Export success is proving to be a real education for a Northumberland firm which has been selling overseas for several years.
Eduk8 Worldwide, of Great Whittington, is a small family business that specialises in educational aids and toys, with – it says - the emphasis firmly on innovation and fun.
Its range of products covers maths, English language, science, early years, outdoor play and special needs from the age of three years through to secondary school level, with resources for both pupils and teachers.
The company was set up by mother-of-three and former sales rep Christine Lawson and her partner Roger, a product designer, more than ten years ago with the initial focus on traditional educational teaching aids.
Lawson explains: “These are classroom resources, they’re materials which help children in the classroom, so they can be in the form of maths games, they’re not books, they’re all products that have been designed by ourselves, for special needs, for balance, for co-ordination. We do PE, we do maths, science, literacy, we do art and craft materials, we cover pretty much the whole spectrum apart from IT. And that’s from early years from kindergarten right the way through into early secondary.’’
The business soon began to look at exporting.
“It was so we weren’t just reliant on the home market, says Lawson. “We wanted to be able to have the opportunity to expand and we just felt that because we’re just purely in the education market, it’s very limited within the UK and we needed to go abroad.’’
With the support of UKTI’s Passport to Export initiative and more recently the Gateway to Global Growth (G3) programme, the company secured an impressive overseas client list. It has also commissioned an Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) report to explore the US as a potential new market.
“We cover most of Europe, the Middle East, the US and we do ship out to Singapore,’’ says Lawson. “We’ve got a couple of distributors in Singapore as well. Primarily we look to distributors in each country, we’re not interested in selling direct to individual companies, ideally we’re looking for distributors.’’
Now about a third of sales are overseas, although there were cultural barriers to overcome.
“Obviously the UK curriculum is driven by the government, so obviously it’s quite specific and the UK market is our first and foremost concern, so our products have to be designed for the UK market,’’ says Lawson. “Trying to get those products to fit in on the international sphere is quite tricky sometimes. Just to give an example, we teach decimals in this country and we find in Europe they don’t teach decimals until much, much later and in any case the decimal place is in a totally different position, they use it like a dot, rather than in the middle. It’s difficult for a small business like us to produce specifically for a particular country because of the volumes that are involved with manufacturing. So that is our biggest problem I would say.’’
Nor is exporting cheap.
Lawson says: “There are individual countries I would love to target but can’t because I feel the cost is really prohibitive. If you think about it, when you visit a country you’ve got the flights, the accommodation, plus a research report on top, you’re talking about £2,000 to £3,000 easily. It’s a lot of money to spend on one country - and there’s a lot of countries out there.’’
In 2013, they decided to broaden the product customer base by expanding into the retail toy market, and in January this year they exhibited at the London Toy Fair in Olympia, followed in February by the Spring Fair in Birmingham and the Nuremburg Toy Fair in Germany, with support from UKTI’s Tradeshow Access Programme.
Lawson says: “We felt that parents should have access to the same quality educational toys which are used in schools and the response we’ve had has been wonderful. We’ve had more than 160 serious enquiries from all over the world including Japan, Korea, Germany, France and the USA and this is expected to result in 50 or more longer-term customers including Amazon, Tesco, Argos, M&S and Sainsbury’s.”
Every year, in late January or early February, Eduk8 exhibits at the seven-day Nuremburg Toy Fair.
“That is our shop window for our international customers,’’ says Lawson. “We always have high hopes for that, every year we pick up new customers there and of course we do that with the support of UKTI, because it’s a very expensive exhibition to exhibit at, but we wouldn’t be able to survive without exhibiting there. It’s our only opportunity to access a lot of countries but in just one place.’’
Jeff Sanders, one of UK Trade & Investment’s International Trade Advisers, who has worked closely with the company says: “We’ve been working with Eduk8 Worldwide Ltd for several years and Christine and Roger have made good use of a wide range of UKTI’s support services.
“It is a clear example of how success in exporting can be achieved by getting the right product into the right market, combined with an awful lot of hard work and perseverance by Christine and her team.
“I hope their success will inspire other small businesses to find out how exporting can help their business grow.”