Glasgow-headquartered Exchange Communications was formed in 1990 as a supplier of telephone systems. 26 years on, the company now exports to over 105 nations across the globe. BQ caught up with MD Tom Sime ahead of the HSBC Scottish Export Awards to hear how they made it happen.
What does the company do?
Exchange Communications provides telephony services to businesses across the world. We export skills and equipment to fit out companies of all sizes with telecoms equipment. We provide installation and ongoing servicing for business communications.
How long has the company been exporting?
The company formed in 1990 and we have been exporting for around eight years.
What do you currently export, and where to?
We export skills and equipment to 105 different countries. Countries we operate in include Europe, South America, the United States and Canada. We’re also breaking into Eastern Europe and Russia. Exports make up 55% of our overall turnover.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
We saw the opportunities which existed across the world which a lot of businesses are not taking advantage of.
The company has skills and experience which are universal to business needs regardless of location – which is why we have clients spanning all corners of the globe
What is the easiest part of exporting?
The number of businesses across the world which have absolutely no reservations about trading with foreign-based suppliers. This blows the global marketplace wide open for us.
Technology has also been a massive benefit to us, allowing the business to provide ongoing maintenance for our client base remotely so after the initial install has been carried out on-site, we can manage everything from Scotland.
And the most challenging part?
Each job presents new challenges which we have to overcome – from sourcing the correct documentation, arranging the export of equipment, working out the best transportation and couriers to getting our team on-site. We have a department which deals specifically with the logistical side of our overall operation, who are obviously kept pretty busy.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Trading in different currencies is big part of what we do. We need to make sure the company isn’t losing out if there are major fluctuations in the market which have a real impact on the overall return. The company now hedges five different currencies, keeping a close eye on global trends to ensure we are buying at the right time.
Language barriers present a challenge but can be helped by organisations like UKTI which can provide interpreters to help with all aspects of deal-making.
Countries in the UK are in a strong position as English is widely spoken although some of our technicians have been in a few awkward (and occasionally comical) situations but we always get the job done.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
Absolutely, we were actually extremely impressed with the amount of support which exists, often for free.
Organisations like Scottish Enterprise, UK Trade and Investment and even British Embassies ‘on the ground’ have been instrumental to our success, helping us navigate the different hurdles which are initially presented when you want to trade overseas.
The Royal Bank of Scotland has also been extremely useful when it comes to the financial side of the operation, helping us to manage our funds for doing business abroad.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Don’t be intimidated. There is indeed a big world out there but that should mean further opportunity rather than risk.
When we were initially beginning to trade abroad there was times when we found ourselves in the positon when currency exchanges didn’t rule in our favour, giving our accountant something to fret about. This is why we now hedge in five different currencies.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
We want to continue to look overseas but also continue the focus at home in the UK. Many of our biggest clients are expanding into Eastern Europe so we see a lot of potential in this area.
Businesses have sometimes shied away from this vast region, for a number of different reasons but we are embracing it.