Businesses that boost exports and open offices abroad grow faster than those who stay at home, writes Charles Orton-Jones
Need a reason to export? Normally the spiel covers the money you’ll make. The six billion consumers waiting for you. The emerging markets growing at double-digit pace. But what about the adventures?
Stephen Dawe has been globetrotting on behalf of Morris Lubricants since 1992. The firm exports to 80 countries, accounting for £11 million of its £50-million turnover, and has taken Mr Dawe to the far corners of the world.
“One of my first treks was to a gold mine in Mauritania in West Africa,” he says. “I was feeling quite elated because I had misheard and thought I was going to Mauritius. When I was delivered to the capital, there were two dead cattle by the side of the runway and it was an asbestos building.
“I came away with dysentery and had to stay there for two weeks in 52 degrees Celsius because the flight was cancelled.”
So not always glamorous five-star living. But would he have so many tales to tell if he’d been stuck on the A5 outside Shrewsbury? Not likely.
Michael Oliver started selling to Norwegians because he was so ashamed of his terrible office. “When I set up Oliver Valves in 1979, I was put off at the thought of customers seeing our modest startup headquarters – also known as my family’s garage – that it made me consider trading overseas,” he says.
“I was keen to paint a picture of an established company with the resource and manpower to tempt top firms into working with me, so I did this by targeting businesses overseas. Our first order was for 24 valves from a Norwegian gas refinery.
“We might have delivered the products at a loss, but I’ve never regretted it as it was the first rung on the ladder and we might not be where we are today without that modest start.”
Now the company has become an exporting powerhouse.
“Some 35 years later, 90 per cent of our £90-million turnover comes from overseas trade. Oliver Valves employs more than 350 people internationally and has ten offices around the world. We’ve also won regional and national awards for our work in the export market, including a Queen’s Award for Excellence in Export,” says Mr Oliver.
A huge advantage is that the economic cycles of overseas markets are so varied
Exporting can help you hit economies of scale. When Tiffany London founded her glam maternity wear brand Tiffany Rose in 2003, she had £1,000 in the bank.
She says: “Increased sales has allowed us to grow our team and led to increased volume of production, which has opened the door to new fabric suppliers who can’t work without minimum-order quantities, British manufacturing partners and international logistics partners such as DHL.” The company now employs 14 people and exports make up 70 per cent of sales.
A huge advantage is that the economic cycles of overseas markets are so varied. As one struggles, another will be rising. Cressall Resistors has been making electrical products for more than a century and has come to rely on exports to keep the firm buoyant no matter what the economic weather.
Managing director Cy Wilkinson says: “The project-based nature of Cressall’s work means the international markets it supplies can vary significantly from year to year.”
Life is always changing for the firm. Exports now account for 57 per cent of sales. “Over the last few years, Cressall’s key business partners and customers have come from the United States, Canada, Russia, Brazil and the Middle East,” says Mr Wilkinson.
For smaller firms the best opportunities may be in the most exotic markets. Isle of Arran whisky is a late-comer to the export game. While the big guys carve up huge markets, such as China and the United States, boss Euan Mitchell says: “In those territories yet to fully embrace whisky, such as Taiwan, Arran has much more dominance. We are working towards exporting to new ‘virgin territories’ where we can establish ourselves as the go-to brand.” Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore are on his radar. The firm is using Facebook to organise tastings in remote locations.
There is an embarrassment of riches to make the export process easy. There are UK Trade & Investment grants, plus advice and on-the-ground support. Banks are obsessed with exporters. There are schemes, such as the Bond Support Scheme and UK Export Finance.
Best of all you can do it your way. Want to trek to Mauritania, or was it Mauritius? Go ahead. Or, as the Choc on Choc artisan chocolate brand proves, you can stay where you are if you prefer. Founder Flo Broughton bagged orders after foreign buyers saw her goods in John Lewis. She was a bit worried about shipping, so gets the buyer to handle that. She now has clients in Australia, the United States, Italy, Japan and Qatar.
It is a big world – and you can explore it how ever you wish.