Manufacturing masts for airports around the world from their base in the North East of England, Pollite have been exporting almost since day one. We caught up with them to find out more about their international operations.
What does your company do?
Pollite are now one of the largest manufacturers of fibreglass masts in Europe with an international presence that spans across Europe, Asia, USA, the Middle East, and Australasia.
From an initial small shed manufacturing fibreglass flagpoles by hand 35 years ago, the company has diversified over the last 10 years into designing and manufacturing frangible structures for navigational aids situated at airports around the world. Frangibility (the ability to break on impact) has become a critical requirement in the design of airfield structures to create a safer environment in the event of an aircraft related incident.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
Our company has been around since 2009, however, is part of a group of companies who have been manufacturing and selling fibreglass flagpoles to the domestic market for over 35 years.
Our managing director, Adrian Harrison launched the business after seeing an airport lighting approach mast by the side of the road near to Newcastle Airport. Once it was determined it was manufactured from fibreglass, we began to develop and test ways of making a fibreglass tube ‘frangible’, which means it must break upon impact if hit by an aircraft.
How long has the company been exporting?
We have been exporting our products since pretty much day 1, with one of the first projects we ever did being down in Tasmania. We have built up a very impressive worldwide client base, and can now boast of having completed projects in over 100 countries across the globe, from the heat of the Middle East, to some of the coldest and most remote places on earth.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
We started exporting pretty quickly after determining that our products could get out there and compete with the best that already existed. One of the first jobs we ever did was down in Tasmania, and from then, we have continued to send our equipment all over the globe. I would estimate that >90% of the products we produce end up overseas - something we are very proud of.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
I don’t think there is anything easy about breaking into overseas markets, however, because the approvals we have are internationally recognised, we were able to offer and get our products approved pretty easily.
And the most challenging part?
By far the hardest part of exporting has to be the challenge of adapting to, and of course embracing each different country, culture and way of doing business. Additionally, it's been a challenge to understand and appreciate the financial risks associated with dealing with a new customer in a new country.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
I think across Europe and certain parts of Africa, language and culture are quite widely understood, and it can be quite easy to understand how each other ticks.
It took us a long time to understand, and eventually break into China given its unique culture and the obvious language barriers. Our business development manager spent a lot of time on the ground in China, meeting people, understanding what we could offer, and the best routes into being trusted.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
We were approached at many different points by certain UK trade bodies and government organisations, however, for a small business like ours, they just weren’t at the same level as us.
However, we were awarded a couple of grants to exhibit at various trade shows and exhibitions which certainly helped.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
By far the biggest piece of advice I could give would be to get on the ground, spend time in some of the key target areas, and learn, network and understand in depth how you can penetrate a certain place. Understand the basics of the language, the culture, the history of the country, and of course, the etiquette! You will be surprised how far this can get you!
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
We want to keep doing what we are doing, exporting furiously and breaking into even more markets. We are constantly developing new products, new manufacturing methods, and are looking forward to seeing where this will take us. We work in a very small industry, and would like to be seen as a world leader in what we do, as well as a trusted brand.
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.