Venturing into new markets can bring new customers, a new profile and new revenues. While it may seem a daunting prospect, there's plenty of guidance on hand for small businesses looking to new horizons.
Rise & Recline is a long-established UK manufacturer that has captured a big slice of its domestic market.
Now it’s looking to take its products to new customers abroad – but like many businesses, it could use some guidance to get started.
From its production facility in Long Eaton, Nottingham, Rise & Recline produces riser/recliner chairs and adjustable beds. Every item is bespoke, matching the size, fabrics, style and medical needs of the customer.
"We have a very high-end British product, which I believe international markets would be prepared to pay a bit extra for," says Langtree. "Although we operate at the luxury end, it’s a needs-driven product."
Langtree assumed the firm would need to adopt a different approach for foreign markets, perhaps exporting non-bespoke products in order to keep costs down.
However, Sharon McCarthy, Area Manager – North Team at DIT, cautions against dropping the company’s unique selling point of bespoke manufacture. Naturally, this must be balanced by the financial realities: "What we don’t want you to do is go to a market where people don’t have the disposable income to buy a chair," says McCarthy.
To help businesses to identify the most appropriate export markets, DIT offers research that provides insight into demographics, disposable income and other key details. In the case of Rise & Recline, with its electrically-operated products, such information would include the variation in power standards for sockets.
"You can prepare a wish-list of countries and the software will consider them according to these parameters, plotting them on a map showing relative demand and ease of doing business," explains Gary Blackburn, DIT Export Marketing Research Adviser.
For Rise & Recline, an initial data-crunching exercise pointed to Germany as a potentially significant market. Switzerland and the Netherlands are also possible destinations, each scoring highly on ease of doing business. The significant amounts of money spent on healthcare in the US makes it an obvious choice too. McCarthy points out that further research at the individual state level would be required to pinpoint the most appropriate entry points into that market.
From selling direct or through agents to establishing a franchise or an overseas business, there are multiple ways to get your goods into new markets.
Freight costs are a potential concern for Langtree, given that each chair weighs around 60kg. But she is wary of a licensing arrangement too: "I’m not sure I would trust somebody else to make my products and have my name on them."
However, the session reveals that Rise & Recline already has an overseas customer base – in Ireland. This was established via an agent met at a trade show. McCarthy takes Langtree to task for her perception that this “doesn’t count” as exporting: the business is already a successful exporter!
DIT helps businesses to explore route options and ensure that potential partners are legitimate. McCarthy adds: "Sometimes agents are working for a competitor and may be employed just to take your product out of the market. We can validate contacts."
Langtree has visited one of the key trade shows in her market, which is held in both the US and Germany, but has not yet invested in exhibiting there.
McCarthy underlines the value of first-hand experience in a chosen market: "The statistics can get you going, but people can tell you a lot more." Again, DIT can help to fund visit costs and offer trade show support.
Langtree left the session with food for thought: “The prospect of longterm uncertainty over Brexit makes planning difficult, but export is high on our agenda,” she says.
If you are taking your first steps into exporting or building your presence overseas, you can find more information, tools and resources on our Export Resource Centre.