Our Stories

Member Spotlight: 5 Minutes With Phil Prather From Down Under Enterprises

ACBC (NSW) Member Spotlight: 5 Minutes with Phil Prather from Down Under Enterprises

1. Tell us about your business and how you’ve leveraged your Australia-China connections to build your success in China?

Down Under Enterprises was founded by my wife, Dee-Ann, over 16 years ago to sell her parent’s Tea Tree Oil.  After 10 years of successfully exporting our native Australian personal care ingredients to North America, we decided to enter the China market in 2012.  At that time, I was Chief Marketing Officer for Cellestis, an ASX listed biotech experiencing strong international growth.  At Cellestis I was responsible for our China market entry strategy, to understand the (SFDA) regulatory environment, and to identify potential representatives.  During this time I learned of the small but rapidly growing high-end personal care market.  These manufacturers could not get good quality ingredients to satisfy their consumers’ demands.  Dee-Ann and I decided Down Under Enterprises should enter the China market.  It has been a long 6 years, with many ups and downs along the way, but we are now seeing tremendous success in the China market – 2017 is a watershed year.

2. What does a typical day look like for you and what are you currently working on?

I spend part of my day communicating with our representatives in China, supporting them with technical and product information, running joint video sales calls, and working with my Logistics Manager to solve the challenges that can occur when importing our products into China. A significant part of my day is also devoted with our expanding farming operations – developing more land and planting more to meet the demand we are experiencing in China.  The remaining part of my day involves driving the marketing program and tactical activities of the company.

3. What would you say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business in/with China?

  • Wow, this is a tough question because they haven’t been the same five elements the whole way through our journey.  But here goes:
  • Don’t be too quick to select a representative. You need to find someone you can trust, someone who has demonstrated their resilience with a new range of products and capabilities.  You will know it’s right because they will be looking at the same qualities in you.
  • Make the investment to be in the country regularly.  China is a very different place than Australia.  Sure, our legal, regulatory, and commercial systems are different.  But you need to learn and understand the people.  China is a very rapidly evolving society and the people have experienced this change in a dramatically short timeframe.  In saying that, “China” is not just one “China”.  You will need to learn the differences amongst the different people of China, from Guangzhou in the south, to the metropolitan hub of greater Shanghai,  and out west to Chengdu and further.  It’s not one China.  And there is no substitute for being there, on the ground, to work with your team there.
  • Don’t be too quick to expect a return, the return will come if you do the first two and deliver a quality product, and supporting your local representatives.  It may be tempting to go for quick sales, but don’t do it if it will hurt your long term prospects.  You have a lot more to gain over the long haul.
  • Frequent communications with your representatives are critical; keep them excited and feeling part of the team; we do annual “Commercial Partner” meetings with our representatives across Asia to help them feel part of a bigger team and able to rely on each other for support.  Many of their customers (especially the big multi-nationals) are common across the region.
  • Native language marketing materials – even if you believe they can speak and read English well.  Make the investment.

4. How do you go about marketing your business in Australia/China and what has contributed to this success?

As we are a B2B wholesale business, Social Media is not an important part of our outbound marketing mix – but communicating with our customers, and their customers through Social Media platforms like WeChat is critical – they want to be in touch with you – and with handy translation capabilities built in the app, it’s actually very easy.  We exhibit at many tradeshows in China – even present on the formal agenda, and conduct interview editorials with our industry magazines/e-journals.  We are also listed on many industry databases across Asia.  We manage the leads directly in our CRM and provide our local representatives with the resources to follow through the sales process.

5. You have been very successful to date, but there have no doubt been challenges - what’s been your biggest challenge that you have overcome in your business journey with China?

I’m going through my biggest challenge right now and I hope we overcome it successfully.  We are in the process of releasing our ‘legacy’ representative in Shanghai – not an easy decision as we have developed a good personal relationship.  The new representative is, in fact, not ‘new’. We talked about working together back in 2012 when we first entered the China market.  However at that time, neither of us could commit to each other and we moved in different directions but always stayed in touch.  Times change and so do strategies.  By staying in touch over these years, we have grown to trust one another and respect what each other have done in the marketplace.  We believe the time is right to make this happen and we hope our/their customers do too.  Oh, we are having immense customs clearance issues, especially since CHAFTA, but we’re working through them shipment by shipment – we haven’t “overcome” that one yet.

6. What’s your motto/mantra?

Do the right thing to foster long term relationships.