Norfolk firms share their export secrets - but where are the region’s 10 biggest overseas trading partners
17:45 29 January 2014
Trade minister Lord Livingston has launched a nationwide campaign to encourage more exporting. Business writer Ben Woods spoke to three EDP Business Awards 2013 finalists about their experience breaking into new global markets.
Learning to embrace global trade
An over-reliance on domestic markets could put a company’s future at risk, a business leader has warned.
Anders Rasmussen, pictured, partner at professional services provider Grant Thornton, sponsor of the International Business category at the 2013 EDP Business Awards, said some company’s have adapted to global markets in order to survive, but businesses that turn their backs on international trade could be handing their competitors an advantage.
“In the recent difficult times many businesses simply could not have fulfilled their ambitions for significant growth without exporting or doing more business overseas,” he said. “For some, accessing revenue streams outside their traditional domestic markets has been a matter of survival. Continued reliance on the domestic market in an ever more global economy would be viewed as a risk in many sectors, particularly for any business which is slow to embrace the global opportunities whilst its competitors are not.”
Pasta foods - exporting is relationship driven
Great Yarmouth-based Pasta Foods hopes to unlock substantial export growth by building a new factory on the outskirts of Norwich.
The company is looking to transform the Forest Way site at Costessey, off the A47, by installing a new £2m production line to help drive exports of its pasta products.
The move comes after seeing a strong international demand for its snack pellets – with exports now counting for 50pc of the firm’s revenues.
Karl Jermyn, managing director of the firm, which has £27m turnover and employs 140 staff, said: “We are hoping to build up our Pasta exports to the same size of our global pellet sales. We export to 40 countries and we have different approaches for each of the different markets.
“Currently, we see our biggest growth potential being in the US. This year we are trying something new by participating in the SNAXPO snacks trade show in Dallas this March.
“We are spending about £25,000 on the three-day show, but hopefully we will be putting ourselves in front of potential customers where we can show our products and skills.
“But because the UK is part of the European Union, doing trade with Germany, France or Italy, is like doing trade on your doorstep – especially during the age of cheap flights. However, the Middle East is very different. It is relationship driven.
“We are often dealing with a family owned business and you have to meet with them in order to do trade, unlike the US where it is all about the product.”
GlassGuard - businesses need to be persistent
Thetford-based GlassGuard is to begin manufacturing glass laboratory supplies for the German market thanks to its experience exporting in Europe.
The company, which makes coated fragment retention lamps, is forming a partnership with the German-based Duran Group to produce a range of safety coated glassware for chemists.
To meet the demands of the contract, the firm is expected to invest about £100,000 in processing machinery and take on three more staff.
Chris Payne, sales director of Glass Guard – which employs 40 people at the Baird Way site and has a turnover of £5m – said British companies have to be persistent when snapping up new export contracts.
“It is about identifying the biggest or the most lucrative economy, which might relate to your business,” he said. “Then it is a case of peddling away like mad.
“But as a British company you have to expect to have some pitches slammed back in your face – it is about being persistent.
“For example, if you want to do business in Germany you have to make sure that you have all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. They are very hot on certification.
“There is a perception of Britain in Germany that we simply don’t make anything anymore. It took me a year to get my first order and get the business to a level where it would support someone being in the country full time.
“But the good thing is that German culture is different from here. If they say they are going to do something they will do it and on top of that there is loyalty.
“I foresee that we could even have a £2m business in Germany going forward.”
Structure-Flex - internet is key to success
A strong grasp of potential customers and a well-managed cash flow are vital for breaking into new export markets.
That is the view of Melton Constable-based business Structure–Flex, which does 65pc of its trade overseas.
But Ian Doughty, managing director of the company, which has a turnover of £10m and employs 90 people, said the internet was making it easier for companies to build an international profile.
It comes as the manufacturing firm – which makes bulk bags, dry bulk packaging, commercial vehicle covers – looks to move its current operation to the site of the former Cromer Crab Company factory this June.
He said the firm was looking to build on its strong trade ties with North America and build new links with South America.
“If you are just starting out exporting then you need to understand how business is done in that particular country you are targeting,” he said. “And make sure you do some research on the people that you want to speak to because trying to pin people down can be hugely time consuming. But there is also the cash flow implication that comes from being an export business, because transactions can take a lot longer then they would in the domestic market. Therefore, it is important to get a handle on this early on, as well as overseas insurance cover from your bank. But exporting is a much more open opportunity than it was previously because of the power of the internet. It gives your company visibility. But the downside is that everyone is doing something similar and the competition is much more challenging. Meanwhile, because you are visible, people are much more aware if you get it wrong.”