Around the world in 80 trades: Simon Roberts of Berghaus

Around the world in 80 trades: Simon Roberts of Berghaus

Berghaus is an outdoor clothing designer and manufacturer based in Sunderland. Originally founded in 1966 the store began exporting in the 1970s and these days delivers its fashion to over 30 countries worldwide. Simon Roberts, head of international business development, caught up with BQ to tell us about the company’s exporting journey…

Sunderland-based Berghaus designs, develops, produces and sells performance clothing, footwear and equipment for outdoor activities including climbing, mountaineering, walking, multi-active outdoor sports and everyday outdoor use.

Founded in 1966 by Peter Lockey and Gordon Davison, the first specialist outdoor store, named LD Mountain Centre, was opened in Newcastle upon Tyne.

"The distribution arm of their business needed a name," explained Simon.  

"As some of the best the brands that they worked with were from Germany, they roughly translated ‘Mountain Centre’ into German and Berghaus was born.

"Not long after, they started making their own products to sell in the shop and put the new brand onto those.

"By the early 1970s, Berghaus was earning a reputation for cutting edge innovation and has continued in that vein ever since."

Although the firm has been based in Sunderland since its beginning, with its headquarters in Sunderland Enterprise Park since 1999, the brand is a global name, having been exporting since the 1970s. Berghaus won a Queen’s Award for Export in 1988 and currently exports to over 30  countries including Australia, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Russia, Taiwan and the USA.

"By the mid-1970s, Berghaus was the UK’s leading outdoor brand and some of the most innovative products were being noticed further afield.  We started by exporting selected products to countries along the famous alpine Haute Route and built steadily from there," said Simon.

"Berghaus was the first brand in Europe to launch a Gore-Tex jacket and that also helped forge an export path in the late 70s and early 80s."

"We would never be arrogant enough to say that exporting is easy!  However, the job can be made easier by having a consistent run of seasonal ranges that are packed with exciting, commercially strong products, backed up by great marketing collateral and delivered in market by excellent partners. 

"We have those elements aligned pretty well at the moment."

However, Simon also points out that there are also bumps along the way to be exported when exporting.

He said: "Every market is distinct and it takes time and commitment to understand the nuances that can make the key differences that lead to success.

"And, inevitably, Berghaus has a different status depending on where you go. In the UK, we are a strong leader in the outdoor sector, but in some other markets, Berghaus is either a new entrant or a small ‘challenger brand’. 

"There are about 1,400 outdoor brands operating in Europe alone – it’s a very competitive sector and getting more so.  We have to adapt our approach to suit each market, while striving to deliver a consistent image and reputation for Berghaus globally. 

"That’s hard work, but we relish the challenge."

So where to next? Despite being an established brand, some international markets are quite new to the brand, and so the aim is to work hard at building business in key territories, while also continuing to grow in existing markets.

Offering a word to any aspiring exporters Simon adds: "Take time to understand your target market before diving in. 

"Robust research is essential.  Putting in place a partner or direct infrastructure without first knowing the size and nature of the opportunity can be a big and expensive mistake. Then once you are up and running, keep researching, learning and adapting or any initial success can be short-lived."

    

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. 

Visit www.great.gov.uk or contact northeast@mobile.trade.gov.uk