Distributors are the face of your company

Geoff Edwards of Bowers and Wilkins, the high-end hi-fi and loudspeaker company, explains why finding the right distributors is key to international success.

Geoff Edwards of Bowers and Wilkins, the high-end hi-fi and loudspeaker company, explains why finding the right distributors is key to international success.

John Bowers had a passion for creating the best loudspeakers on the market, using an inheritance to form Bowers and Wilkins in 1965. Very early on, he could see that the UK market was limited, granting his first overseas distributor in 1967. Since then, the company has been an international success story, selling into over 60 countries.

Growing the number of overseas distributors has followed a set pattern, explains Geoff Edwards, Executive Vice-President. “When you go into a new market, it’s crucial to get an insight into local circumstances and ways of doing business. We have always expanded by finding the best local distributor we can.”

This is not a short process. “When we first go into a country, we visit potential distributors, seeking to understand the drivers in the market and how their business plans take these into account. We visit their dealers, and form a detailed picture of how the relationship will work. It can take up to 18 months before we’re ready to appoint someone.”

Geoff adds: “Our model is the distributor sells to the dealer, who then sells to the customer. The distributor and dealer are essentially the face of our company in that country.”

For Bowers and Wilkins, ‘Britishness’ and ‘quality’ are key parts of the selling philosophy. “All our products are designed and developed in the UK,” says Geoff, “so we carefully monitor our overseas markets to make sure, among other things, that our brand is being represented in this way and that customers are getting the quality experience they deserve.

“We check in great detail how our distributors are working, gathering regular feedback. In more established markets, like the US, or France, our original 3rd party distributors have now become subsidiaries.”

The company is now looking to expand its presence in the BRIC nations. “Particularly Brazil and China, which have huge potential for growth,” says Geoff. “We are building the core business through international expansion, and getting stronger and stronger all the time.”

International brief

  • Don’t under-value local expertise - you need people on the ground who know and understand the market and, to work with them, people from your business who are good listeners
  • Do your research – make sure the distributor you choose can fulfil their business plan
  • Monitor the market – don’t walk away once you have a distributor in place, continually develop the relationship
  • Be flexible – respond to changing market circumstances
  • Look at long-term – build a relationship with customers that will last a lifetime


To find out more about Bowers and Wilkins visit: www.bowersandwilkins.co.uk

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK