Exporting Insight: The view from the panelists

Exporters and international trade experts came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead for our exporting businesses in the latest in Lancashire Business View’s Insight series. This is the second of two parts, read the first part here.

THE VIEW FROM THE EXPORTERS

Mark Blewitt, director Esse

Our company started in 1854 and began selling cookers and stoves all over the world. We supplied stoves to Florence Nightingale in the Crimea and to Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. We’ve got documents in our archive which talk about an export trip to the Easter Islands.

Today we make stoves with British steel and castings and ship them to many parts of the world where they need heat.

We’ve had support from the Chamber of Commerce, who helped us with some export documentation to Canada. It didn’t cost much at all and it saved time and helped us a lot. You need to be precise if you are asking for advice. Make sure what is being offered matches up with your priority. If you are precise in what you want and with your goals, you can judge them afterwards.

My own piece of advice to those looking to export is crack on and do it, get stuck in. But understand the reasons why you are chasing the export market you are looking at. You also need to have the right partners.

A partner in Australia has helped us in the development of a ‘hybrid’ wood and electric cooker which we are now successfully selling there. It’s a product they asked for and it was years in development. We’ve also started to sell it in the UK.

Andrew Turner, managing director, Langtec

We manufacture tubes from composite materials and we export 80 per cent of what we make. Our business is 100 years old and began life buying ceramic tiles from Marseille and selling them all over what was the British Empire, so exporting is in our DNA. When I started in the business 30 years ago, we had a niche product and Egypt was our biggest market followed by the US, Switzerland and Poland.

Things have changed since then and 15 to 20 years ago we had an opportunity to work with an agent in France, then we started working with someone in Chicago which opened up the US in a big way. The world is a lot smaller now than it was when I started, and the internet is responsible for most of that. When someone emails today they want the products tomorrow, that’s another issue you have to deal with.

My advice to people looking at exporting is ‘give it a go’; you might not always succeed but you will learn something along the way, and more often than not you will succeed.

Work with somebody in the market that you are going into who has local knowledge. They speak the same language as your customers and are in the same time zone. Even the Americans speak a different language than we do and are far more comfortable dealing with their own people.

And if you are planning to export, you need to have something people want to buy. If someone is already making the product it the country and can do it cheaper than you, why should they buy from you? They won’t just buy because you say it’s British.

Oli Clarke, business manager, The Senator Group

We have been manufacturing office furniture for 40 years and we are very much design led. Today we export to around 70 countries.

We took our first steps into America 15 years ago when we bought a business that was already exporting there. Then 10 years ago we started manufacturing in America. We’ve got showrooms in New York and Chicago. We’ve also gone into Europe with reasonable success and over the last few years we’ve been targeting the Asia-Pacific market. A lot of our clients are based globally and expect us to trade globally. We have trade partnership agreements in all corners of the world.

We’ve learned a lot along the way. You don’t always realise that people do things differently until you get into other countries. In America they talk and work in inches. People in Holland are a bit taller than us so they want different size desks. There are different IP laws in every country around the world. You may use a product here that you can’t use in another territory.

We’ve learned the hard way of the need to triple check everything that is going overseas. If something goes wrong, it will probably go wrong 5,000 miles away. When we go into a new territory we talk to the British Chamber of Commerce and freight forwarders who are a great source of information. We try and get good relationships first before we jump in and make a deal.

When it comes to starting to export, think about why you are doing it and how you are doing it and be prepared for things going wrong that normally wouldn’t go wrong in in the UK. Think globally but act locally.

THE VIEW FROM THE ADVISORS

Chris Manka, North West regional chairman, FSB

I always say to companies ‘remember the amount of effort you put into starting up your company? Well the first country you export to, it’s going to feel that that amount of work all over again’. The second country will be easier and the third country easier still.

It’s having that mindset. You have to be dogged, you have to be determined and you have to be prepared for your assumptions to be completely shot down in flames and to have to start again. You might feel that Ireland might be your best market, but all of a sudden, you’re sending your stuff to Latvia. That’s just the way it works; be prepared to change tack.

