Export help on hand

Export help on hand

Ajay Desai is head of international trade at Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, and the regional lead for UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) on healthcare. He explains his role to BQ.

Hopefully, most people have heard of us, but if not, UKTI was set up to assist UK-based companies gain access to international markets. We have country experts and sector experts in our London headquarters and in our regional offices. In the West Midlands, UKTI staff are based in the region’s Chambers of Commerce, and I’m based at the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber.

My speciality is advising companies in the healthcare and life sciences sectors, which could be anything from medical devices to pharmaceuticals. Typically, my first point of contact with such companies will be at a UKTI event, another networking event or through a direct approach from the business. The first thing I do is meet the management team, learn more about their products and their strategy for export markets.

We’ll then discuss the other elements of their operational strategy, and how that will need fine-tuning if they are to successfully target overseas sales. Language is an obvious issue, but logistics and payment processes are almost as important. Typically, they’ll require help from myself in the wider UKTI network, to identify potential customers, useful contacts and sometimes even their competitors in these new markets. We also have a very strong international network through our High Commissions and embassies.

They’ll have sector specialists, commercial attache’s and analysts who can provide the latest data and market trends, so the company is able to build its new overseas strategy on firm foundations. I’ll also have information on trade shows, exhibitions or conferences in their sector. Arab Health, for example, which is held every January in Dubai, is a major event in global healthcare, and a growing number of firms from the West Midlands now travel there, take space and meet other delegates, and it’s a great place to do business.

At the moment, I am working with Premier Health Products, which is a family-owned business based in Coventry specialising in vitamins, minerals, nutrition and other forms of food supplements. Typically, they supply independent pharmacies and small to medium-sized chains, but they are also very successful in overseas markets. When I began advising them, they sold to six or seven countries, but now they are selling to 25, so they’ve been a real success story for how UKTI can help companies.

Now, the managing director Simon Petros is looking to expand into new territories, and also to set up a digital platform, so he asked if we were able to assist him again. He needed to know how to get some new products tested, but that’s not my area of expertise, so I asked my colleagues based in Hereford and Worcester Chamber, and they’re helping him to identify contact companies who will be able to help him.

It’s a good example of how we like to work. If the first UKTI officer or international trade adviser doesn’t know the answer to a company’s problem, another one will. Team-work is absolutely critical.

In life sciences, for example, companies always need to ensure their products reach the quality standards required in a particular country or region. In the UK, they would deal with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). However, when they look to enter new overseas markets, they will not be familiar with the structure or organisation which operates there to assess health care products, so I’ll liaise with the local UKTI sector specialist to identify what the company needs to do and put them in touch with the relevant people.

Winning export sales can be very demanding, especially if a business and its management team are new to overseas markets, but it’s very satisfying when it works, because it’s all about helping to create wealth and employment for UK companies.