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For the majority of large successful businesses, strong overseas trade relationships account for a crucial part of their revenue. While local and national sales are vitally important in helping to grow and establish a business, developing international sales links is something which differentiates businesses and separates one business from its competitors.

While most businesses would undoubtedly like to develop international trade relationships, the process of actually building those relationships is easier said than done. An excellent way to learn about establishing strong trade relationships overseas is by following the example of, and taking advice from, companies which have already successfully done so.

sheets - Finance Digest │ Financial Literacy │ Financial PlanningOne such company is Concrete Canvas Ltd, who this year won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade, due to their immensely successful growth in regard to international trade and export activity. The Wales-based company, who produce concrete-filled fabric, exported around 80% of all material they manufactured here in the UK in 2017-2018 alone.

To gain an insight into how to establish strong trade relationships overseas, and understand how Concrete Canvas have been able to generate such impressive export figures, we spoke with the company’s International Business Development Manager, Darren Hughes.

“It can appear a daunting proposition when you first look at an export market,” Hughes acknowledged, “with the differences in languages, culture, certification requirements etc.” Making use of the support offered to businesses of any size by government organisations can be beneficial in helping develop trade links. “There are a number of support services offered by government departments and agencies, such as Welsh Government and Department for International Trade which can greatly help in overcoming these initial challenges,” Hughes said.

According to Hughes, Concrete Canvas, whose products can be used for a variety of construction applications, such as for slope protection or as a ditch liner, made extensive use of the funded programmes offered by the Welsh Government. The OBDV (Overseas Business Development Visit), which offers financial support to reach new markets by supporting 50% of the costs of visiting new markets up to £10,000, and ITO (International Trade Opportunities) which connects businesses with partners or clients through the government’s global network, were both used by Concrete Canvas.

The reason Concrete Canvas made use of these services is that they “benefit from the support of local market experts to provide the initial guidance which can then be followed up with more confidence by your own direct market visits” Hughes said.

Continuing to build links with organisations such as your local Chamber of Commerce can be highly beneficial, particularly if the product you’re exporting is something new, as was the case with Concrete Canvas and their ‘concrete on a roll’.

Hughes explained that “with a brand-new product, even exporting to our closest foreign markets was difficult, as we needed to define commodity codes for a material no one had ever seen before.

“We continue to face challenges every day as we move forward with our market development, as we enter more exotic locations with requirements for important licences, third-party inspections (e.g. Bureau Veritas) and specific documentation requirements (e.g. Arab Certificate of Origin),” according to Hughes.

Once a country is identified as a possible export target, Hughes said the next step “would be to find an in-country sales partner, with whom we would then work closely to build each individual market, thereby using their local experience to reduce the challenges new exporters face.”

Understanding the needs of overseas clients will also significantly improve the strength of your export links. Concrete Canvas can do this by having overseas offices supporting over 50 sales partners.

Hughes said, “as more and more of our business was coming from our export markets, we need to provide the necessary support on the same time zone as our key customers, hence the requirement to set up remote overseas sales offices.

“This has certainly been one of the biggest challenges we have faced, but also a great opportunity to add new talent to the business, which in turn has played a large part in our continued growth.”

Overall, the tips which can be taken from Concrete Canvas’ success are to make use of the government support which is on offer to help build export links, understand the needs of your overseas clients and how best to service these needs, and make use of local organisations to help combat the specific challenges of exporting your products.

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