London’s calling

Written by ProfitGuide

Looking across the pond for a new export market? According to a recent International Monetary Fund report, Britain is set to be one of the world’s fastest-growing economies in 2004. What’s more, “The U.K. is an obvious target both in terms of that market itself and also as a stepping stone into the rest of Europe,” says Mike Moon, Consul (Investment) at the British Consulate-General in Toronto, noting that the U.K. has seen more than 45 continual years of growth.

Just ask Kathryn From — CEO of Bravado Designs Inc. The Toronto-based manufacturer of maternity lingerie began selling in the U.K. in 1995, and now derives about 15% of its revenues from that market. “The great thing about it is it’s become a beachhead for expansion into Europe,” says From. “We have over 200 accounts in Europe now that are all being run out of the U.K. It’s actually the fastest part of our business — the growth rates over there are phenomenal right now.”

It’s also a region that is encouraging greater participation in business by women entrepreneurs. Indicative of that is Prime Minister Tony Blair’s appointment of Patricia Hewitt as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Minister for Women and Equality. Today, many mainstream and regional business support agencies in the U.K. are prioritizing women’s enterprise in their development plans.

Still, as in any export market you’ll need to do your homework and plan ahead. Here’s how you can succeed in the U.K.:

  • Understand market nuances: “Just because they speak English, don’t assume that they think the way we do,” says From. “The sensibilities are different and something that works really well here doesn’t always fly over there.” That covers everything from humor to advertising to product color. Whether you’re offering a product or service, she says, “Find out what’s going to work, or you’re not going to get anywhere.”
  • Cover your tail: Insurance premiums for the U.K. market are lower than for many other regions, suggesting that U.K. clients are not renowned for defaulting. However, it’s always wise to insure transaction amounts that are larger than what you’re willing to lose, recommends From. She should know — Bravado was once stiffed for US$25,000 by an U.K. distributor.
  • Be HR savvy: “There are a lot of familiar aspects to business and society in the U.K., and that’s a big plus,” says Fatima Cabral, chair of Pink Elephant Inc., a Burlington, Ont.-based IT consultancy that also does business in Britain. But be cautious if you’re setting up overseas operations, she warns: human resources law differs greatly between Canada and the U.K. Don’t get tripped up by employment contracts, severance packages and the like.
  • Do wave the Canadian flag: In the U.K., “people tend to be very positive about Canadian things,” says From. “Maybe there’s a little bit of ‘Hey, it’s our little sister calling’, but that’s O.K., we’ll take it.” Bedeck your marketing materials with a proud Canadian label.
  • Do use the resources available to you: Your first step, says Cabral, should be to contact the Canadian embassy in Britain: “They will greet you, spend a lot of time with you, show you a lot of respect and give you a lot of information. They’ll give you the names of contacts and open doors for you.”

Finally, while it’s an attractive market, “the UK is not a market you should ‘dabble’ in, says From. Don’t think you’re going to get on a plane, go over there for a week or two and then start shipping. It’s much more of a commitment, much more of an investment in time, money and relationships.”

© 2004 Susanne Baillie

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