Headquartered in Aberdeen, ThinJack manufacture and sell their patented ThinJack® technology to oil and gas companies across the globe. BQ caught up with director Guy Bromby ahead of the HSBC Scottish Export Awards to find out how they made it happen.
What does your company do?
ThinJack Ltd is based at Westhill, Aberdeenshire and is well known for its service which successfully separates seized well flanges without using a drilling rig.
The ThinJack service is the solution when conventional methods of levers, wedges or pulling are unsafe, have failed or are taking too long.
The ThinJack itself is a steel envelope which can be inflated with up to 2,500 bar of hydraulic pressure to exert hundreds of tonnes of force, making it the ideal separating and jacking solution in hazardous, difficult or restricted areas.
The company also offers a specialist consultancy service proactively identifying potential flange separation problems and identifying solutions.
The latest addition to the ThinJack range of specialist services is PowerPad™ - an ultra-thin system for holding open gaps and weighing heavy objects.
How long has the company been exporting?
ThinJack was founded in 2005 and began exporting in March 2007.
What do you currently export, and where to?
ThinJack currently exports its range of products and services, always supported by skilled, professional and expert field personnel travelling to anywhere in the world at relatively short notice. Current busy regions include Australia, the Netherlands, Egypt and West Africa.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
From the outset, ThinJack was keen to capitalise on the opportunities presented by a global market and was careful to ensure it did not confine itself to a potentially small domestic arena. It is for that reason that exporting began just two years after the company was founded and has been an important part of the mix ever since.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
Quite simply, exporting is a must for any small and ambitious company such as ThinJack. Embracing opportunities to do business, wherever they may exist, is an important part in ensuring corporate strength from a geographically diverse income stream.
And the most challenging part?
In ThinJack’s experience, securing payment can be the most challenging part of doing business overseas and, in the case of Angola, a 13-month wait for payment came with a bonus case of typhoid!
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
There is no doubt that arming yourself with a phrase book and having a go with the local language gets you a long way.
In ThinJack’s experience the Kuperard Culture Guides are a really useful tool when travelling and learning about customs and culture in a new region.
It is also important to have some understanding of the business environment of a country. For example, in some countries a customer’s contracting process, perhaps by a government entity, may be misaligned with an urgent technical and commercial need to a greater extent that the UK. This is critical to understand.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
Scottish Development International was excellent for making the most of trade missions and helping with introductions to key companies and people, especially in Egypt.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Research the target country’s potential carefully before you go there. Seek advice from business community colleagues, but don’t be put off by other people’s adverse experiences and opinions. In the oil and gas sector the country reports by TOGY and SDI can be helpful. Travelling to a country in which you are doing business, or propose to do business, is essential.
It is also important to record and summarise information systematically so the data gained during the business development stage is available when you win the work. Rigorously understand the exact payment process: it is rarely as simple as it says in a customer’s terms and conditions. Will some of your invoice be held back for a local “withholding” tax?
Does your price allow for this? Find out whether the customer’s proposed currency of payment is actually convertible to the currency you need and you have allowed for future exchange rate fluctuations.
Is the country’s banking system actually capable of processing your payment, back to the UK? Will you unwittingly create a “permanent establishment” and future tax liabilities in the local country?
On a personal level,doing business overseas gives the potential to make great friends. Also, do listen to and understand arguments and points of view that you may find challenging but do not necessarily need to accept.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years’ time?
Currently ThinJack is keen to capitalise on further opportunities in Europe, the Middle East, Australia and West Africa.