UK Trade & Investment’s Asia Showcase shares five golden rules for success in Asia
There has never been a better time for British companies to maximise its opportunities around the world and focus business growth overseas. No more so than in the dynamic and diverse markets of Asia.
Who can forget the global spotlight on Britain last summer as we delivered one of the most memorable and successful Olympic and Paralympic Games ever? It is no wonder then that there is an even greater interest in, and demand for, all things British. Everything from our innovation and engineering expertise, digital and creative industries, to our fashion and lifestyle brands are highly sought after, especially in Asia.
However, you don’t have to be a big, established business or even a seasoned exporter to find opportunities and success in Asia, as UK Trade & Investment’s (UKTI) Asia Showcase proves. It highlights stories of business development in the region from some of the most dynamic UK-based companies, many of them small, entrepreneurial businesses.
‘It’s better to grow slowly with the right partner and strategy than to jump at potential volumes on offer and live to regret it’
Despite their range of industry sectors, various stages of business development and targeting of different Asian markets, five golden rules to success in Asia were identified by the showcase companies.
Take time finding the right partner(s) and building relationships
Charles Baughan, managing director of Westaway Sausages, which is trading in China, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia:
“Building trust and loyalty with your partners in the market is the key to success. My distributor in Hong Kong is a good friend as well as business associate. Family values and integrity go hand in hand in Asia, and word of mouth recommendations are important as contacts extend across the region. If you’re trusted, show respect and are willing to work hard, you will do well.”
Shaun Pulfrey, inventor of Tangle Teezer, a hair care product which is enjoying an explosion of sales in Taiwan and China:
“We had to tread carefully and slowly to find the right partners – this is one of the most challenging things about doing business in Asia. It’s better to grow slowly with the right partner and strategy than to jump at potential volumes on offer and live to regret it.”
Do your research and take advantage of expert advice and support
Simon Poole, managing director of Pro², whose very first export market was India:
“Our first step up the ladder was our selection onto the India Marketing Strategy Scholarship Programme, organised by UKTI London. I attended an executive course at one of India’s leading management institutes in Ahmedabad, an intensive five days learning about every aspect of doing business in India and an immersion into the culture. This was an incredible experience, without which we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Tim Harrap, head of collaboration at Alvis Bros. Ltd, which has grown cheddar cheese sales in South Korea by 50% in the last year:
“My advice is to do your homework before visiting the market. Don’t underestimate the value of an OMIS (Overseas Market Introduction Service) offered by UKTI. It’s both a cost effective and efficient way to get under the skin of the market and see the potential for your business before committing to a market visit. It’s also good to attend UKTI events in the UK where you can meet UKTI in-market specialists and trade advisers, receive country briefings and bespoke advice as well as network with other companies doing business in Asia.”
James Leslie, Conidia Bioscience Ltd:
“Conduct market research very thoroughly – look for relevant government websites and concurrently speak to the in-country UKTI office at the Embassy or High Commission. They will have specialists for every sector who know the market inside-out, or will point you in the right direction.”
Be adaptable and ready to change your mindset
Jacqueline Beckingham, design director of architect practice Benoy, which has been doing business in India since 2005:
“We may have a common language but we don’t have a common way of doing business: each client and project varies, so listen and learn. The Indian way of doing business is often quite conservative. You need to respect this and adapt your approach accordingly.”
Mark Nodder, group managing director of Wrights Group Ltd, one of Europe’s leading suppliers of accessible public transport vehicles, which has been in Asia for 10 years:
“You need to be flexible from day one. Customer expectations are very different from the UK, so it’s best to let the client guide and manage your approach. In 2010 our Hong Kong client’s requirements and tender process changed. To maintain our presence in this market we had to adapt our manufacturing processes in the UK accordingly.”
Craig Watson, strategy director at fst, a creative agency whose first foray into Singapore was less than two years ago: “Our design knowledge, insight and creative standards are greatly appreciated by many companies in the region. British design is certainly held in high esteem, though we have to tailor our approach to meet the demand – what works in the UK won’t necessarily work there.”
Visit the markets as often as you can
Alan Peel, from Altek, which has sold over £5 million worth of business into Asia in the last five years:
“Be prepared to travel to China personally. You will gain respect from potential clients for doing so. In my experience, the Chinese like dealing with western companies face-to-face and we recognised the merits of visiting aluminium plants in person. Respect is a muchadmired value among Chinese people, and travelling to China and spending time with Chinese customers to secure the personal relationship has undoubtedly helped us get meetings with senior decision-makers and win business.”
Richard Kaye, chief executive of Fired Up Corporation Ltd, an award winning manufacturer in the UK and China:
“Our strength in China also lies very much in the time and resources we have invested there: from our wholly-owned factory to the lengths we go to in building our relationships (Guanxi*) and brands. You must be prepared to invest significant personal time in the country – this can’t be delegated and the drive must always come from the top.”
Never lose patience and expect to be surprised
Paul Smith, executive chairman of UK company Harvey Nash Outsourcing, which has offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam:
“Be persistent – entering into the Vietnamese market is not a short-term investment – we have been there for 11 years already and expect to be for many more!”
Simon Northrop, from M&C Energy, which has been in Malaysia and Thailand for over 10 years:
“Establishing in Thailand has had its challenges and taken time. We had to satisfy the requirements of the Thailand Board of Investment by demonstrating a social and financial commitment to the country, including employing Thai workers. We also had to learn some very important cultural lessons: Thais are proud people whose principles are built around respect. They’re also very family-oriented and expect employers to take an active interest in their family life. Taking this on board has fostered huge loyalty and undoubtedly benefited us commercially.”
Shaun Pulfrey, Tangle Teezer: “Growing our business in Asia has been full of surprises. We couldn’t believe how strict our Chinese partners have been with us in terms of our IP. We had to jump through hoops to prove we owned the trade mark, the patent, the logo, the design because they wanted to be 100% sure they were dealing with a genuine company and not a fake!” As these experiences and insights show, you need to be committed, patient and flexible to do business in Asia. But don’t let that deter you; 2013 should be the year you explore opportunities in diverse and dynamic Asia.
Article and image courtesy of newbusiness.co.uk magazine.
For more on the showcase stories please visit the UK Trade & Investment website.