Insurance · 21 August 2018

“Export is not a tap that can simply be turned on”: The key ingredients for micro businesses

Gavin Hepburn – ATG Access sales and marketing director.

To help micro business owners cope with the challenges posed by exporting goods and services, a director at manufacturer ATG Access explains why up-skilling employees should not be overlooked.

Name: Gavin Hepburn
Business: ATG Access
Export markets: 42 countries including Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Describe your business in one sentence:  ATG Access is the world’s most innovative designer and manufacturer of bollards, road blockers, barriers and bespoke security solutions.

Describe your business model: Our business model – and route to market – is to sell through local distributors or agents. We look for reputable companies within our target countries with engineering expertise and contacts in the security industry, ideally, with in-house marketing and sales capabilities. In addition, we seek companies with a similar culture and values to our own.

As a product manufacturer, we pay careful attention to the practicalities of the movement of products around the world in terms of ensuring that lead times are competitive and freight taxes do not make the goods economically non-viable.

In response to this, we have established five ATG manufacturing hubs around the globe: UK, UAE, South East Asia, India and America.

This covers the supply to our major markets and enables us to remain competitive.

We have also relocated some of our experienced staff to support our largest export markets, such as the Middle East.

Why do you export and what’s the impact on your business?

The main reason we export is that although our home market is thriving there are many opportunities internationally for selling our products and services.

Exporting is incredibly exciting, but it takes time and thought to set up the process properly. It also requires research and patience prior to an export market becoming a success. Although challenging, the rewards can be plentiful – both in terms of sales revenue and experience gained.

The impact to our business has included the up-skilling of employees to help cope with export challenges, and to understand different trading environments. The knock-on effect is flexible working hours to cope with the time differences of major markets, obtaining additional certification where needed and managing international payment, which is not always very straightforward.

What is the most difficult part of selling internationally?

There are many challenges to selling internationally. Agreeing payment terms and understanding payment documents, such as letters of credit and letters of intent, adjusting to a variety of different cultures, such as the extremities of differences between export markets such as Japan and Denmark, and getting the right spread of people and expertise to provide the correct level of support for multiple countries, can all be extremely difficult.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for other business owners?

Be patient. Export is not a tap that can simply be turned on. It requires patience, setting the right ground work and doing a great deal of research.

And, get on a plane! Nothing beats first-hand experience to understand the business culture and challenges face-to-face. Don’t be afraid of export, it’s exciting and can be full of reward.

Where do you turn to for help?

There is a wealth of support available for those looking to add an exporting function to their business.

This includes grants and part-funded trade missions to new markets, organised by the Department of International Trade (DIT), trade associations and even some banks.

For advice and support, the DIT’s Overseas Market Introduction Services (OMIS) comprises a network of trade specialists who can assist with finding overseas customers.

In addition, export credit schemes are run by agencies to finance domestic companies’ international export operations, plus exhibition grants are available as part of the Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP).

These services have proven invaluable to our exporting success.

Brexit: Good or bad for your business?

It’s just another bump in the road for ATG. We still don’t know exactly what it will mean for our business but, whatever comes from the deal, ATG will adjust and cope accordingly.

Specifically, for ATG Access; currently only 10% of our exports go to EU countries. The Middle East, America and Australia have historically driven the highest demand for high security products.

The EU has, however, been identified as one of the biggest growth markets over the last twelve months and is forecasted to continue over the next two years.

In terms of the immediate effects of Brexit, we import some components from overseas and have already been impacted by some supply price increases, in particular steel, which is trading in dollars. Uncertainties include the possible introduction of European tariffs introduced when shipping into Europe.

On the upside, a weak pound will make British manufacturers increasingly price competitive in overseas markets.

Despite the uncertainty of exact trading details between the UK and the single market, we are confident in the demand for quality British manufacturing, innovation and engineering.

Where do you see your business in the next year? 

ATG has huge growth ambitions for the next trading year. We have had a fantastic first quarter (May-July), achieving nearly £5 million worth of sales. We aim to grow revenue by around a further 20% over the trading year, following on from growth last year.

Much of this growth will come from European and Middle Eastern projects, along with a couple of large projects in South East Asia.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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