Nigel Clarke is the CEO of Boldman, a company which designs, develops and manufactures bespoke applications from an aluminium profile system used across the oil & gas, nuclear, aerospace and other manufacturing-led industries. He talked to BQ about how his company began exporting, and what advice he would give to businesses looking to start.
The company launched in 1996 and has been exporting for the past five years, doing business in Africa, Asia, Europe and the USA. Clarke said: "Boldman’s biggest export product is its ballistic safety test cell and this ships out to Angola, Malaysia, Ghana, Nigeria, Norway and the USA.
"The ballistic glass test cell is used by oil and gas engineers to undertake high-pressure testing on components under simulated conditions. Previously, testing was carried out using steel enclosures relying on CCTV, it means for the first time the testing can be viewed live in front of the cell giving 360 visibility.
"Other products that we export include platforms, tree trolleys, special purpose trolleys, modular offices, welding habitats, jigs and fixtures, and partitions. We also export clean rooms, used for restricting dust when a clean environment is needed especially in hot dusty countries."
Clarke explained that exporting was a natural part of the business, saying, "As oil and gas is a global industry, and each company has plants throughout the world where oil and gas is present, it was a natural progression to roll out our cells worldwide utilising the existing relationships we had with developers. Our first export was sending four test cells to Angola. The second project was Malaysia, before then selling to the US, Nigeria and Ghana.
For many companies, the hardest part of exporting is simply getting started. Clarke explained that deciding to business internationally is one of the hardest parts of exporting, he said: There is no easy way to export – you have to just decide to take part and make sure you do it face to face if possible. In Boldman’s case, most companies we deal with in our industry speak good English. Whilst out there you get to experience different cultures and meet different people – if you have time, that is!"
When doing business in other countries, Clarke is a firm believer in dealing with people face to face. He said: "Tele-conferencing doesn’t always work, especially when discussing designs and plans. It may be costly to go over to Norway, Africa or the Far-east for a one-day meeting, but it is worth it to have that face-to-face contact. It’s the oldest sales technique in the world and even though it’s time consuming and expensive, you have to do it."
He also said that most companies who work internationally have a good grasp of English, meaning that language often isn’t as much of a barrier as people think it will be. So his advice to companies who want to start exporting is just to take the plunge, deal with people face to face, and prioritise networking. "The best advice I can give is to network. It’s not a new technique and I’ve used it for 50 years of selling, but it works. Utilise your contacts in the UK, as many overseas companies have subsidiaries here that you can sell to. Networking in your own country means you can make the most of your contacts, as you don’t know where they will end up!"
The Department for International Trade (DIT) are a partner for the Around the World in 80 Trades feature.
The Northern Powerhouse team of DIT offers a whole host of support for businesses across the Northern region that wish to export. Regular regional hosted webinars and events include topics such as strategy, finding the right market, finance, e-exporting and research. The sessions are very practical and provide guidance from those who have experienced exporters. For brand new exporters there are taster missions and trade missions, to a number of countries, where DIT find opportunities in a particular country and take UK companies to meet with potential buyers.
The UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) has overall responsibility for promoting UK trade across the world and attracting foreign investment to our economy. We are a specialised government body with responsibility for negotiating international trade policy and supporting business.