Who: Howard Flood, international director at Warmup plc
What: Under-floor heating systems manufacturer and supplier based in Brent
The issue: Finding opportunities to expand sales by entering overseas markets
The solution: "We set up the company in 1994 selling electrical undertile heating systems for kitchens, bathrooms and conservatories. Our products proved a hit in the UK, with sales growth averaging 30-40% each year.
"By 2004, staff who had spent time networking overseas realised there were sales opportunities abroad, with few competitors in our market. We saw a move into exporting as a way of sustaining the high growth rates of previous years.
"Our first export market was Spain. We found there was a lot of construction going on in southern Spain at the time and a lot of British expats who were already familiar with the Warmup brand. Most houses are built to keep cool in Spain, but at night in the winter it can get very cold, which is where our heating comes in.
"We approached UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) for help in exporting. One of their advisers drew up an action plan to provide us with a structured approach to selling overseas. This included researching identifying target markets, researching overseas markets, acquiring business contacts, translating promotional material, making market visits and exhibiting at overseas trade shows.
"UKTI even provided funding for translations and exhibiting at a trade show in Chicago. Although we've come to the end of the programme now, we intend to make full use of ongoing UKTI support to conduct further market research and participate in other overseas trade shows.
"Market research is essential. For example, we found that regulations in the US can vary from state to state - in one state we found that only qualified electricians could install our product, while in others anyone with DIY skills could do it. It meant we had to have a different strategy for different states.
"We saw 40% growth in export sales to the US between 2006 and 2007, while the business grew tenfold in Spain and Portugal in 2007."
Lessons learned: "If you are going to go international, then you need to have staff who can speak the language and people who the locals can relate to. We hire people in the UK and abroad who really understand the culture of the markets we are selling into.
"Also, be aware that you may have the best product in the world, but it doesn't mean you will be able to sell it right away. You will hit unexpected problems. We faced more regulatory difficulties in some countries than in others, which made it lengthy and expensive to do business there because of the additional layers of bureaucracy that are involved."
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