(l-r) TJ Duncan-Moir and John Hamnett
TJ Duncan-Moir, the second generation owner of Nottingham's A1 Flue Systems, explains how focusing on export opportunities has helped the company continue growing despite economic and global uncertainties...
Tell us about A1 Flue Systems, what does your company do?
A1 Flue Systems is the UK market leader in its sector in the design, manufacture, installation and maintenance of commercial and industrial chimney, flue and exhaust systems. The company has become a UK centre of excellence in flue design and manufacture and employs nearly 150 people. High-profile UK projects include installations at Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, The Shard and Battersea Power Station.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
The company was founded by former Nottingham footballer Colin Moir in 1973. Colin could not afford to feed his family on the £20 p/w wages he got as a footballer, so he went to work for a ducting company that specialised in rectangular systems and spotted the opportunity to start his own business manufacturing and installing cylindrical systems.
In 2011, Colin’s daughter Tracy-Jane (TJ) Duncan-Moir took over the running of the family business from her father with fellow Director John Hamnett.
How long has the company been exporting?
TJ and John have overseen significant growth and diversification since 2011 – including joining UK Trade & Investment’s (UKTI) Passport to Export programme in 2013 to start developing A1’s export capabilities.
(UKTI was replaced by the Department for International Trade in July 2016.)
What do you currently export, and where to?
The DIT international trade advisor encouraged A1 to focus on the United Arab Emirates for two reasons:
1 – Scale of building work in the region – especially as it gears up for World Expo in 2020 (Dubai) and the FIFA World Cup in 2022 (Qatar).
2 – A1 had completed work on The Shard, and this was regarded as an excellent portfolio project that is well regarded by the construction industry in the UAE.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
A1 is very proud of its pedigree as a British manufacturer – and given the fact that British manufacturing is still held in very high esteem around the world, it wanted to capitalise on the opportunity to design, manufacture and install products that are deemed world-class.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
A1 has formed a strategic partnership with an Abu Dhabi-based contractor that is able to recommend the use of high-quality UK manufactured systems. They visited A1’s factory in early 2016, and the relationship has gone from strength to strength.
And the most challenging part?
Aside from the usual challenges (communication, language and cultural differences, etc.), the biggest headache involves the logistics of receiving and storing such systems once they arrive in the UAE. The component parts of stainless steel lengths of pipe are both large and easy to damage, so this is a real challenge.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
A1 has a strong relationship with the Abu Dhabi-based contractor – which is a massive advantage in overcoming all of the above issues.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
UKTI’s Passport to Export programme was very helpful in the early days in giving simple but practical advice about how A1 should approach exporting.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Get all the help you can. Don’t just rely on official channels, such as those identified by the Department for International Trade, because there could be a raft of business from complementary industries that are looking to forge partnerships.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
The UAE presents a huge opportunity for A1 for years to come, so it will continue concentrating on cementing existing relationships.