Patience, persistence and a change in processes enabled family firm Dewhurst to gain a foothold in the Middle East.
Visitors who step into the lifts of a new luxury hotel in Dubai will be relying on British-made components to help whisk them to their required floor.
The new building is among the first in the region to feature the products of Dewhurst, which specialises in pushbuttons and operating panels for elevators.
And Neil Gardner, Dewhurst UK Manufacturing's Sales Director for Europe and now Dewhurst Middle East Elevator Accessories LLC's Regional Director, anticipates they will be the first of many.
Dewhurst is only now recruiting for its first permanent staff member in Dubai. But this point marks the result of three years' work by Gardner to win customers in the region.
The Feltham-based firm and its sister companies already have a presence in Europe, North America, Australia and Hong Kong. The Middle East was selected as a target market because it was "the Empty Quarter on our map", and strategically because Dewhurst believed the region's construction market was set for a revival.
This impression was reinforced by Gardner's regular visits. "The region is still experiencing economic peaks and troughs, but as a young operation out there we need to secure only a few high-value projects at this stage," he says. "Building relationships now will hopefully put us in a strong position as funds are released for new projects in the future."
Dewhurst asked UKTI (now the Department for International Trade) to source potential contacts among major lift manufacturers in the region through its Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS). Those leads provided the confidence for Gardner's first visits.
"While we have partnerships with the European headquarters of the multinationals, we weren't realising any major successes in the Middle East," he explains, "which pointed clearly to the need for direct relationships."
The rewards were initially slow to materialise, but during 2016 the company racked up orders worth £465,000 in the Middle East - “a real boon in what was otherwise a mixed year for the UK business,” says Gardner.
Among the first major orders was for a retail mall in Qatar, Doha Festival City. The client was seeking a robust package. Dewhurst's pushbuttons, designed to withstand being pressed over 6m times, provided the solution.
More high-end touchscreen panels have been procured for the new Alef Residences, The Palm in Dubai. And for the prestigious Najmat residential towers in Abu Dhabi, the customer specified a special bronze material.
"The Middle East's high-end expectations suit our offering because we have so much bespoke capability," Gardner says.
The biggest challenge for Dewhurst has been meeting the high turnaround expectations of Middle East customers.
"In the Middle East, projects are very dynamic. On placing an order, they need deliveries to start within weeks. Naturally, our customers are under intense pressure from their clients," Gardner says.
"Our processes are very technical, and a lack of one small but important detail from a customer can cause a delay. Through an early and hard learning curve we had to review our systems and resource to become even more responsive and adaptable."
While emphasising that patience is required to establish relationships, Gardner commends the region to other UK firms. "There are exciting opportunities there, with a big desire for British products," he says.
"You have to have absolute confidence in your solution but be prepared to butcher it, to tailor it to the market. You have to go there, meet face to face and continuously build those relationships face to face. But it takes time".
"I've fallen in love with the Middle East - I am humbled by how many professional friendships I have made. Be supportive of your customers and be patient: the rewards are fantastic."