Wireless audio specialists TES Electronic Solutions apply a healthy dose of dry Scottish humour and a can-do attitude to any cultural difficulties they may face. We caught up with them to hear other tips they have for Scottish exporters.
What does your company do?
We are a design services business that puts wireless audio connections into professional products such as wireless microphones. We have helped top quality Pro-Audio companies to deliver award-winning products. We typically develop a combination of hardware and software components which, when integrated with customer developed plastics and so on, produce a final product. We have a highly experienced team, who are able to support our customers through every step of the product development process, from concept to production and maintenance.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
We were founded in 2002 by Thales as an internal design services operation, and then spun out in 2004 to become TES, with partner companies in France and Germany. Over recent years, TES in Edinburgh has become ever more independent, and specialised in high quality Pro-Audio wireless products.
How long has the company been exporting?
Since we were founded, so 15 years - our first customer was Bang and Olufsen in Denmark, and the majority of our business has been export ever since. As a small company, we necessarily have a small number of projects at any one time, so our focus shifts over the years. But we have always been export driven.
What do you currently export, and where to?
We export a combination of our time and expertise, and intellectual property, all wrapped up in the form of wireless audio projects, prototypes, or components. We are currently heavily focused on the USA, and are also doing business in Europe.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
Our electronic design services market has been very global ever since we have been involved in it, with suppliers like ourselves, customers, and manufacturing partners commonly spread across three continents. We have actually recently been looking more closely at the UK market for our expertise, and it is taking quite a long time to find appropriate opportunities closer to home!
What is the easiest part of exporting?
For us, much of what we export is in electronic form, so can be shipped with the click of a mouse. Of course few things are ever that simple, and we do spend time and air miles supporting our customers at their design and production facilities, and meeting with new potential customers to talk about the next interesting opportunity for our technology. I think as a Scottish company, we find that we share language, history and culture with many of our global partners, such that there is rarely too much difficulty understanding and working with a whole range of organisations.
And the most challenging part?
Managing dispersed teams successfully can be quite challenging – it’s amazing how relatively small differences of opinion or focus can grow to become significant problems when there’s not much face to face time to keep everyone on the same page. Because we are exporting components and expertise, rather than finished goods, there is inevitably a lot of integration and communication required to get projects finished and launched.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Currency fluctuations do sometimes cause headaches, and cultural differences can be a challenge. We tend to find that these things can normally be overcome with some dry Scottish humour and a can-do attitude. I’ll not get into stories of amusing cultural differences…
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
We have received support over the years from Scottish Enterprise in a variety of forms, and have also benefitted from European Framework 6 and 7 funding. This sort of support has been very helpful, as it can be very difficult to find the time and budget to concentrate on new ground-breaking developments, when that requires taking focus away from your core export business.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Try and get out there, meet people, understand the interesting similarities and differences between overseas markets and home. Scottish Enterprise supports these sorts of initiatives from time to time, or alternatively just get out to trade shows or other appropriate events and meet your potential clients and competitors.
Consider which markets you might want to target – some are much more similar to Scotland than others, in terms of language, regulation, culture and so on. Even huge multinationals don’t try to cover the whole planet, so think carefully about your priorities. Don’t be overawed by large multinationals, they have their own challenges just like you. And be ready to talk a lot about Scottish heritage and whisky…
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years’ time?
We hope to continue our current success in the US market, while remaining open to other opportunities wherever in the world our sales prospecting and technology lead us. In 5 years’ time we hope to have grown significantly, and expect to be working with current and new customers on a range of exciting wireless audio products and technologies.
TES Electronic Solutions have been shortlisted in the Small Exporter of the Year category at the HSBC Scottish Export Awards 2017 in association with Scottish Enterprise. Join us on 22 March to celebrate international trade across Scotland.