Based at the Midlothian Innovation Centre in Roslin, Arrayjet is a leading biological inkjet printing company flying the flag for Scottish manufacturing across the globe. BQ caught up with CEO Iain McWilliam ahead of the HSBC Scottish Export Awards to hear more about their export success.
What does your company do?
Founded in 2000, Arrayjet are the market leader in high throughput biological inkjet printing.
We offer a range of scalable biological inkjet printing instruments and outsourced assay development and printing services.
Our customers use our products to develop and manufacture screening tools and biological assays for the pharmaceutical, diagnostics and life science industries.
Applications include high-throughput genomic and proteomic screening, patient stratification for personalised medicine and the manufacture of clinical diagnostic devices.
Our technology is proprietary and it delivers benefits of quality, speed, efficiency of manufacture, process-control and ease of use.
How long has the company been exporting?
What do you currently export, and where to?
A range of five scalable inkjet instruments for printing biological material.
Arrayjet Advance™ services which encompass assay development services and manufacturing services for life-science screening tools and multiplex diagnostic devices.
We export to 24 countries, with a key focus on mainland Europe, USA and China.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
We operate in a niche and the home markets simply would never have allowed us to succeed so it was a no-brainer. The biggest single life science market is the USA, so getting sales right there has been key. A new distributor can be set up in a mater of a few months, especially if you have a personal recommendation.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
Going overseas to visit customers in nice places in the world. Our most recent customer is based on the Gold Coast in Australia, as an avid surfer I was delighted to bring them on board. We might have to hold a raffle at work to decide who gets to do the installation and training.
And the most challenging part?
The time differences can be a hassle, late nights and early mornings are essential to stay in touch with your distributors and customers in North America and Asia.
Also, make sure you choose a distributor with a portfolio that compliments your products, with a big enough team to cover their territory sufficiently, and of a financial size to ensure success with your product line is going to a make a decent difference to their bottom line.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
We’ve largely overcome language barriers this by selecting distributors with a good level of English. In the life-science sector, most customers will also have a good level of English which helps. We’re a multi-lingual company too, with technical and commercial staff fluent in French, Spanish, Welsh, Arabic and Hindi.
We limit the impact of currency fluctuations by operating three separate price lists and three separate bank accounts in GBP, EURO and USD. If you have a significant amount of revenue coming in from overseas I would also recommend using a foreign exchange service; Neil Poyton at FC Exchange has helped us dramatically reduce money otherwise wasted on punitive standard bank rates and fees.
Foreign culture and different etiquette are part of the joy of working overseas. I’ve had dinners where I haven’t known exactly what I’m eating or sometimes even how to eat it, but I love it. I believe in opening myself up to any hospitality offered, and that a smile and a sense of adventure are universal currency.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
Scottish Development International have been great in Taiwan.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Get in touch with your Scottish Executive and Scottish Development International account manager (or UKTI equivalent), they’ll guide you and can even help fund overseas market development.
Make sure you’re search engine ranking is good in the territory you are looking to enter.
No regrets whatsoever. Not everything has gone according to plan and I’d do some things differently if I had the time over again, but it all adds to the learning experience.
In the USA we’ve tried and failed with both outsourced distribution and relocating a member of our team to Boston - but the key to our success has been finding a network of knowledgeable agents with whom we work directly to convert sales.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
The last six months have been all about getting a new distributor to cover Greater China (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) and in December we signed with APG Bio based in Shanghai who are proving to be a fantastic partner.
Japan is not an easy territory to crack, but it’s high value and next on the list for late 2016. India and South America will come into our sights shortly after that. That will give us pretty much global coverage, so running alongside the commercial expansion plan is a strategy centred on innovation and new products to broaden the market we can address.
Exporting and international trade remain high on the Scottish Government’s economic growth agenda and the HSBC Scottish Export Awards are about recognising the excellence in those emerging, wealth creating companies that are selling their products, services and expertise in scores of overseas markets.