From party problems to international trade pioneer

From party problems to international trade pioneer

A Rotherham company specialising in selling marquees and gazebos online has seen demand soar from overseas, so much so that they’re now sparking a re-shoring drive to bring manufacturing back to the UK.

With the Millennium approaching one man was facing a desperate search for a marquee, little did he realise that it would be the start of a multi-million international trade journey.

Gala Tents is a family run business that has seen its international trade explode in recent years and now has several trademarks and patents on products they ship to multiple countries around the globe.

The business was created in 1999 when founder Jason Mace tried to get hold of a marquee for a Millennium party.

When nothing could be found, he bought his own from China. Since then he’s never looked back and now sells 15,000 marquees and gazebos a year, turning over more than £10m.

The business creates high-quality structures at its factory in China and then sells direct to customers online or through a network of official distributors.

Marketing manager Michaela Stafford says they quickly broke into exports when customers around the world started finding their products online.

She said: “Our products are better quality and cheaper than anyone else and people soon realised that so they started coming to us via the website.

“When we realised there was a clear demand beyond the UK, we spoke to the UKTI to get help developing an international business plan, creating a model for identifying distributors and understanding customs regulations and, critically, identifying customers.

“We agreed a deal with our first international distributor in Ireland in 2013 and it’s been a very fast journey since then. Today we’ve got 11 distributors in different countries and we’re aiming to have another by the end of the year.”

Gala Tents continues to receive individual orders from around the world and has developed intelligent online systems that track distributor stocks and instantly ships what they need. They are also planning to bring their manufacturing back onshore within two years.

Stafford added: “We’ve developed a model that works for us and we will continue to expand internationally. We get a number of orders from the US and we’re planning on moving into that market by 2017.

“No-one is matching our standards so we have no real competition. International trade has fuelled our growth and we will continue to expand the business by seizing these great opportunities overseas.”


More about their exporting journey...


What have been the greatest challenges?

“The language barrier is probably the hardest part, but by getting expert support and finding trusted partners, it isn’t an impossible obstacle to overcome and shouldn’t ever put you off from targeting countries where there’s a clear appetite for your product.

“Managing distributors can also be a challenge and we’ve had some that haven’t pushed the brand as much as we would have liked. However, we manage that by keeping them engaged and by showing them how to sell the product most effectively.”


What would you have done differently?

“Looking back, we would have developed a better payment system from the beginning. We’d have done more research into what was needed as every country wants to pay differently and it’s been quite challenging to meet their needs.

“Our customers buy direct so we get the money instantly and it means we don’t have to worry about cashflow, but it’s always about making it as easy as possible to buy from us.”


What are your top tips for potential exporters?

 “Start simple. We began in Ireland and developed a model for exporting. Do the research and check if the country wants your product. Once you’ve decided on a target, stick with it and don’t be tempted to try multiple destinations at once.

“Once you’ve established a successful system for international trade – expand!

“I’d say to every business that they should try exporting, it is worth it. Without exports, your business won’t expand.”