Ebac business development director Tony Hird
As the UK’s only manufacturer of dehumidifiers and washing machines, exporting has helped Ebac expand into scores of overseas markets and the company is showing no signs of slowing down…
When His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent visited County Durham manufacturer Ebac two years ago, it marked a historic moment in North East manufacturing.
The Duke visited the company in November 2015 to officially open its £7m washing machine production line, making Ebac the only remaining manufacturer of British-made washing machines.
The company secured support worth £1m from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and invested £6m from its own coffers to open the line.
Since then, the company has grown rapidly and has gone on to secure deals to supply its goods not only to suppliers across the UK but also to stockists in scores of overseas markets.
As business development director Tony Hird explains: “Ebac was founded in 1974 when engineer John Elliott received an order to build industrial dehumidifiers suited to the UK climate.
“The first order was for 16 dehumidifiers designed and manufactured by John himself. John and his brothers set up the sheet metal work with a local factory and manufactured all the units in a shed – which was part of the family poultry farm.
“John delivered all 16 units to the customer on time. The customer was so pleased that they ordered another 70 units – and Ebac was born.
“We now employ over 200 people and have been exporting to countries in Europe through to South Africa, Japan and Russia for almost 30 years.”
Exporting is never a straight forward process, no matter how large a business is, and Ebac was no different.
“We identified a demand for our products in these markets,” Hird recalls. “However it takes time, probably up to two years, to understand the market, develop the contacts and find the best route to market.
“Nothing is particularly easy about selling into any new markets. There are different challenges at different stages of the process.
“The biggest challenge for us was the initial understanding of the market. Is demand there, does the product need modifying in any way, are there language and cultural difficulties and, of course, often the time difference.”
Ebac now boasts an annual turnover of £15.3m, with exports accounting for more than £10m of that. So, what is the company’s success down to?
He adds: “Understanding customers’ needs and developing innovative quality products are key to our success.
“We are very proud to have invested in new product development over the last few years and these new products, plus a Brexit boost for exports, caused by favourable currency exchange rates, have let us build on our export success.”
And looking forward to post-Brexit Britain, Hird sees no signs of the company’s rapid growth slowing down.
He concludes: “Looking forward, the United States is a huge opportunity for Ebac and we are on the verge of developing a major distribution deal in the US for our watercoolers.
“Ebac is a Foundation and there are no private or institutional shareholders, which means Ebac does not have to pay dividends and the shares cannot be sold.
“This allows the business to take a long-term view and invest any profits into the development of the business and we will continue to do this.”
His top tip for exporters: “Understand your market and product.”
BQ is hosting the PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards in association with HSBC on 22 February in Leeds. For information on the event, to nominate or buy tickets, click here.