Anita Kenyon from Arthouse
Shortlisted in 3 categories at this week's PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards supported by the Department for International Trade, we caught up with Arthouse ahead of the event to find out more about their export success.
What does your company do?
Arthouse, which is backed by Private Equity company North Edge Capital, is one of the country’s leading suppliers of interior décor solutions. Its brand portfolio covers an array of products from wall coverings and wall art to cushions and mirrors, and caters for a wide variety of styles and budgets. Each collection begins at the company’s in-house design studio and ranges from traditional prints to quirky children’s pieces – all created with the desires of the end consumer in mind.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
Arthouse was launched in December 2000. Led by Anita Kenyon in 2007 the team undertook an MBO, initially backed by Glitnir and then Total Capital Partners. More recently in 2015 by North Edge Capital.
For many years, the UK wallcoverings market had been in significant decline which developed a creative industry constrained by manufacturers looking to fill capacity. The Arthouse outsourced business model has allowed design led, market driven products to be manufactured, utilising capacity secured from European and Asian factories which have excess capacity. The MBO in 2007 allowed Arthouse to develop offerings in other product categories and in turn, provided the business with a USP in a competitive marketplace.
This evolution of strategy enabled Arthouse to compete amongst some of Europe’s manufacturing giants in wallcovering and increasingly so in other home décor product categories.
How long has the company been exporting?
Arthouse’s key export drive launched initially in 2014 but since 2015, it has continued to invest in talent and resourcing to drive this strategy, including the appointment of export specific staff.
What do you currently export, and where to?
Having a strategy and teams focused on exporting has meant that we are now able to export our full range to 55 countries across Asia, USA, South and Central America, Australia, Africa and Europe.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
Arthouse’s export business is now equal, and at times larger. Its export business launched after it secured some major business with two large retailers in Australia and New Zealand, which took more than 12 months. At the end of 2015, the business expanded and focused its efforts on key strategic markets of four key countries in Europe, USA, Middle East and China. In 2016, its sales have increased significantly as a result of that change in focus.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
There is no easy part to exporting, the best part is that it forces the team to think differently for different geographic opportunities and some of the initiatives developed as a result of this led to greater opportunities within the UK. Economies of scale can be achieved because of the greater level of business we are achieving and creatively, the business has evolved to be more ‘cosmopolitan’.
And the most challenging part?
Variety which inevitably means that our offering is more complex. This demands efficient handling and there is an increased liability.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Even with English speaking markets, there will always be cultural differences to the UK which means that tastes and fashions can be somewhat diverse.
The American and Australian markets have quite different tastes to the UK, even amongst the ex-pat consumer segment. These populations opt for cool colour tones due to the differences in climate. Whereas Middle Eastern markets prefer décor without animals featured.
Arthouse has built up this market knowledge by visiting regularly and working with our manufacturing partners alongside international trend agency services ensures that we are abreast of local tastes.
Forex has provided some difficulties because of exchange rate movements but the growth of our export business does in fact give us a small natural hedge to our raw materials purchases which are all sourced from Asia and Europe. Some of our customers are happy to flex between different currencies, to consider FOB purchases and many of our suppliers work with us using exchange rate mechanisms to mitigate and share risk between us.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
Absolutely, we made the most of every relationship to help gain knowledge and advice. We have worked with a number of national bodies including the CBI and DIT and then specifically with trade federations for markets such as India. We also exhibited at key shows to kick start the scaling process.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Initially, look to identify markets with consumer bases that would be most likely to be attracted to your own proposition and be certain of your own USP. Get to know the markets and cultures within each, one size doesn’t fit all. Most importantly, be patient, some markets react slower!
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
We will continue to expand in Europe, Middle East & China via our key distribution partners. Our long term goal is to export further with the USA as there is a good appetite for home décor products and large retailers who could open up great opportunity for us.
Arthouse have been shortlisted at the PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards with Department for International Trade this Thursday (9 Feb) in Leeds. For more information on the shortlist and the awards, click here.
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.