Firms win UKTI help

Firms win UKTI help

Teesside is renowned for exporting steel and chemicals but it is now also making an international impact with digital technology, as Peter Jackson reports

Two Redcar and Cleveland businesses have been selected as the winners of the ‘Get Set to Export’ competition hosted by Wilton Centre, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).  

Evil Technology and Switch Growth will benefit from the UKTI Passport to Export Programme and receive advice from a local international trade adviser and access to a range of UKTI export support services.

Evil Technology describes itself as an ethical North East-based business promoting sustainable digital and technological solutions to real business problems. The company is just over two and a half years old, is based in Middlesbrough and specialises in building web based applications, primarily for companies in the retail related sector.

Its Stockhandler.com is a cloud based software application which aims to make it easier for business to trade across online markets, not only domestically but also abroad.

The platform already includes support for ecommerce websites, eBay and Amazon and the company is currently developing connectors to various overseas marketplaces which it plans to add to the portfolio in the next few months.

Paul Sheperia, managing director of Evil Technology, says: “This is a real boost to the work we’re putting into making stockhandler.com a success, and helps us realise the export potential of this innovative solution for retailers. We’re very grateful to Redcar and Cleveland Council for its continued support.”

He explains how Stockhandler works. “It’s aimed squarely at businesses that primarily trade online, multichannel so if you sell stuff online through Amazon, eBay and through your website you trade across the world wide channels, which means as a seller you’ve got to administer each of your different markets separately.

“So if you sell things separately in France and America and Germany and Japan each of those, just on eBay, is a separate thing for you to collect your orders, to place your stock, to manage your stock online, change your stock online and manage your pricing.

“If you do a lot of selling online and you’re doing it all through multi-channel stuff, what you find is that, each individual bit of processing of an order or managing your inventory – although it’s quite small in itself – scales up into a problem very quickly.

“Imagine you have one product but you’re selling it in 10 different places, but you’ve only got one item. If you sell it in any one of those 10 different places you now haven’t got that product. So you’ve now got to go to all those other nine places and knock your inventory down by one. If you multiply that up by all the number of orders you get and the number of products you’re listing, on a daily basis, it quickly becomes an issue for you.

“If you’ve got to sign into each of your accounts every half an hour, you’ve got a lot of work to do. You’ve got to get all the orders, you’ve got to print them off, you’ve got to generate all the shipping information, you’ve got to send it to your shipping manager, put all your address labels in.

“The whole thing with stockhandler is that it’s about putting all that in one place and making it really streamlined, so it just makes it a lot easier if you need to scale up. And what we’ve seen now is that there are a lot of businesses that are hitting that problem now, that they’re trying to do that multi-channel selling, they’re moving away from selling on just an e-commerce site and they’re trying to sell on eBay and Amazon and play.com and all these other online market places, and they’re just hitting these problems really quickly.’’

The significance of Stockhandler.com is not only that it’s an exportable product in itself, but also facilitates the efforts of other exporters.

Sheperia says: “Somebody can go onto the Stockhandler.com website, sign up for a trial, authenticate their eBay and Amazon accounts, connect up their e-commerce website and they can start using the platform to fulfil orders, manage their inventory, deal with shipping and integrate with their shipping manager.’’

The company currently has four employees and has an annual turnover of between £100,000 and £150,000. But it is looking for investment to expand to grow sales and take on more staff.

It already has customers in Spain and Norway and has had a lot of interest in the product from the US.

Sheperia says: “It’s an emerging sector for software solutions, and what is already out there is in general incomplete and it’s quite clunky to use. We’re really coming at this trying to make something that’s very straightforward to use and very joined up. So what I’m finding, when I’m talking to retailers, is there are bits of solutions around but there isn’t really anything that deals with the whole process end-to-end and that’s really where we’re trying to come in.

“In this sector, selling bespoke software, in general you don’t get businesses coming after you, it’s generally word of mouth and lots of legwork to try and find opportunities and it’s fairly long sale cycles, but with this product, we’re getting enquiries from a fairly small amount of marketing.

“At the moment, we’re working with our UKTI advisor to put a plan together and we’re using some of their training to help guide that strategy. We’re also getting some support from Redcar and Cleveland Council who are helping us with things like market research.’’

Switch Growth partners with organisations to make sense of their data by developing effective procedures and systems for information management. Its aim is to support improvements in teaching and learning by designing training for the education sector which will allow schools to become effective data organisations.  

Jean Bell, director at Switch, says: “This will help launch our service into those international markets which value the strengths of the UK education sector. As a new venture supported by Redcar and Cleveland Enterprise Team, this is a significant boost to the growth we have achieved so far.”

Evil Technology and Switch Growth were selected by a panel of experts including representatives from Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, Tees Valley Unlimited, UKTI, Wilton Centre and Guardian Marine Testing (GMT) which was named as North East exporter of the Year in 2011.

Wilton Centre site director, Steve Duffield says: “This is a fantastic opportunity to grow a business in established and key emerging markets overseas and we are proud to be able to sponsor it.

“The guidance and expertise on offer from UKTI has proved invaluable to many of our tenants and we are firmly behind any initiative that will help drive business success in this region.”

Mark Hannon, the council’s cabinet member for economic development says: “International markets offer huge opportunities for Redcar and Cleveland businesses and we are delighted to be able to help these two promising local companies take the first steps towards trading overseas.”

Stephen Muir, UKTI’s International Trade Adviser for the Redcar and Cleveland area, says: “It has been proven that exporting helps companies to grow and that they do better with UKTI’s help, so we were delighted to be able to support this competition.

“We now have two worthy winners and look forward to working with them to achieve their exporting ambitions.”