How we started selling overseas

How we started selling overseas{{}}

Warmup Plc is an under-floor heating systems manufacturer and supplier based in North West London. Nick Felsing, Group Marketing and Sales Director, tells us how they successfully expanded into overseas markets following a high level of domestic growth

"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, whilst we had made some forays into exporting our products and networking overseas, we realised that there were more concrete sales opportunities abroad - but we needed to do some deep market research to understand the available channels. This was our route to further accelerating the high growth rates of previous years.

"Our first export market was Spain. We found there was significant construction going on in southern Spain primarily for holiday accommodation and private villas - a steady stream of property supply for the British expats who were buying them and were already familiar with the Warmup brand. Most houses are built to keep cool in Spain - plenty of tiles, not much carpet - but at night in the winter it can get cold, and this is where our underfloor heating comes in."

Taking a structured approach

"We approached the Department for International Trade (formerly UK Trade & Investment) for help. 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.

"The DIT even provided funding for translations and exhibiting at trade shows. Years later we continue to make use of their ongoing 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."

Think global, act local

“Since those early days our strategy as an export-led company has changed. We have now installed more than 2.5 million systems across 70 countries, and have our own representation in 11 of them. Country directors drive growth and new client acquisition. We have our own sales resource and sales support in most regions, and back this up with an extensive network of agents and distributors.

“We identified early on that the only way to go was to ‘glocalise’: think global, act local. Smaller markets can access central resources from the London headquarters while having people in client-facing roles based locally. The local organisation is able to create their own culture and interact directly with the people they sell to.

"Marketing and overall brand guidelines have always been kept strictly in the hands of the headquarters, allowing localisation within set terms. Design is kept consistent across the globe, and all the websites for different countries have a uniform look.

“We also have a partnership model with local agents in foreign markets who buy the right to sell Warmup. This leaves us with minimum risk in penetrating a new market that we know nothing about.”

Three tips from Nick

  • To go international, you need a local organisational structure that can provide the same pre- and post-sales service as at home. The same KPIs should be used globally to make sure there's no weak link in the processes.
  • When operating abroad it's likely that there will be a different commercial culture to the UK. It may seem obvious, but you ignore this at your peril. Study the local way of doing business, and shape or adapt your organisation accordingly.
  • Be aware that whilst you may have the best product in the world, it doesn't mean you will be able to sell it right away. You will hit unexpected speed bumps - for example, different regulatory hoops to jump through. These can be time-consuming and costly.