Exporting luxury natural fibre clothing and accessories since Glencroft's formation in 1987, Richard Sexton has learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. We caught up with his son, Edward, who joined the firm in 2013, to find out more.
What does your company do?
Based in a 200-year-old converted barn in the conservation village of Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Glencroft is a brand of trustworthy countrywear producing traditional, luxury clothing and accessories made from natural fibres including British wool, sheepskin and Harris Tweed. We supply national and international retailers, from small independents to large online and mail-order firms.
Our focus is on high-quality products responsibly sourced and many made using the same techniques and factories for over 30 years. This includes British Wool knitwear, woven scarves and throws, sheepskin and tweed hats, lambskin gloves, leather belts and bags, and wool and sheepskin slippers.
About 80% of our products are made in the UK, many in the mills and factories of Yorkshire and the north of England.
We hand-finish all our own sheepskin rugs in our Yorkshire Dales warehouse. Our gloves and some slippers, meanwhile, are made in specialist factories in Portugal, including our handmade lambskin gloves. We also use reliable tanneries in Poland for our Icelandic sheepskin rugs.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
Our company was launched on the 1 January 1987 by my parents, Richard and Justina Sexton.
Dad had been in the sheepskin and wool industry since the 1960s, originally selling wool to mills across Yorkshire, then working with various sheepskin and knitwear businesses through the 1970s and 1980s.
He is passionate about British manufacturing and saw a niche for a business supporting the many tiny manufacturers across the UK, supplying quality clothing direct to independent shops.
To compete with large manufacturers he made customer service key to the offering, as well as having a large enough range so that shops could purchase in small quantities while still reaching minimum trade volumes. The brand Glencroft was registered in 1992, and I joined the business in 2013.
How long has the company been exporting?
The business has exported since it was first launched. In the early days, international customers would visit trade shows in Scotland and England and meet Glencroft, look at our products and place orders for the coming seasons.
What do you currently export, and where to?
Many of our export customers have been with us since the business was founded. Our biggest export market is Japan, but we also export to the USA, Canada, Germany, Ireland, France, Netherlands and Israel.
We export our entire range but especially popular are sheepskin rugs, British wool knitwear, tweed and sheepskin hats, lambskin gloves, woven tartan scarves and our unique accessories such as lambswool insoles and locally made model sheep.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
The love of people around the world for all things British, especially high-quality products with a clear provenance and honest British story. This makes our products have strong appeal. For countries with a similar climate to the UK, our products are also very practical. Since we began, we’ve been keen to expand to these key territories and we continue to look at how we can better serve our international customers and build on what we have.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
The easiest part is definitely chatting to our international customers and discussing their requirements. They are always really passionate about quality British goods and it’s a real pleasure to hear their love of our products and feedback about how we can do our best to meet their needs.
And the most challenging part?
There are a number of extra things we always have to consider when exporting, including bespoke sizing if required, particularly in knitwear. Also, the relatively long lead times required can present their own challenges - single annual orders in bulk for specific delivery dates requires the supply chain to be well prepared, clearly communicated and in place.
In the past, the strong pound was always a challenge to export but at the moment it’s the opposite way around and we anticipate it will stay like this for a few years post-Brexit.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
There can often be minor issues especially with new customers or new territories we haven’t dealt with before. We have been caught out by different customs rules in the past so this has been a learning curve over the years.
We are always extra patient and polite with new customers to try and understand what they require. This means that if we do make a mistake, customers are usually happy to point it out to us and we can fix any errors and build our relationship. There usually isn’t anything a sincere apology and a commitment to learning from mistakes won’t fix!
Currency charges are a headache but we are trying a few different foreign exchange suppliers or options to allow for this.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
In the past, no. We have met international customers at trade shows and worked with them to export, checking custom requirements and filling out forms as they require.
Recently, however, we have been speaking to the Department of International Trade (DIT) and their exporting is GREAT campaign to help us with growing our export market.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
The world is a massive place, so concentrate on the one area that is most appropriate for your products. Research the market – the environment, culture, business style and competition – to be sure that it is the right fit for your brand.
Japan is great for us to focus on as the climate is similar, they love traditional British clothing, family businesses and quality.
Also, speak to the DIT, they can help you focus your export strategy, and also may provide funding if required.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years’ time?
We are currently looking to grow our Japanese export market by building on the good relationships we already have. Part of this will be by going out to meet our customers and understand their market better. We want Glencroft to be loved and respected by discerning Japanese customers and we want to provide products that are designed with them in mind.
In the longer term, we want our brand to be well-known in the minds of Anglophiles as a niche British luxury brand, sought after by ‘British’ shops across the world.
Part of this will be helped by our UK business, tourists will hopefully see our products in quality independent stores in the UK when they visit, then look out for our brand at home and online.
We are currently re-designing and auditing all our on-product packaging and labelling to really make it clear to buyers what makes our products unique - again to reinforce the brand in the consumers’ mind and encourage repeat purchases.
Our BQ Bulletin emails will land in your inbox at 7.30am, Monday to Friday, with a mix of the latest local business news, national news, and features to inspire you. Sign up here!
Click here to read our privacy statement