Having gained a very strong reputation in the UK for their brands and products, Stateside Skates made the brave decision to begin exporting their produce overseas. Five years down the line, the company has grown rapidly...
Started in 1981, Stateside Skates Ltd has designed and manufactured action sports products for three and half decades.
It has created and owns eight market-leading brands; specialising in roller skates, skateboards, longboards and scooters.
Around five years ago the company made a conscious effort to expand its export sales through finding agents and distributors, as well as approaching a number of specialist shops directly.
Export sales grew rapidly and now account for over £4m of sales - approximately 46% of their annual turnover.
With overseas earnings rising by 388% over the last three years, BQ caught up with the team to find out how they got into exporting and what challenges they’ve had to overcome.
What does your company do?
Stateside Skates owns, designs, manufactures and distributes a number of market-leading action sports brands.
Our most popular products include quad roller skates, skateboards, scooters and the protection associated with these sports.
These ranges sit under main brands, which include Rio Roller Skates, Enuff Skateboards, Mindless Longboards, SFR Skates Slamm Scooters and REKD Protection.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
The company was founded in 1981 by managing director Roy Coffer, who still leads the business to this day.
He saw a gap in the market for British-designed action sports products, and the brands developed from that.
How long has the company been exporting?
We began exporting over 15 years ago, but it has been in the last five years that a considered strategy has taken export sales to a new level.
What do you currently export, and where to?
We export all of our brands and product ranges. The most successful products abroad are our unique products, which shops and retailers cannot get from local suppliers.
Our most established export markets are in Northern Europe, but we are also well-known in Southern and Eastern Europe too.
In the last few years we have also gained many new partners further afield, notably in Canada, Russia, South Korea and South America.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
The decision to export was made in order to grow the business. Having gained a very strong reputation in the UK for our brands and products, the natural step was to begin to sell them abroad too.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
One of the major strengths that we pride ourselves on are the relationships that we have with our customers.
We regularly visit customers all over Europe and the world to maintain these relationships, and they are crucial to help us keep up with market trends, develop and improve product ranges, and get the brands recognised worldwide.
We offer fantastic customer service levels, and customers really appreciate the quick response times, personal contact, quick deliveries and reliable products.
And the most challenging part?
We find that adapting to different cultures can be a tricky element of exporting. Talking to a number of different customers all from different countries, it can be difficult to change your attitude at the drop of a hat. German working culture is very different to Hispanic culture, which again varies massively to dealing with Asian customers.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Language barriers can be a problem. Although most business-minded people speak English even abroad, many still like to conduct business in their native tongue. We have recently employed a native Spanish speaker, and have found that customers in Spain and South America have responded very positively to this.
Currency changes can also be challenging. Working primarily with Pounds Sterling, Euros and US Dollars means that we need to constantly monitor the fluctuations in the markets. Small adjustments can have a big impact on our buying and selling prices, as well as distribution and transport costs.
As mentioned previously, the issue of variances in etiquette and culture has been a learning curve for us, constantly switching between selling countries. With sales agents and foreign employees, added to the experience that we have gained, we are now much more prepared to deal with this, and even benefit from it.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
We received great support from UK Trade and Investment, in particular our trade advisor Angus Murray. When beginning to export, he provided invaluable resources and advice that enabled us to kick-start our international trade. We still attend UKTI courses and use their services now, and would recommend them to other companies looking to export too.
They were also there to support us with the internationalisation of our company website, providing advise and guidance to help us communicate better with international businesses online. All processes which we are now reproducing across our individual brand websites.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Research is key – you need to understand the market first and foremost. After that, finding the right retailers or distributor is crucial.
If you enter into partnership with the wrong one, it could destroy your chances of ever selling in that market. But find one that fits, and you can take advantage of some huge opportunities for growth.
British businesses have a fantastic reputation internationally for reliability, honesty, and service levels second to none.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years’ time?
The European market still has lots of potential for us, and we plan to expand customers into new product lines, and open up new customers in new markets.On top of this, we hope to continue to grow outside of Europe.
Finding distributors in big markets where don’t we currently have representation will be crucial to taking the brands to a global stage.