Britain’s mid-sized businesses lack an appetite for export, McKinsey’s managing partner Kevin Sneader said at the Investec Entrepreneurs’ Summit on June 13th. But later that day a panel of exceptional business leaders with successful export histories called this thesis into question.
Barriers to export are relatively low, the Export Challenge panelists’s stories suggested. Support from various helpful bodies is very much available for companies looking to to export, agreed Dr Graham Hine, CEO of SGX Sensortech; David Milner, CEO of Tyrrells Crisps; Dermott Rowan, managing director & co-owner of Kiely Rowan Plc, and Margaret Manning, CEO of Reading Room.
British embassies and high commissioners should be the first point of contact for any entrepreneur leading a company into exports. “One of the things that’s important for anyone trading overseas is to understand the characteristics of the countries in which they’re trading,” said Dr Graham Hine. “A lot of British entrepreneurs go to Japan and just remain British – but there are certain ways of etiquette everyone working in Japan needs to understand; the local embassy is extremely helpful in providing help with that.”
Margaret Manning, who has just led Reading Rooms to Asia, had the British embassy in Singapore provide her with useful contacts. “We’ve used the embassy in every place we’ve exported to. One other really helpful body, though, is the British Chambers of Commerce. They are absolutely stunning in Asia.”
Regarding banks the panelists showed more scepticism, describing the process of funding export growth through banks as complicated and time-consuming.
“We’ve been funded by banks successfully, but the process of getting the money has involved a lot of work and taken up much time,” explained Dermott Rowan. Kiely Rowan Plc opened their first store in South Korea last November and have already opened stores in Taiwan and North America. “Export is the way for companies to grow; my advice is to use a bank that has an international understanding, so they can understand what it means to design something in Britain, manufacture it in China and sell it in New York.”
As for actually finding the best country for exporting your particular product to, the panelists agreed that instinct beats market research by far.
“The best way to decide whether you want to be somewhere is get on a plane, then walk around the supermarkets and see what’s in store,” said David Milner. Tyrrells Crisps are in store in France, Germany and India amongst others.
“Nothing beats getting out there and meeting people, then making it happen by driving it through,” added Graham Hine. “Get out there and do it.”
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