Hugh Freer

Hugh Freer of MasterMover

‘Businesses shouldn’t be scared of exporting’

Hugh Freer, sales director at Derby-based MasterMover, tells us how exporting has helped the business grow into scores of new markets…

Tell us about MasterMover, what does the company do?

MasterMover is an electric tug manufacturer based in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Its electric tugs allow a single pedestrian operator to move wheeled loads from 50kg to 120,000kg. The tugs are used to improve efficiency, reduce manual handling and promote lean practice in industries such as manufacturing, retail, healthcare and warehousing.

When was your company launched, who by and why?

The company was launched in 1997 by the late Andrew Jones and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Andrew was involved in the textiles industry and bought a company out of administration, that had the idea of using electric tugs to move heavy rolls of cloth around factories. Andrew realised that this method of transport could also be used by the retail industry, supermarkets and wider industry and expanded the company as such.

How long has the company been exporting?

The company has been selling overseas since the early days of its existence. For over five years now, the company has had an active export strategy in place.

What do you currently export, and where to?

MasterMover exports to almost all of the world’s continents. The company is active across continental Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa and Australasia. MasterMover’s electric tugs have even reached countries as exotic and distant as Indonesia, Angola and New Zealand!

What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?

The company has long standing partnerships with global companies such as JCB. When many of these companies were expanding across the world, they wanted our MasterMover tugs in their factories, just as they had in their UK sites. This drove us to start exporting into multiple countries, even before we started making direct sales to international customers.

How much of your business now amounts to exports?

Around 55% of the business now amounts to exports.

What is most challenging thing about exporting?

Distance is the key challenge for exporters, particularly when customers are on the other side of the world. It doesn’t always make practical sense for us to go and see a customer face-to-face, which makes sales much harder to manage than those in the UK. However, we are developing our existing dealership networks to help us reach customers across the world. 

Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?

Language and cultural differences can make a sale more difficult. We have German and Spanish speakers in-house, which does make exporting to those countries much easier. For the languages we don’t speak fluently, we always try to learn a few words of the customer’s language, which goes a long way in building relationships!

The main way to overcome cultural differences is to research the culture of the country you are trading with when starting a deal. This means you will avoid any cultural faux pas and know what to expect when interacting with your customer. The Department of International Trade (DIT) also runs useful cultural workshops that can help employees learn more about the culture of a certain country or region.

Since the Brexit referendum, the low value of the pound has attracted a lot of interest from companies overseas. While this presents itself as an opportunity for us as a business with a high percentage of exports, we are also aware that currency values can change very quickly. We would never build our company’s export strategy based on the value of a currency, as it’s far too risky. 

Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?

We were offered support from the DIT when we started exporting. For us, our best way into a country is to get to the person who moves objects around on the shopfloor, rather than a buyer. This meant that we used our in-house experience and existing contacts to develop a strategy based on what we found worked best in different markets.


What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?

The main advice that we would give is to not be scared of exporting, to dive in and start. There is lots of advice and support available for completing paperwork or dealing with cultural barriers, so companies should take advantage of the support and not let these things put them off.

It’s important to also be interested in the culture and the people that you are exporting to. Rather than going in with a British mindset and pushing your product, it’s better to try to understand how your customer does business and what their company requires. This will help you to build long lasting relationships with your customers.

When we started exporting, we invested in making our website multilingual and registered local domains to make the website visible throughout the world. This meant that we effectively opened a shop window to the world, which generated a lot of sales leads. Having a visible international presence on the web is a great way to start generating interest from overseas markets.

Having a strategic export plan is also helpful, as it allows you to focus your efforts on one territory. While enquiries may still come in from all over the world, it’s better to start off by concentrating your sales and marketing strategy in one region, rather than trying to spread yourself too thinly all over the world.

Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in five years time?

MasterMover plans to develop its German subsidiary, MasterMover GmbH, over the next five years, so that it will mirror the sales and service offering that we have in the UK. This will give us a strong base in continental Europe.

We’re also working on consolidating our distribution network across the world. For example, while we’ve sold to the USA for over 15 years, we’re now looking for partners across the country who can serve as distribution networks for our products.

This extension of our distribution network is our route to growth and will help us have a presence across more parts of the globe.