The Secret to International Success
We were recently asked to deliver a talk, highlighting some of the key steps we undertook to become successful internationally. Delivered by Operations Director Derek Carr on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and DIT.
You can watch the full presentation above or read through the transcript below.
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It’s nice to be here. I have been asked to touch on three points. Us a business, who we are, and what we do export wise. How we are trying to mitigate risks with Brexit and finally our three pieces of advice. So hopefully you will be able to take something with you.
We are Addfield we are based in Staffordshire we are manufacturers of incineration technology so anything regarding waste if it can’t be recycled, we will manufacture a machine that can dispose of this waste.
At Addfield we are proud that we have we have an array of different skills. We have welder fabricators, designers, we have refractory masons, combustion engineers, and electrical engineers. So we are very proud of what we do as a business you hear a lot about manufacturing dying in the UK so but it is not, there are lots of great things that we (businesses) do in this country that we don’t tell the world about so if you have got something and it is great you should tell the world about it.
So this is why I wanted to be here today as an exporting champion. Be proud to be British we don’t know what is coming in the next few months. But we have always had great services here, great products, people still want them, so just be proud of what you manufacture or what services that you give.
A bit of a history of Addfield and I will try not to bore you too much about the history as I know you are here mainly for Brexit. But for us to share where we are today. We are a British manufacturer, back in 2012 we were 100% UK market. That was all we did British machines, British farmers. Farmers fallen stock, managing dead animals, food processing. Everything was treated on-site rather than moving around the country. We knew that we had something great we knew that we had competition and we knew that with our growth in the UK market that we were limited. We knew we were restricted as to where we could go.
The battles that we had as a business. Our managing director Steve Lloyd took over the business in 2007 and it was part of his other businesses in 2009 he separated it from this businesses that was merging with an American company and so we started with a team of two. We knew we had something great we knew that we wanted to build the most robust reliable and thermally efficient incinerators on the market and we wanted to build upon that. Everyone says that they are the best, so that is the thing I want to get across. Everyone says they are the best, best service and best product and that is why you need to have an open-door policy.
Show people your products let them touch them, let them kick them, ask challenging questions let them try it for six months. You need to get your product out there.
So we did that we had competition in the UK, now we are the leader in the UK. In 2012 we had zero sales into Europe and the rest of the world. So what did we do? Like many of you may have had trade advisors. We are lucky that we had a good team from Staffordshire, Alethea Warburton looks after us and what that enabled us to do was put an export plan together. As discussed you will have already seen the growth areas that were shown of where the money is and where people are buying goods. So when you have an idea of where you have got a product and people want it then make sure you focus on these areas. If you only speak English and you are trying to translate it into Mandarin and you don’t know. If it is right you should choose the countries that you want to work with properly.
Our export plan was we knew we wanted to go where we knew the money was where it was easier to trade and there were less barriers.
So we put a plan together we then needed to tell people about the products we had to invest. We had to jump on planes, we had to go to exhibitions, we had to learn from our mistakes. So don’t be scared of jumping on a plane, don’t be scared about going to an exhibition. You may fail, you may make no sales out of them, but you don’t know if you don’t try. And that is one thing that I will say is that you learn from your early mistakes but you have got to give it a go.
Invest into your brand. Whenever we were making money, we were investing it back into our marketing and back into our brand. We were working heavily on case studies. By making sure it was in magazines wherever we could put our branding we would. There is one thing where we were first starting, off we would look at products that are similar to us. We looked up to JCB, whatever angle you see a machine you will see JCB on it. So taking the typical rules from marketing and how you get that brand out there and that every single angle we got Addfield in it.
Distributors, we have got a good team of distributors. Not everyone has worked, but we have a good team now. They are doing a great job for us. But they need to feel a part of the team. Whenever you have anything new, when you have a great story share it with them because those are the people doing business in-country with your products if they don’t know about it, they can’t sell it for you.
The one thing with the languages, I’m a typical Brit, I can only say hello in about three languages. Apart from that, I am pretty useless, so making sure that if you haven’t got those skill sets that you get someone in. Get translations done properly so that you can open up those horizons.
