Offshore engineering specialist Osbit always intended to take advantage of a truly global industry. MD Brendon Hayward explains how they make it work for them.
What does your company do?
Osbit designs, builds and delivers quality, cost-effective systems for some of the largest energy companies in the world. Specialising in the global oil & gas, subsea and renewable sectors, we produce safe, bespoke equipment delivered professionally, and with care.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
Osbit was set up in 2010 by our Executive Chairman Tony Trapp, myself and Director Steve Bedford. Between us, and our fourth director Robbie Blakeman who joined in 2011, we possess a diverse and unique range of engineering experience.
Osbit began by developing its award-winning MaXccess T-Series offshore access systems, which safely transfer crew from transfer vessels to offshore wind turbines. We then branched out into the oil & gas sector and have achieved strong turnover and growth, in challenging market conditions.
How long has the company been exporting?
Our first export order was for Siemens in 2012 for an offshore access project in Denmark.
What do you currently export, and where to?
All equipment is bespoke in design and tailored to suit the sectors we operate in which are, by the very nature of the offshore industries, located across the globe.
Our largest export is well intervention equipment, along with other technologies such as walk-to-work offshore crew transfer gangways and access systems.
Among our existing export markets are the United States, Australia, China, Japan and Europe.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
It took two years from when the business was founded to secure our first export project. We established ourselves in the UK offshore sector initially. However, it was always our intention to look internationally, as the industry is truly global; potential clients and their projects are located all over the world.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
At Osbit, we are lucky in that we generally export to places which already have specific technological ambitions and the need for new technology. In China, for example, there is an ambitious offshore wind strategy and an understanding of the need to import expertise and cost-saving solutions to achieve this. This naturally flows into actively engaging with companies like Osbit, to meet their requirements.
And the most challenging part?
Any exporter should make sure they understand the root of the client’s issues and requirements. Often this isn’t always conveyed at the early stages of a relationship. This is sometimes due to culture and language, so it’s important to sit down face-to-face whenever possible to ensure that a truly collaborative approach can be taken, and a mutually-beneficial outcome reached.
There are also markets that are harder to penetrate, which can prove challenging. Brazil, for example, is delivering a huge amount of activity in the energy industry, but has a policy of using a substantial number of local suppliers. The country understands that it does need some support from overseas companies, which presents export opportunities for UK companies, but the policy makes it tougher to enter and operate.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
As I have said, culture and communication can be an issue, but can be overcome by initiating close collaboration and gaining understanding of what the client’s drivers are, its procurement policies, and its structures. It’s important to understand the hierarchy of the client’s business as, in the case of large organisations, the people you are dealing with may only have certain decision-making powers. This leads to establishing a strong working relationship that will produce an agreed and achievable solution.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
We are active members of the business development organisation, NOF Energy, and have benefited from its extensive network of members and industry contacts. We have also engaged with UK Export Finance and, while we are yet to complete a project with them, we can see how they are evolving their service to support exporters.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Market knowledge and perseverance are both essential. Overseas markets often have notably higher barriers to entry so it’s important to understand the specific needs of clients in that country, to will help overcome these obstacles. I would also suggest selecting specific internationally-based companies which you know have a need for your service/product, rather than targeting the market generally.
Trying to access a whole market can be a costly and time-consuming process, but by focusing on companies that your products and services could benefit is a more cost-effective approach and from there, other opportunities in the market can present themselves.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years’ time?
We are continuing to grow our influence in delivering cost-reducing and productivity-increasing solutions in offshore wind and oil & gas through innovating and collaborating. This will help expand our global footprint, in markets such as the United States and China which have large offshore wind programmes. It will also support our expansion in sub-sectors of the offshore industry such as decommissioning, which is again a very global market.