Chris Powell of Fabdec Ltd
Fabdec managing director Chris Powell tells us what inspired the business to start exporting and what challenges they've had to overcome since.
What does your company do?
Fabdec is a British manufacturer, producing stainless steel heating and cooling systems for a variety of industry sectors. The business is established in the dairy, refrigeration and brewery industries and is also a market leader and innovator in the production of unvented water heater cylinders for domestic and commercial applications.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
The company was launched in 1960 in Ellesmere, Shropshire, to manufacture bulk milk coolers for the dairy industry.
How long has the company been exporting?
Fabdec began exporting in 1985 – over 30 years ago.
What do you currently export, and where to?
Our main exports are bulk tanks, heat recovery vessels, unvented water heaters, milk cooling products and spares. We currently export to Germany, Russia, France, Belgium and the US. We have also exported to Japan and Eastern European countries such as Belarus, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
The UK market slowed down for us in the mid-1980s and in order to keep growing we had to look at overseas markets that had a requirement for our products.
We quickly became aware that there was a demand for quality, bespoke manufacturing and that people knew that products manufactured in the UK would be of a very high standard and would pay accordingly.
We put a 12-month plan into place and it ran fairly smoothly.
How much of your business now amounts to exports?
Approximately 50% of our business is exports.
What is most challenging thing about exporting?
- Finding the right partners and staff.
- Gaining insight into local market knowledge if it’s your first approach.
- Dealing with exchange rates – and in some cases actually getting paid.
- Operating within different regulations from country to country, and also dealing with the specifications.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Purchasing parts in local currency was initially tricky. However we found that employing people with language skills is a great help. In a couple of places though we have had to hire an interpreter to overcome language barriers.
We’ve never had any real problems in terms of etiquette or culture, but appreciate that different countries and cultures do have their own approach to how business should be conducted.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
UKTI provided us with some assistance and were helpful in identifying contacts and introducing us to the right people.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Best advice would be to do as much market research as you can – visit the areas you are looking into and try to build local relationships. Also be sure to do your due diligence on any partners, suppliers or agents.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We are looking to grow our dairy presence in the US, and break into markets in China and Africa. For the water heating side of the business, we are seeing a lot of opportunities in Europe and will be using our existing offices, contacts and market knowledge to explore these opportunities.