The opportunity is there, there is an awful lot going in Britain’s favour at the moment. The exchange rate is low, so your products are going to be cheaper than they ordinarily would be.

We often put ourselves down, but Great Britain is perceived well in some territories, particularly in places like China. If you’ve got British made goods they are seen very much as premium products. People will pay more and there will be more demand. Go and attend trade shows, walk around them. Use your shoe leather and talk to people. Trade is all about talking to people.

Research and research again. Find your potential competitors, get to understand them, go see them at exhibitions and see how they work. Amass all the information and get to know the market properly before you actually set foot in it - and use all the people at your disposal.

Divia Patel-Smith, international trade advisor, Department for International Trade

Being a successful exporter is mostly about confidence, taking that jump to do it.

It is quite likely that companies are exporting without realising it. There are companies selling into Ireland but they don’t class that as exporting. As soon as businesses realise that and have that confidence, they are willing to look further overseas.

There are various risks, which is why we are here to help. The internet has been fantastic, it gets you out there, but there are a lot of fake companies and customers that will happily take goods and not pay. If you do get someone emailing you with an order, we can carry out due diligence with our partners overseas.

When it comes to payment, do your due diligence. In some parts of the world get payment in advance. If companies are genuine, they will pay in advance because they want the product. There are opportunities to protect yourself.

We also offer IP support; we have IP officers based in embassies and we work very closely with the IP Office. We have IP experts in China as well.

If you are going out to market use DiT services, they are free. There are even grants to help you get out to market, to help you go to exhibitions. It’s government funding to help your business to grow.

Leon Cane, associate director Baldwins

We run trade missions and in advance of getting on the plane we stage clinics to go through issues that will help businesses determine if exporting to China, for example, is right for them at that time.

One of the subjects we discuss with people is being realistic about the challenge. In order to get onto the mission, we ask for buy-in at the most senior level and that is important.

We ask for the owner or somebody at board level to participate and we ask that they be properly resourced. They know their business better than we do, so we ask them to engage in some lateral thinking, for example is e-commerce actually the best way for them?

We are not just looking to get people out there, we are looking to help them make sales into a country and often the e-commerce step is the first. They can test the market by partnering up with the appropriate web operators in China to find out what kind of reception they are getting.

When it comes to looking at the market, talk to people and find the right people. We take people over to China and they have jaw-dropping moments when they realise what a fantastic market it is. If you have had a bad experience in the past don’t let that stop you; learn from it.

Diane Davies, director of international trade, HSBC

A lot of businesses export because it is fun, it’s interesting and they like travelling. That’s the feedback I get; they like going to another country and enjoying the culture while at the same time talking about their business. Professionals like us need to make it easier for them to tap into the information that is there to help them.

It’s very fragmented, we all do our own little bit and we don’t often integrate. We could help people a little bit more if we worked smarter. There’s a lot of information out there but if you are a busy businessperson you haven’t got the time to get it.

Complexity and time stop people exporting. My advice is to talk to the businesses that are already doing it. Ask the people we’ve heard here today about it.

There are opportunities out there but at the same time there are risks in international trade. From a bank point of view, we have a responsibility to help you understand some of these risks. You also have to communicate with us, tell us where you are looking to export to - we want to know the markets you are trading.

If you do feel you are going to need some advice from your bank talk to them early.

Lancashire Business View opinion

Great export opportunities await Lancashire businesses, if they are brave enough to take on the challenge.

The good news is that there is a strong network of expertise and help that they can tap into on their international trade journey.

The support is available for determined companies looking to expand their horizons, and it is there to be used.

Our Export Summit highlighted that determination and doggedness pays off, with great stories of exporters spending decades building and growing their markets. Having the right mindset and being flexible and open minded is vital for success.

And the best bit of advice to come from our gathering? “Crack on and do it, get stuck in”.

  • This feature is published in partnership with HSBC, the Department for International Trade, Baldwins and the Federation of Small Businesses.
  • To read this feature in full and access further Lancashire business news, advice and analysis subscribe to Lancashire Business View magazine or join the LBV Hub from just £2.50 per month. Click here to subscribe now.