Holding back Asian flood waters

Patricia Freshwater, commercial director of Global Flood Defence Systems (GDFS) shares her insights into setting up a distribution network to meet demand for its flood protection products in Asia.

Global Flood Defence Systems, based in Droitwich, Worcestershire, is the leading provider of sustainable flood defence solutions for the built environment. Our goal is to ensure that at-risk communities and properties around the world are safe from the social and financial effects of flooding – from small, localised flash floods through to potentially devastating tsunamis.

I was brought into the company two years ago to help achieve this vision, by using my extensive commercial experience to grow the company and expand into new markets. At the time, the Dutch inventor of a revolutionary passive flood defence system, the SCFB™, had just granted GFDS with the exclusive global rights to the device. So, after reconfiguring the company and changing its name to reflect our global aspirations, we were ready to explore new markets.

As a small company of just 36 employees in the UK with limited experience in exporting, we were eager to benefit from external insight and help put in place a strategic and focused approach. UK Trade & Investment have provided us with this invaluable advice and support for the past two years.

We utilised the opportunity to sign up to UKTI’s ‘Passport to Export’, a programme designed for new exporters, which helped us prioritise markets in order to ensure the most successful and targeted approach. As a result, we commissioned them to carry out an OMIS (Overseas Market Introduction Service) report for Australia, a market identified as being key in terms of its need for sustainable and effective flood defence solutions. UKTI also advised us on how to tailor our website to appeal to potential international clients, and to increase our global search engine optimisation.

GFDS facts and figures

1. The company was set up in 2007 by Frank Kelly and Sarah Vaughan as UK Flood Barriers Ltd following the devastating floods in the UK.

2. As victims of these floods, they soon realised there was a gap in the market for effective flood protection products which triggered the establishment of the company.

3. GFDS was set up in 2011 to grow the company internationally. In addition to Asia, it is currently involved in projects in Australia, Africa, USA and South America as well as across Europe.

For more information: http://www.globalfloodds.com

The return on investment from our liaison with UKTI was seen almost immediately, as last summer we were inundated with over 150 enquiries in just two months. As catastrophic floods engulfed parts of Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines in June and July 2011, our products were suddenly in high demand and potential distributors were knocking at our door.

It was clear that we needed a robust international business development strategy to meet this demand, especially in unfamiliar markets, and that a reactive response would be ineffective. We believed that creating and establishing lasting relationships would be pivotal to our international success, and hence began to focus on establishing a network of trusted distributors across the Asian region.

It was imperative to find the right partners in Asia that understood our full potential and shared our company ethos, so we were happy to invest time and resource into achieving this. For our first market, Thailand, we shortlisted four potential distributors for a competitive selection process which spanned top-level meetings and presentations in both the UK and Thailand. We looked for a company that showed commitment, entrepreneurial drive and passion for our products and brand as well as a synergy with our company’s core values. In addition, chemistry also played a huge part in our decision making process.

After months of due diligence, we were confident we had found our Thai partner and appointed Raydant International in February this year. As part of our distribution model, we offered them an exclusivity agreement in their country which was guaranteed with a one-off payment to prove their commitment.

Since then, we have continued to work very closely with them assisting in the development of their strategic plan to identify and secure opportunities and build the brand across the country. The team at Raydant feel like an extension to GFDS as we liaise with them on a daily basis and host them regularly in the UK for training, meetings and site inspections. We are very aware of the importance of updating them on new technical advancements and innovation that our team is developing, so that they can communicate this to their market and tailor appropriately. Further support and training is provided via a secure portal on our website so that we can share technical updates, tenders and on-site surveys as well as regular advice on IT, international marketing and PR.

Building a global business is not without its challenges, particularly in managing communications across a global network of distributors. A key point of contact must be allocated to ensure consistency and also clarity for all. We have found by doing this with Raydant, a clear path of communication can be established, and minimises any risk of misunderstandings.

The benefits of this relationship are already beginning to come into fruition, as evident from the visits Raydant set up for us with potential business leads in May and July this year. We are now in discussions with senior Thai government officials on projects including the protection of Don Muang airport in Bangkok, and are also talking to corporations including Coca-Cola, Honda and Intel about flood protection schemes for their operations in the country. These projects are potentially worth over £8 million.

We are committed to building our presence across Asia and are in the final stages of securing a Malaysia distributor with South Korea, Singapore and the Philippines in the pipeline. We are confident that finding trusted in-market partners is the best strategy for growing a small business like ours into a global leader.

Patricia’s top tips for doing business in Thailand:

1. Language can be a barrier – you need to communicate clearly and concisely in meetings and reassure them that it is fine to ask as many questions as they like.

2. Spend as much time as you can with your partners and get on their wave length – don’t be surprised if the first hour of your meeting is taken up by personal chat before you start talking business and don’t forget to take gifts!

3. Remember to respect any cultural differences and traditions. For example, ensure you dress appropriately (particularly if you are a woman) for your meeting and in accordance with the cultural norms there, this will help you gain respect quickly especially in this sector.

Sectors: Construction and Energy, Environment & Water
Countries: Australia and Thailand
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