Tim Fendley, a partner at international design consultancy Applied Wayfinding, speaks to BQ about the company’s export success and how he made it happen.
Applied Wayfinding was launched back in 2003 by Tim Fendley, under the original name Applied Information Group.
Partners Tim Fendley and Richard Simón were instrumental in delivering the Bristol Legible City Initiative and, as part of the project, created new ways and standards for wayfinding.
As a director of MetaDesign, Tim pioneered new techniques including heads-up mapping and the use of 3D landmark buildings.
At the same time, as an associate at Urban Initiatives, Richard created the first standards for planning including pedestrian route hierarchies, information concepts and asset selection criteria.
Applied is now run by four directors, whose capabilities span the skills mix and who share common interests in urban legibility and information systems.
Over the last 13 years, the company has set new benchmarks in wayfinding after working on some of the world’s most advanced projects from Qatar to Hong Kong and New York.
Speaking about the firm’s export success, Fendley told BQ: “We were motivated to look outside the UK for a variety of reasons.
“Firstly, our domestic market was producing a limited number of high quality opportunities, and the ones that were available attracted fierce competition and, as a consequence, produced relatively low margins.
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“Secondly, we were breaking new ground and providing solutions that came to be recognised by a much wider community, not limited to geographical boundaries.
“Thirdly, we are ambitious. We continue to learn and give back, and the experience we gain is invaluable. Fourthly, we spread our exposure and risk by operating over a wider platform.
“Our work has enabled us to explore many places – Legible London, the most comprehensive urban wayfinding project of its kind; I Walk New York, a major pedestrian strategy instigated by the Mayor of New York; and ongoing work in the City of Vancouver to help achieve its goal of becoming North America’s greenest city by 2020.
“Current projects in Cleveland Ohio, New Orleans, New York, Toronto, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, and real-time digital mapping for London’s Heathrow Airport, are amongst many projects of note.”
The company started exporting eight years ago when Tim and his team landed a lucrative contract in North America. The company then went on to open a subsidiary in Canada two years later.
Tim added: “Our first foray was Western Canada, where we set up a subsidiary six years ago to support our opportunity with the City of Vancouver.
“From this base, we invested time and resources to conduct research into the Canadian and US markets with the aim of learning more about the nuances of doing business in North America and the opportunities available to us.
“Once it became apparent that we had sufficient differential to occupy a space in the market, we were able to build it into our five-year strategic plan. We set-up a US office in 2014, which has continued to grow. Over half our turnover now comes from North America.
“In the meantime, we have continued to react to opportunities in other countries, generally emanating from the reputation we have gained or from references from clients, providing they meet strict commercial criteria. Over the last two years, we have enjoyed success in the Gulf region, where we plan to establish our next subsidiary.”
Ask any exporter how they started exporting and nine out of ten will tell you it isn’t an easy task, and Applied are no different.
“Exporting is not easy,” added Tim, “it is challenging, but if planned and executed properly, it can be exciting and profitable.
“Fortunately, we don’t have the logistical hurdles that manufacturers or resellers have to go through, and communication is easy through ever-improving video conferencing technology and low cost travel.
“The easiest and most rewarding part of exporting is the receptiveness of most clients in North America and the Middle East to engage in dialogue, particularly in fast developing environments.
“Whilst many UK entities are resistant or too busy to change, their counterparts elsewhere are savvy enough to be open-minded, which often enables them to deliver better results.”
When Applied began exporting the firm sought advice from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and received the support of their expert team.
Tim said: “The support provided by UKTI has been invaluable. Their UK-based advisors and in-country experts are an excellent source of information and knowledge. UKTI also runs a myriad of courses covering a wide range export subject matters; arranges trade missions; and provides funding support.”
Applied is a great example for any business looking to break into overseas markets and fly the flag for the UK abroad.
Speaking about what advice he would give to a business looking to emulate his success, Tim added: “Research thoroughly and invest time getting to know the region. Understand the true costs of setting up and budget accordingly. Take expert legal and auditing advice, particularly over taxation and employment.”