So what do we do, when we look for exporting opportunities as we have seen. There are great hyperlinks that you can actually see where the opportunities are. So it enables us to focus our efforts. Luckily we are a growing business and are overwhelmed with the work, we have got so much that our books are closed for the next 18 months. We are in a good opportunity, however, if there was somewhere that I needed to look and focus my sales team on. I would be using platforms like this to make sure so that you could learn where the opportunities were.
Was it difficult for us? When we were first starting out, we had to learn very fast. We had never worked with letters of credit. We didn’t know what they were about. We only knew that was the way that they wanted to pay for them? So, it was the fact of you had to learn from your own mistakes the way they were written making sure that you were speaking to your banks, getting templates sorted that would benefit you first. So that you were not having sleepless nights.
We are an SME business when we started with two of us. When we were growing, taking risks where you weren’t getting paid until the end when the machines were getting into the country, was a lot of money taken out of the business. If you weren’t getting paid once it got into the country obviously it is going to affect cash flow, so making sure you are aware of the ways how people want to do business. Letter of credits contracts of sales government contracts be aware of what you need to do to this trade.
Technology as well today makes it a lot easier, so easy to be communicated with any part of the day. So you need to be ready for that 24 hours of the day. I would love to say that you can have that nice balance of work and home life. It is difficult but you need to be ready for it. One thing for us as we have inquiries from all over the world. It doesn’t mean that you have to get to them that second but one thing I would say is if you can make a two-minute phone call. And say we received the inquiry and we will look after it you will be there before the rest of the competition. Because if they are going out to the rest of the world they will send it out to three-four different companies. So make sure you reach out to it if only to put a name to the voice.
So at least they know that their inquiry is being looked after and you are positioning well.
Internationalise your business with simple things like the +44 making sure that you do the .com/es. Making it look like you want to work in these countries. Work on your translation, anyone who has used google translate, it is great but you can probably look back and see have tripped up in the past as well. Particularly for us as well we had, an exhibition where it was translated into Arabic and in our ignorance, it was still in left to right rather than right to left. So don’t be scared to do it but make sure you are giving it to competent people rather than trying to cut corners.
Another, this is if it sounds too good to be true it normally is. Don’t try and take risky business. If it’s too good, walk away you don’t need that risk. People are always talking about ‘Hero Sales’, hero sales will be here today but gone tomorrow. So make sure you don’t focus on those make sure you are keeping your bread and butter going.
So today in 2019 we have just gone over the 100 mark, so 101 countries that we are distributed to. Which is great, sales is 35% UK 65% internationally with distributors in 5 continent. It has grown rapidly we have got 100 thousand square feet factory we have got 65 employees so we are not a massive business. But what we do is invest in the team. We invest in our distributors so they can invest into their teams in the country. We can offer the service, we can offer the maintenance so they can become an extra asset to the business.
A few examples, we do a lot of work with NGOs. Anyone who listens to the news regarding plastic waste, or Ebola, or African swine fever. There is always something about waste or disease or the spread of disease we position ourselves well. Where it is not easy getting a lot of your personnel into these countries. But giving them the product showing them how to maintain it. You might find that a lot of these NGOs have a bit of a throw-away culture. So that they buy something and after that mission, it is not really well looked after. This is not where we want to position ourselves, we want to make sure that there is longevity in our machine. That it is sustainable, it is easy to use in-country so that we train them when we come out of the country. So that when we come out of the country they are still able to use them.
This was a nice one regarding the ascension islands again plastic waste very topical at the moment a lot of the plastic waste was washing up on the seafront. And what they were doing was simply making a pit and burning plastics in the pit. Obviously this is not how we would want the waste to be treated and in this project, it was a bit long-winded. But it was nice for our engineers being flown in on a Hercules, and not able to leave for 30 days. So they were telling me how hard the job was but when they found out how cheap the beer was and they were able to watch baby turtles making their way into the ocean.
They do get some really good projects and again you will see more of our branding so on the top container this is a double container, it makes it easier for transportation that’s why it is in the container. Typically it would not be, but it has Addfield here on the top container. Based on that branding we have just won another order with the US army. So if you have got your branding on there it could turn into another sale so make sure you can be seen.
