Stephen Duffy is the purchasing director for Highlander International Recycling, which collects and processes waste paper products before selling on to companies in countries including China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Korea.
What does your company do?
We are collectors, processors and sellers of waste paper products.
How long has the company been exporting?
Since 2002 – the year we started the company.
What do you currently export, and where to?
We export various grades of waste paper from basic waste cardboard which can go as far as China, to high grade “Best white 1” which mostly goes to Germany but has also made its way to Holland and Poland!
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
It was necessity rather than choice – the UK generates about 8m tons of waste paper every year but only has markets for circa 4m tons so the surplus material either goes to landfill (which defeats the purpose of recycling it in the first place) or gets exported to other paper mill – this opened up opportunities for paper recycling companies to find new markets and Highlander jumped on the export bus pretty quickly thereafter!
What is the easiest part of exporting?
While it can provide many opportunities for companies, I can’t honestly say there is any part that is easy – the longer you do it the less onerous it becomes, but never easy!
And the most challenging part?
Some countries are better or quicker at paying than others so this can be the most challenging (and stressful) part of exporting.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Most of the buyers we deal with are fluent English speakers and in this area, the UK seem to lag well behind as foreign countries see learning English as a crucial part of education and development, we seem to view learning a foreign language as superfluous.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
Scottish Enterprise, business Gateway were very helpful in the general items but as waste paper is quite a specialised industry the best learning was to just go ahead and do it!
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Don’t be shy to jumping on a plane and travelling there – it may seem expensive at first but can reap dividends as it shows commitment & seriousness, allows you to gauge what potential customers want (you can see it feel it) and allows you to build a personal relationship with buyers which is more difficult when done by phone e-mail.
Sometimes we were a little too brave at first and perhaps a little too trusting but you soon learn out such idealisms and after a short period pragmatism kicks in!
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
It’ s really hard to say where we will go next – it really all depends on the types of waste paper we are collecting and what paper mills and convertors in the export countries are doing. Based on our current product portfolio we see Eastern European mills (Slovenia being an example) buying more material as their prices are in tandem with German buyers but the specifications are less onerous for the types of high spec material we process at the moment.
Pakistan will still be a very important market for us however believe it or not some paper has started to slowly make its way to Afghanistan so as the country comes out of the conflicts being experienced, this may become a bigger market for some of the products which go to Pakistan at present. China will still be a large buyer for the short to medium term however with the growth rate slowing there and internal recycling in the country becoming more popular this means they will become more self-sufficient over time, so a successor to China – Vietnam perhaps – may start to emerge in the next 3-5 years.