Last year, PMF conducted an exclusive interview with Mike Schlup, Managing Director of Kalimex. Mike spoke about the growing demand for K-Seal Permanent Coolant Leak Repair in the US. When asking him for an update on K-Seal’s US progress in 2017, he also revealed that K- Seal has now been launched in a total of 15 countries, making it a truly global brand.
Q. Thanks for agreeing to a second interview. For readers that didn’t catch the last one, can you summarise K- Seal’s progress in the US?
Mike Schlup (MS): It became clear to us within the first year of its launch in the UK, 14 years ago now, that we had a product that there was a big appetite for, especially from the trade. This gave us just about enough confidence to launch it in the US. However, if you want to succeed in America you must have a permanent presence. I established a joint venture between Kalimex and Solv-Tec Inc. to create a team focused purely on distributing K-Seal into as many stores as possible. We initially targeted small and medium sized chains with 100 to 500 stores before aiming at the national chains with branches in the thousands.
The big event was rolling K-Seal out across Walmart at the beginning of 2017. It was a logistical headache but it has given us a whole new route to market. In addition, K-Seal Ultimate is now available in O’Reillys, CarQuest, Autozone and Pep Boys. 10,000 locations in the US now stock K-Seal Ultimate. What makes this so special is that we’re almost always competing for a customer who has to choose just the one product from over 20 coolant stop leaks. Nevertheless, annual sales have just reached 600,000 bottles.
Q. Which other countries have fallen under the K-Seal spell?
MS: K-Seal is now trading in Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines, Lebanon, Germany, France, Denmark, Botswana, Nigeria, Pakistan, Spain, Argentina and Australia. We have labels in a multitude of languages.
Q. What is the most common route to market?
MS: The first is a meticulous process of identifying potential distributors and making contact with them. We then have to establish if they are the right type of business and whether they will work with the K-Seal range and ethos. Once identified and appointed, the new distributor is trained and given support to launch K-Seal in the most effective way possible.
Sometimes we’re contacted directly by distributors who are proactively looking to source new products for their market. Our website helps with this, as does the general profile K-Seal enjoys online. Each country differs in how it goes to market. For example, in the UK, the business was founded predominantly with motor factors and independent retail, with little representation with national retailers. In the US, the focus is on national retail chains.
Q. What lessons have you learnt along the way?
MS: The first distributor is not always the best, so it pays to take time to identify the best fit for K-Seal. It’s also important to understand local requirements such as labelling and marketing methods so that the product is presented in a way that local consumers and the trade expect. For example, we couldn’t use the Spanish labels for Mexico, as the local Mexican Spanish dialect is different. We prepared Mexican-Spanish labels and literature to avoid embarrassing translation errors.
Q. What challenges have you had to overcome?
MS: Language is always a major barrier. In one case, we were told the distributor did not do business in English. Another one is gaining an understanding of the local consumer mentality when it comes to car maintenance. In some markets the service interval is so frequent and the motorist so diligent that the demand for a distress product such as K-Seal is minimal.
Q. What were the highlights of 2017?
MS: Luckily we have many, but in brief, K-Seal Ultimate was launched in Australia, in April this year, at the Australian Auto Aftermarket Expo in Melbourne. We also exhibited at the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) in Las Vegas, where our booth was packed with K-Seal fans. In August alone, 164 independent countries visited the K-Seal website. In America we concluded a deal with Walmart and finally, in Argentina, we are about to ship the opening order.
Q. Plans for 2018 – consolidation, growth or both?
MS: 2018 will see our continued global expansion in many other countries and regions. The number of vehicles globally is mind-boggling, estimated at around 1.2 billion and forecast to rise to two billion by 2040 (according to research by Bernstein). Almost all these vehicles will have a water-cooled engine which will need repairing sooner or later. Damian Warren, our International Sales Manager for K-Seal International, is going to be kept very busy!