LoveBook’s mission is simple: “It’s spreading love and helping to build relationships by connecting people,” explained Co-Founders Rob Patterson and Kevin Zalewski.
The Rochester, Michigan-based small business allows people to express feelings, whether romantic, friendly or familial, via customized bound books. What started as an extracurricular activity be- tween four friends has turned into a growing business seven years later with twelve employees in Michigan serving a global customer base.
While the team focused on the U.S. market initially, they soon realized the demand abroad could help them grow.
Initial interest came from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe.“Our technology is based on the Latin keyboard, so anybody who can make a book with that keyboard is who we targeted at first,” recalled Zalewski.
Today, international markets play an important and growing role for the business.
“Two years ago international sales were about 12 percent of our business, and over this past Christmas we were at about 30 percent international,” said Patterson.
The company is now looking to make the technology available in different languages in order to reach a bigger portion of the world.
Their data shows that converting initial interest in their product to actual sales also vary by culture. “The way Americans spread love is different than the way people spread love in Korea and India,” explained Zalewski. The team is now looking to expand and localize content and functionality of their book builder to appeal to different countries.
LoveBook’s founders note that their engagement in the global marketplace has supported the ability to expand their staff in Rochester. Not only that, but,“based on insights from our Facebook marketing, the overseas sales are higher margin items as well,” said Zalewski, adding, “they tend to convert faster and better than our American customers.” In addition, their global sales add to the bottom line of LoveBook’s U.S.-based printer partners.
“If the internet didn’t exist, I don’t think we would,” said Zalewski.
Patterson explained that,“The nature of our product – it’s not some- thing you can buy in a store, so obviously a web-based business is going to be hugely reliant on the internet.”
The internet plays a role in three key parts of Lovebook’s global business process: Interfacing with customers, managing a global network of printers, and running the business out of Michigan using all cloud-based systems.
“Our international outreach right now is mostly controlled by social networks with Facebook probably at number one,” Zalewski said, explaining that the social network allows LoveBook to target specific countries and demographics.
“We also benefit from [ranking high in] your standard search engine keyword searches,” added Zalewski. LoveBook also relies on website analytics to observe potential demand and to understand different demo- graphics as they approach new markets.
LoveBook has had to navigate its share of inter- national challenges. International customs and shipping is their biggest pain point. LoveBook uses economy shipping to minimize cost, but often finds that, outside of the United States, tracking methods and fulfillment can be un- reliable or nonexistent, resulting in delays or missed deliveries.
The paperwork and uncertainty around customs procedures can delay and add uncertainty to their international deliveries. “We want every- thing to go across the border digitally” instead of worrying about paperwork being held up at customs, said Zalewski. He added that, “a lot of these countries that we want to work with are technologically capable, but they just don’t have it in place yet.”
Currency fluctuations also impact international sales. Patterson noted that the increased strength of the U.S. dollar against key foreign markets such as Australia makes LoveBooks more expensive for Australian customers.
The founders advised other entrepreneurs look- ing to take their business global that large internet platforms can provide helpful perspective when looking for new markets.
“Facebook has done a lot to help us find new markets and use new tools,” said Zalewski. He also highlighted the support that Google has provided in going global: “We met with [Google] a few months ago at one of their Michigan offices and they’ve given us tremendous insights.”
They also emphasized the importance of understanding your current market. “Don’t assume that, if you’re selling well in the United States, it’s going to sell the same way somewhere else,” cautioned Zalewski.