AS every business owner knows, the last few years as a commercial enterprise in the UK have created some incredibly testing times.
With the bite of a recession and the knock-on effect on consumer spend, major changes to government, and continual legislation alterations affecting the employer, is it any wonder we’ve seen some of our long-standing retail brands disappear from the heart of the high street?
Furniture stores have been one of the bigger high street casualties against this backdrop, but Hertfordshire-based Greenapple – which sells stunning handmade glass furniture – has certainly proved its ability to emerge ever stronger and more resourceful.
“How else do I put it but to say that, quite frankly, the recession has been absolutely brutal and has had a huge effect on us,” says David Applebaum, Greenapple founder.
“The impact was so sudden that literally, one week we were in a position of high profits and high demand, and then the following week it was if people had completely stopped spending on themselves and their homes.
“In our business, it’s all geared around non-essential purchases. But feel-good décor went out of the window, and before we knew it we were having to look at some really significant restructuring efforts at Greenapple, merely to stay afloat.”
Despite the predicament, Greenapple’s management possess exactly the kind of resilient streak that proves critical in tougher times.
For a year, they initiated four-day working among their workforce, and quickly decided that they needed to explore new market opportunities – which led to the door of UKTI.
“I was keen to see if there were overseas opportunities which could ease us through the challenging times, and which would potentially open up revenue channels we’d not needed to consider before,” adds David.
“We’d had a lot of contact with Business Link, and they then passed us details of UKTI, who linked us to International Trade Advisor Noel Harvey. He in turn was able to grasp our situation and see what areas we could benefit from.
“It was a really important and productive connection for us to make, because almost immediately we were made aware of grants available to us, and of the possibility to connect with similar businesses abroad.”
Greenapple received a grant to make a significantly more commercial website, which would not only act as a better trading front door, but would be equally well received by the UK and overseas market.
David then received further funding to take a fact-finding mission to both Germany and Switzerland – effectively to carry out his own market research and see where Greenapple could learn lessons.
This fact-finding mission formed part of UKTI’s successful OMIS (Overseas Market Introduction Service) initiative, which has helped thousands of businesses to identify growth potential and business partners abroad.
“With the help of UKTI and their research, I was able to go over to those countries and visit a variety of furniture retailers, looking at what they charged and whether there really was a market for our product there too,” he says.
“UKTI took all the stress out of the planning, and Noel really held our hand through the process because he knew how important it was for us to open up further revenue opportunities.”
Noel Harvey believes Greenapple’s subsequent success in picking up more overseas trade is a result of their own resilience and determination to fight through the recession-storm, combined with some sound intelligence which UKTI is so uniquely able to provide.
“I first began working with Greenapple in 2009 when they had identified their own potential with exporting,” he said.
“I signed them on to the Gateway to Global Growth Programme the following year, and they subsequently received some good funding to exhibit abroad, and also to investigate the market in key countries.
“As a result of working with Greenapple over a period of time, I believe they now have a more robust export strategy which has helped them to access key markets in Europe.”
Despite the UK economy remaining in a challenging financial period, Greenapple have certainly marched their way out of a period of potential gloom.
The company’s workforce are now well and truly back to full-time employment, orders have increased significantly, and one of its leading furniture collections has been enhanced to offer a total of 20 ranges.
But David is never prepared to rest on his laurels.
“We learned during that tough period that the only way to emerge ahead of your competition and to stay buoyant when the high street businesses are failing, is to continually look at your offering and explore the way you profile yourself or the way you reach your customers.
“We’ve now participated in several exhibitions to proudly boast about our work and to keep in the minds of customers.
“While we know that the economic climate isn’t going to suddenly get back to where it was in 2007, we know that there’s plenty we can do to stay optimistic and highly profitable – and our relationship with Noel and the team at UKTI remains crucial to that.”
If you are based in the East of England region and are interested in developing your business overseas please contact:
UKTI East of England International trade Team
Tel: +(0)845 641 9955
Find your nearest International Trade Advisor via our postcode search facility in “Contacts in your region”.