Firms from across the region are being urged to think about the benefits of trading abroad as part of a drive to increase exports.

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Officials from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) are hoping to sign up 10,000 east of England businesses in the next three years as part of an ambitious government target to get 100,000 new British exporters.

Liz Basing, regional director of UKTI for the east of England, said businesses could sign up to a series of 12 insight visits across Europe in the coming months to learn more about overseas markets they might be interested in trading with.

This month has also marked the first Export Week a series of more than 100 events across the region focusing on small and medium sized companies and providing access to support from experts with experience in more than 70 countries, unlocking the chance to boost sales overseas.

“Currently 20pc of British SMEs export and UKTI aims to raise this to 25pc which is more in line with the rest of Europe,” she said.

Case study - API Engineering

Norwich-based API Engineering has worked with UK Trade and Investment to extend its reach into worldwide markets. The firm specialises in the supply of mechanical components for the heavy engineering sector and as the majority of its clients are based in Europe, North America and Africa, a strong export strategy has been fundamental to its success in the global engineering market.

The company, which produces carbon steel, alloy steel, grey iron, ductile iron, aluminium, bronze, nickel and titanium components for customers around the world, first contacted UKTI more than five years ago and has recently taken part in the Gateway to Global Growth programme.

In order to help target its exports and overseas business development, API Engineering uses UKTI’s OMIS (Overseas Market Information Service) reports which provide information about potential customers and new markets.

Eddie Warren, project engineer at API Engineering, said: “Having access to OMIS reports through UKTI has been invaluable for us. It allows us to choose the sort of customer we’re looking for and then provides us with the relevant contacts and information. On top of providing this information, UKTI can also make first contact with the potential customers, which we’ve found really helpful and it often means that the customer warms to us from the outset as the connection to UKTI gives us a great standing and presence.”

Recent export projects to have benefited from UKTI support include work in North America, Holland and Mexico. Mr Warren said: “We’ve been making parts for wind turbines but we knew that there was not much market for these parts in the UK, so we used OMIS reports to find new customers in the Mexico, Europe and North America. We have exported to South America and having the support of UKTI’s full team – including interpreters – has been invaluable.”

“That means 100,000 new exporters nationally over a three year period and because the east of England represents 10pc of the UK economy we are looking at 10,000 for the east of England.

“There is a huge amount of support available from UKTI and partner organistations such as the chamber of commerce.

“The visits will be about making people aware of the overseas support that’s available in the overseas market.”

She added: “It’s about encouraging companies to take their first steps in overseas trade, and for those exporting a small amount, maybe through their website, to get the message across that exporting is easier than you might have thought.

Case study - Structure flex

A targeted approach to trading overseas has helped Norfolk business Structure-flex reach new markets around the world.

The firm, which is based in Melton Constable, specialises in fabricating long-life products from heavy-duty flexible reinforced fabrics, including lorry curtains, banners, billboards and mobile advertising prints.

Set up in 1970 it now supplies more than 35 products to customers in over 20 different countries.

And having recently joined UKTI’s Gateway to Global Growth programme, the firm is now extending its reach and exploring potential new markets overseas.

General manager Paul Reeve said: “While we export many specialist products globally, we recently exported several sets of digitally printed lorry curtains to a new client in Germany, who contacted us because they were unable to find other domestic suppliers who could match colours for a specific livery, as we were able to do.

“Our machinery and our in-house expertise allowed us to match colours to their requirements, so we found that we had a service which had an export value.”

The company joined UKTI’s Gateway to Global Growth programme earlier this year to explore new customers for crane test bags, which are filled with water for load testing cranes, rather than using concrete blocks.

Mr Reeve said: “We have been successfully exporting these to Canada and Dubai for some time, as well as into Europe, but wanted to investigate exporting potential to customers in the USA.

“We commissioned an OMIS (Overseas Market Information Service) report for the USA to help us examine the market potential and we’re now working through this list.

“As we had success in Canada, the USA was the next logical step. As it’s such a vast country, trying to get answers to specific questions and set up a list of potential contacts would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

“The report from their New York office identified potential customers for our products and hopefully that will be a stepping stone for us to break into that market.”

While a significant proportion of Structure-flex’s business is manufacturing lorry curtains and printed banners and billboards, the firm also produces flexible water tanks.

Mr Reeve said: “The flexible, durable, water tanks are used for storing and transporting drinking water and fuel and are used by humanitarian and aid agencies around the world.

“This is certainly a market which we’re keen to expand and are keen to explore further global opportunities in this area.

“The support of UKTI means that researching new opportunities overseas is now much easier. Having access to so much experience and advice is so valuable, and through our trade advisor, John Rimmer, we have access to a wide network of contacts.

Gateway to Global Growth is a UKTI service which helps exporters diversify into new markets, providing 12 months of strategic support to grow businesses overseas.

“Exporting isn’t as scary or difficult as you might think. The big advantage of going in a group is to share the experience, while there is also a side benefit of group members doing business with each other.”

A survey of 600 businesses reveals that between 2010 and 2012, firms that received UKTI support showed a 5.5pc annual increase in turnover.

The benefits of exporting are not confined to large companies, as 90pc of those who work with UKTI are small and medium-sized enterprises.

And more than half of British businesses who work with UKTI secure additional sales of £600,000 within two years.

Bury St Edmunds-based software company Green Duck, which sells training and e-learning software for health-service providers, was among more than 200 companies attending the Explore Export event at Duxford during Export Week.

Business development manager David Palmer said: “We were struck by the willingness of the countries attending to engage with small to medium-sized enterprises from Britain.

“It was particularly useful to hear of the range of support which UKTI could offer, as this is very much a hand-holding exercise for us as we look forward to expanding our export efforts in Australia, Canada and United Arab Emirates.”

To register interest in the Insight Visits go to www.embltd.co.uk/ukti/ or email insight@uktiem.co.uk

shaun.lowthorpe@archant.co.uk

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