Success stories from North East companies targeting international markets formed the core of the first ever CBI/UKTI Global Growth Event yesterday.
Held at Gateshead’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, the event saw representatives from dozens of the region’s leading firms turn out to receive advice on how to grow through exporting.
Among the speakers were key figures from the CBI’s international offices, as well as Guy Warrington, UKTI’s director of regions.
Representatives from Barclays, Ward Hadaway and UK Export Finance also offered advice, interspersed with case studies from regional firms that have already gone global.
Among them was Raman Sehgal of the Newcastle-based marketing and communications consultancy, ramarketing.
He explained that while exporting had never been crucial to the company’s expansion plans, taking on a Danish client in 2013 had sparked a wave of further overseas opportunities.
“Our services aren’t necessarily something you would associate with exporting,” he said.
“But we realised we had built up a niche in the life sciences and pharmaceutical sector for which there was export potential.”
Working closely with UKTI, the business has been able to expand into Scandinavia, India, France and US, achieving higher profit margins than would be possible in the UK while still keeping prices considerably lower than competitors.
Mr Sehgal offered a list of 10 points exporters should keep in mind - from identifying a point of difference to remaining disciplined - and spoke of employees’ enthusiasm for entering new markets.
“Going into foreign countries is exciting and the staff love it,” he said. “Yes, there can be difficulties, but it’s a good experience.”
Andrew Upton, USA vice president of the Peterlee-headquartered Seaward Group, also spoke with enthusiasm of the benefits exporting had brought to the company.
Seaward, which employs 165 people, designs and manufactures electrical test equipment for sectors including medical and renewables.
With additional offices in Tampa and Malaysia, the firm has used a variety of methods - from direct sales to distributor partners - to export around the world.
Mr Upton suggested avoiding a “scattergun approach”, focusing instead on markets where the biggest impact could be made.
He also advised long-term commitment, appropriate training within UK offices and employing the right staff - a point echoed by Andrew Mears, director of Solutions Recruitment and Speedflex Corporate Solutions, who said: “The value a business fit should not be underestimated.”
The conference also heard from John Haslam, joint managing director of GF SMith Limited, Europe’s leading specialist paper merchants.
“We have strong brand values and to have partners around the world, it’s imperative that they have the same values as you,” he said.