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How one entrepreneur leapt into the global marketplace Play Video

Business · 5 mins

Making a splash in the global market

To succeed at selling her art-adorned rain boots internationally, this emerging Panamanian entrepreneur needed to build a solid team, launch an engaging marketing campaign, and seek out strategic partnerships that last.

When Mary Quintero, the socially conscious CEO and Founder of Undercover Boots, began marketing durable rubber rain boots from her native Panama six years ago – it was her artistic nature that led her to envision eye-catching colorful designs on each pair. She acknowledges that growing a small Panamanian footwear and accessory company into an international brand is an ambitious goal, but this big-hearted, high-energy entrepreneur is ready for the challenge.

“We want to be recognized as the leading brand of storytelling rain boots that embed art and culture from around the world, while contributing to social causes focused on children in need, environmental conservation, and animal protection,” Mary explains.

At first, Mary relied on sheer grit and determination to get Undercover Boots going. But she soon realized she needed a team, so she approached some dynamic women in Panama City to join her. “Most entrepreneurs make the same mistake starting out. They hire people who have similar skills. As a creative person, I need support with finance and administrative tasks. Fortunately, those are the strengths of my right-hand woman, Marcela Correa. She complements my skills in areas where I am not knowledgeable. And now, the entire Undercover Boots team is comprised of passionate, multitasking women who work in unison.”

Building a Strong Marketing Strategy

Undercover Boots has created a lot of buzz in Panama and beyond. Customers who visit the I AM UNDERCOVER website or enter its Undercover Boots brick and mortar store in Panama City frequently comment on its strong and cohesive branding strategy.

“We’ve done some interesting initiatives to support the brand and local artists in countries where our boots are sold,” said Mary. “We held a contest in which we asked Panamanian artists to submit rain boot designs inspired by the Panama Canal. From the hundreds of designs submitted, the winner was a young girl who was at the time studying at the national university. As the brand expands its reach internationally, there are so many countries to design that my dream knows no limits.”

She continues: “In terms of digital marketing, we do emails, online newsletters, blogs, social media, Instagram, and WhatsApp campaigns. Our initial slogan, ‘From boring to fun’, suggested bringing fun to a rainy day. But since the pandemic, we rephrased our messaging to read, ‘Fashion that protects.’ That slogan has been very well-received. We also have a popular Instagram account. Our brand gets a lot of attention in Panama as an example of successful entrepreneurship that creates its own market awareness. It’s very flattering.”

From an e-commerce perspective, Mary adds that her website sales have been stronger since the pandemic began. “We recently changed the website from Spanish with English translation to exclusively English. We accept international payments and prices are shown in multiple currencies. Additionally, we offer boot sizes in inches (U.S. sizes) as well as in centimeters (European sizes). We also use pop ups to promote different items on the landing pages.”

“With regards to customer service, we try to make our customers feel really special,” Mary says. “I have frequent customers who make huge purchases, and we give them their own personalized discount code, which is something they really notice – they love it! You can make a great impact with little things like that. We also have a Customer of the Month for repeat purchasers or customers who have inspiring stories. I’ve also sent them personalized voice notes.”


The Importance of Strategic Partnerships

When Mary sent her first shipment of Undercover Boots in 2016, she used the Panamanian national mail service. Nine days after that first pair of boots shipped out, the customer received her first order. Mary knew that her company’s success depended on partnering with a reliable international shipper. “I always wanted to work with DHL Express. As a young girl, a family friend told me that DHL was more than just her employer – it was her family. I thought … if my small company becomes a DHL customer, maybe we’ll be treated like family too.”

As a result, Undercover Boots partnered with DHL Express to be its exclusive shipping partner. At first, product was shipped to just 12 countries; now repeat shipments include 30 countries worldwide.

“We have a map of the world on our website homepage that tracks new sales,” Mary said excitedly, “so when we recently gained a new customer in Fiji -- the island country was colored in on the map.”

Mary’s business had not gone unnoticed by DHL Express Panama. Just after the partnership started in 2017, Undercover Boots won the prestigious DHL Pymexporta award for growing its export operations and for bringing Panamanian art and culture to the world.

Mary Quintero fondly remembers Juan-Sebastian Arosemena“I had the opportunity to meet CEOs Mike Parra and Joakim Thrane,” Mary said. “Mike suggested that our companies collaborate on helping Undercover Boots expand its worldwide distribution. I said to Mike: The thing is… if you say you want to help an entrepreneur go global … then you must know she’s not going to stop until you make her dream come true. Mike responded: ‘Then together DHL will help make that dream happen.’

Mary agrees that she has found a compatible business partner with DHL. “I only work with companies that have similar core values, good reputations, and a solid record of social responsibility. Those are companies I admire.”

Now that Undercover Boots uses DHL Express shipping services exclusively, the company’s international sales have increased 28% since the partnership with DHL began. Mary also reports that her customers are thrilled with the company’s On Demand Delivery service, which gives them the option to specify where and when their packages are delivered.

Mary continues: “DHL deliveries have been flawless. If you go to the I AM UNDERCOVER website, you will see a banner that reads, WORLDWIDE SHIPPING WITH DHL. Having DHL as our shipping partner gives our customers security -- they know they will get their expected shipments quickly and reliably because DHL is backing us up.”

“DHL has also helped me grow as an entrepreneur. At the DHL Pymexporta workshops, I learned about international commerce, e-commerce best practices, how to get products imported into other countries and how to reduce freight rates.”

Last year, Mary asked for help in ramping up sales from Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru where Customs fees are typically charged upon arrival of the package. DHL suggested using its Delivered Duty Paid (DDP) service, which is now integrated on her website, calculating Customs charges upon shipment, rather than collecting it from the customer at delivery. “DDP makes international deliveries flawless for the consumer, who can purchase items with a click, without worrying about additional import paperwork and duty payments,” said Mary.

Mary offers: “For a small Latin American brand, it’s amazing to have logistics support from DHL. They have such amazing brand recognition, and some of that clout rubs off on our growing brand.”

An Opportunity to Co-brand

A few years ago, Mary could not have imagined Undercover Boots emblazoned with the DHL logo. Later this September, DHL Express and Undercover Boots will be issuing a cobranded line of rubber boots, waterproof jackets, and Juicy (Undercover Boots’ unicorn mascot) – each a striking combination of red, yellow, black, and white accents. The items will be available for purchase worldwide in a limited run.

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