Mark Jones of Romag
Diversification is key to breaking into overseas markets, as Romag managing director Mark Jones points out.
This 'Around the World in 80 Trades' interview coincides with the PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards in association with HSBC, which is being held on 22 February in Leeds. For information on the event, to nominate or buy tickets, click here.
Consett-based Romag specialises in manufacturing bespoke glass solutions for an array of sectors, from the rail industry to security and architecture.
The company was established in 1943 by local businessmen Robinson and Magilton, who were commissioned to manufacture glass laminate lenses in the second world war for RAF flying goggles and gas masks.
By the end of the war, Romag was supplying glass laminates for commercial residential properties and machinery. Today, the company is a market leading bespoke glass manufacturer supplying its products to businesses across the globe.
Jones told BQ: “From toughened glass and standard laminates to structural glazing, physical security and bullet resistant, our glass is used in some of the world’s most iconic buildings and vehicles.
“We have been exporting since the 1950s when we received our first export order, which was to supply glass Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) screens and ballistic screens for bomb disposal visors.
“Our exporting capacity then went on to grow exponentially in the 80s and 90s, which is when we diversified into security glass and transparent armour for military vehicles and buildings.
“We now export a broad range of products such as rail glass, including windscreens, body side windows and internal glazing for some of the world’s most prominent train builders.
“In addition to that, we also export bullet and blast resistant glazing for military vehicles and VIP transport. Through this, we now regularly ship into Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas.”
Having accumulated 60 years of export experience, Romag has survived numerous recessions and has had first-hand experience of how challenging it can be trading across the globe during uncertainty.
As Jones points out: “Exporting comes with significant challenges and Romag has certainly had its fair share. We’ve been based in the North East for nearly 75 years and establishing into brand new foreign territories without a foothold in the country you’re wanting to export into can be a daunting prospect.
“The route to market can be a complicated process – decisions need to be made on whether to sell directly, using agents or distributors and even logistics of getting products across the continents, export licences and other clerical tasks can present challenges, as does the time difference – especially when competing in Asian markets.
“However, for us, selling our product is the easiest part of the exporting process. We have a reputation for superior product and complex builds so our products carry a high market value. Our sales managers are equipped with the knowledge and experience in overseas sales and local customs of the countries they are selling to which is hugely beneficial in establishing positive working relationships.”
Romag has also benefited from the free support offered by the Department for International Trade (formerly UKTI). “The UK Department for International Trade was hugely helpful in establishing trading links, particularly in the vehicle market,” Jones said.
Through exporting, Romag has been able to grow the business into markets it would never have previously been able to break into, particularly in rail where the company has now have secured long-term contracts with four world leading train builders.
“We owe our success to the dedication and innovation of the technical and production team who offer skills and expertise honed from decades in the industry,” said Jones. “Their skill has meant that our core product has evolved as new technologies have emerged and our products are some of the highest quality on the market today.”
So, what next for the company? He concluded: “With Brexit on the horizon, there has been whispers as to what the future looks like for independent British manufacturers like us. However, there are huge opportunities for us in the rail and transport side of the business, and we are rapidly gaining momentum in these fields.
“The architectural and security side of the business also shows no signs of slowing down with touch screen technology a key new market of ours. Romag has also just signed a deal to supply specialist anti-reflective glass to Europe’s top digital solutions provider, Amscreen.
“Looking forward, we are aiming to increase the size of our business by 50% over the next five years and to secure our foothold in more international markets.”
Jones’ top tips for exporters: “Research is essential. Consider whether your products need adapting or need to conform to local and international standards. The financial implications of conformance need to be established at the outset.
“There are no boundaries in international business, the difficulty is route to market. Having someone involved in the business who understands the markets and territories you want to enter/compete in and what you can/can’t do is pivotal to success.”