Ever ordered in-store at a kiosk? In Debenhams, JD Sports... McDonald's, maybe? Then you might know Evoke and not realise it. Co-founder Neil Clark tells us how they sell their wares worldwide.
Wirral-based Evoke Creative designs and manufactures bespoke interactive digital kiosks, signage and, more recently, has expanded to delivering end-to-end solutions; the physical hardware, and the software powering it, to an international client base, spanning retail, leisure, and public sectors.
Their client list is a blue-chip who’s who, including mighty brands like Google, McDonald's, JD Sports, Bibliotheca, Tesco, Travelodge and the NHS.
Founded in 2003 by Neil Clark, Dean Ward, Graham Boyd and Iain Quayle, Evoke Creative was formerly a product design agency. In what is a genuine success story for British – and North West – innovation, Dean and Neil began physically building the kiosks they had been designing.
The early days saw garden sheds turned into hotbeds of entrepreneurial ambition and Neil recalls late nights and weekend working as they grew the company from the ground up to become a globally trading manufacturer, now employing 56 people.
The company began exporting in 2006, when it became clear that there was demand for the kind of visually- striking and intuitive technology that the company was creating. In the USA in particular, uptake of digital kiosks had been slow, largely due to manufacturers prioritising ‘function over form’, churning out metal boxes, with little thought for the finer points of design.
Being a design-led manufacturer, and with the credibility that ‘Brand Britain’ lends to the country’s exporters, Evoke has been able to rapidly expand into new territories by offering digital kiosks and interactive signs which prioritise the user’s experience.
The digital kiosks and signage that the company designs and manufacturers are used in a variety of sectors including as retail point of sale units, visitor kiosks and triage at health facilities, which makes it a truly worldwide product.
Export markets include: France, Germany, USA, Canada, India, China, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Russia, Switzerland and Italy.
Neil says: “We began working with Bibliotheca – the global leader in self-service solutions for libraries – in 2005 and that was probably our first real taste of foreign markets. It quickly became apparently that there was a huge gap in the international market for the kind of digital kiosks and signage we were designing – particularly Stateside.
“Competitors’ products just couldn’t hold a candle to what we were already making, even at that early stage. And the market over there was so large that we knew we just needed a fraction of it to be worthwhile.”
“Although I wouldn’t say it’s ever easy to export,” he continues, “if you have a great product, along with the service and delivery to back it up – that is universally appreciated, regardless of geographical location.
“A rather fortuitous story, when it comes to international trade, is how we were introduced to Halfords. By chance, a senior executive for the British retailer was seated next to a counterpart from McDonald’s innovation team on a flight over the Atlantic.
“Having been suitably impressed by the description of how we had worked with the fast food giant to deliver its ‘restaurant of the future’ vision – enabling table service, faster-ordering and a gamified experience with our kiosks, Halfords decided to invite us in to discuss its customer experience.
“In addition, recent fluctuations value of the pound have actually made Evoke’s kiosks cheaper in an international marketplace.”
The challenges associated with exporting may not be many for Evoke, but they are potentially quite costly ones. “Although currency fluctuations work in our favour exporting the end product – the weaker and unstable pound has meant importing many of our components much more challenging,” Neil says.
“The physical cost of shipping our products – which are made predominantly of glass and metal – is something we have to be mindful of. And in addition to the weight, we have to ensure that the products reach our customers intact and blemish free.
“Shipping by air is a completely different proposition to shipping by sea – with the latter you’ve got to contend with moisture, which is a consideration with digital technology.”
“As a growing business without a huge infrastructure, it’s imperative to work with a tried and trusted logistics partner to help deal with the extensive amount of paperwork required.”
Most firms do seek advice when looking to trade overseas, and Evoke found that the Government’s support helped hugely with this. “We did get some initial support from for the former UKTI (now the Department for International Trade) – mainly basic advice about having multiple bank accounts for different currencies, and since the UK’s decision to leave Europe we have received guidance on currency hedging to mitigate our risk trading internationally.
“I’d also thoroughly recommend engaging with the local chamber of commerce. Wirral Chamber of Commerce has supported us fantastically from day one – offering gratefully received help with paperwork and customs advice.”
“Although some free guidance is available,” Neil adds, “my advice to those just dipping their toes in overseas markets would be to enlist the right professional help and expertise.
“For instance, when we were looking to sell into India, there were a whole raft of certifications and quality controls specific to the country. Rather than stumble through blind, we enlisted the help of a consultancy which has specialist knowledge of this and existing networks, streamlining the whole process for us.
“I’d also suggest that visiting various trade shows around the world is a great way to make initial forays into the international market. We regularly attend Integrated Systems Europe and will be heading out to New York in January for the National Retail Federation’s BIG Show 2017. You don’t need to exhibit necessarily, but just being there allows you to make useful networking connections and widen your understanding of sectors in different countries.”
After five years of rapid growth, what’s coming in the next five for Evoke? “We’ve grown so quickly –in terms of headcount, turnover and the number of countries we sell into – over the last five years that it’s almost impossible to predict accurately where we’ll be in five years,” Neil says.
“With that said, our strategy certainly involves expanding our international reach. We envisage we’ll be shipping increasingly more products to the USA, and we’re looking to grow our Australasian offering at the same time.”