan Direct with Ruslan Kogan back in 2007. Since then the company has grown to stock thousands of items and turn over more than $12 million a year.

But Milan isn’t just selling to Australian customers – over the past few years the company has been pushing into more markets and is on the brink of expanding into mainland Europe. Ramler spoke to SmartCompany about his initial push into the UK.

How has Milan Direct been performing in the past year?

Last financial year we had 100% growth, and I think that’s due to our broadening product range. When we started off we only had 80 products, and now that’s grown to 4,000 and by the time the new website launches that’ll be closer to 8,000 products. So that’s much bigger.

The other part I feel is that our growth comes from reinvesting all the profits over a five or six year period to keep that growth going.

When did you first make the decision to expand overseas?

Well, it was our objective from day one to be a solely online furniture company, and because of that we knew we didn’t have borders restricting us. So we registered a .co.uk domain and the plan was always to launch there. So two years after launching here we launched in the UK, having purchased the local domains.

Did you build the business with that intention or decide to do it very early on?

Very early on. When we were a relatively new company, within two years we launched into the UK. I think the idea was that once we have the processes down pat, it’s a very scalable business model. We knew what our requirements were, and our internal processes from a customer service and operations point of view are able to scale very well into new markets.

Many businesses are overwhelmed when expanding. How did you start?

The first step, we used some free tools. One in particular was looking at the search patterns and Google analytics for the areas where we wanted to sell, making sure there was demand in that market. It’s actually quite easy to track down. We saw there was actually more demand for our products in the UK so that research takes the guess work out of it. It’s pretty much the greatest free market research tool available on the market right now.

We also did some competition analysis and found there was an opportunity there. We did the same in the UK as well, and found there wasn’t anyone doing it as well as Milan Direct. So it was just a matter of going in and finding the right partners.

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