Case studies as well as building case studies. So you can see today, we are doing a case study of who we are this is a typical case study of these projects so put it out there.
Not being scared to not, just tick a box. But to say that this is not right, because people will listen. Actually get them to say this is wrong, because of this, and show them the evidence that things will change. This is how we have worked really well with UNICEF is because they trust us. Now I am not saying that we win every job. But what we are doing is raising the standard and that what we want is for the standards to be risen.
The investment in people, making sure our distributors, here are our distributors from Chile the Middle East and Spain, our distributor from Pakistan and our multilingual team that speak Spanish and French.
Make sure that you get them in involved our distributor in the middle is the Middle East. It is about enjoying yourself as well. If you are doing exhibitions, everyone will know everyone makes it sound fun. That if you go to Dubai, “have you been here? Have you done this” they ask “did you?”. But you go to the airport, you go to the hotel and that is it. When you have got this opportunity to build this relationship. If you have got your distributors there, that will enable you to do the business for the next five years as everyone likes doing business with people they like.
Here is the nice part because it allows you to share with the rest of the team. We have won quite a lot of awards over the past few years whether it is the Chamber award, the Board of Trade awards being in the top 100 SME businesses. There is lots of stuff to tell people how great things are. Where in reality, we are like any business we make mistakes, we trip up, we are not perfect we are far from it. But as long as you know your mistakes you can learn from them. Like with the top 100, where we went to London, you feel sometimes when you sit in a crowd and think that they are a completely different beast to us. But that what you have to do, you have to aspire to, you have got to aspire to be the best that your business can be.
Ok so we talked about Brexit and as I said I am no expert on Brexit. What I can do is say what we are doing to be Brexit ready. One of the key things is to make sure you have the thing is right. So we have got a sales team, so we need to make sure our quotes are right. So before you can start selling, we need to get our quotes right, people want quotations, so make sure you have your lead times right. Make sure you have your Incoterms right. Because Incoterms are changing in January 2020, so if you have got a lead time of 20 weeks for a product you are going to be affected by the new incoterms.
Be ready for it in your quotation, with your lead times, add another two weeks. Because we just don’t know. It is better to be safe and keep the customer happy, than to stick to what you know now and you get delays.
Just build it into your quotation make sure you speak to accounts so they are aware of it and where the money is coming from as cash flow is important.
Terms and conditions of sales as well. We have had to review our terms and condition as well. Straight away so everyone is aware. Making sure that everyone is aware as that is your safety net as well, your terms and conditions, so make sure that they are updated.
We have talked about the EORI number but it is really important if you are not sure just speak to the rest of the team if you haven’t got it.
Employment so anyone who is employing people in Europe you might be unsure as to what will happen. The sad thing is we are not even 100% clear but nothing is going to change straight away so there is no point in being scared of something you don’t even know about.
The one thing I will say is that if you are doing international trade, and you have engineers or sales teams jumping on planes. Make sure that if you have booked any exhibition for next year. Their passports are up to date. Make sure their visas are sorted make sure you do things you are in control of.
Once again, the .gov website, it is great. As we have said it changes all the time. Once again coming in the car today you hear different things to what you heard yesterday so make sure you are refreshing it make sure you are looking. Sadly, I don’t think anyone in this room will know everything that is going on in Brexit.
So finally, the three pieces of advice.
- The first piece. Invest in people and when I say invest in people understanding weaknesses, so if you need somebody who needs export training and that’s a weakness. Now I understand that there is money available to get training so that is a weakness invest in them if you need multilingual, invest in that. If you need to go to exhibitions, you need to allow your sales team, give them the tools to do their job. So you need to invest in your people, invest in your business once again your brand, put your money back into the business. Don’t think just because you are all right today that people will come back to you.
- Making sure that you give the right tools to get the right information to them. Don’t be scared you will make mistakes.
- Don’t be scared. Of the new opportunities that Brexit will bring.
How to get your business Brexit Ready – .gov.uk website click here.
To find your own exporting opportunities – Exporting is Great website click here.
Discover your International opportunities – DIT Exporting website click here.
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