OSIL(Ocean Scientific International ltd.) provide marine instruments and systems for environmental measurement and monitoring. They also provide the worldwide high precision calibration standards for measuring the salinity of water – a routine method to trace ocean currents. OSIL was established in 1989 in Havant, Hampshire.
Providing the worldwide calibration standards inevitably led to export sales. However, as Managing Director, Dr Richard Williams, explained, “The salinity calibration standards are a relatively small part of our overall offering, so we are keen to proactively develop potential overseas markets.” Japan had always been a market of interest to OSIL. Already selling some of the calibration standards in the country, Richard felt sure other parts of OSIL’s portfolio would appeal to Japanese customers. “Japan has a very advanced culture and invests in Oceanography; they are one of the worldwide leaders in global ocean science,” explained Richard.
Before further investment in the Japanese opportunity, Richard wanted to gain a better understanding of the market. He realised there were various decisions they needed to make: how should OSIL be represented in the country – did they need an agent or could they sell directly to customers; which of the company’s products and services would be most relevant to the market and how should they promote these solutions? They also wanted to verify the decision that OSIL should focus on the Japanese market – was there a need for imported products in this sector?
Almost 20 years ago, Richard discovered the Export Marketing Research Scheme (EMRS). The EMRS is a UKTI Scheme providing professional advice and funding to help businesses understand the dynamics of a potential overseas market before creating an appropriate strategy for launching in this market and there is a nationwide team of professional Research Advisers to support individual companies.
Knowing the help the EMRS could provide, Richard contacted Clive Hogan, Research Adviser. Clive spoke with Richard and helped him to create a research plan identifying the information he’d need to find to make these decisions and the types of people with whom he could speak.
Armed with a full itinerary of meetings, Richard travelled to Japan in February 2013 and spent 5 days interviewing agents and distributors of similar products, a representative from the fisheries service, the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA), Japanese Marine Science and various laboratory technicians.
The findings clarified OSIL’s approach, “It was obvious that we would need an agent structure in place: the Japanese simply wouldn’t deal with us directly,” explained Richard. However, it was clear the agents would welcome direct communication between OSIL and the customer. “It became apparent that some of the miscommunication issues we’d experienced previously resulted from ‘Chinese Whispers’ between our agent and end customers; communicating directly would eliminated this confusion.” Also obvious, was the low awareness of OSIL’s services amongst their target group – again, OSIL hadn’t appreciated the importance of direct customer contact in Japan. A welcome surprise was the size of the potential market, “the interviews revealed a much larger opportunity than we’d previously imagined!” enthused Richard. The research findings also clarified which products and services within OSIL’s portfolio would be most appropriate for the market and indicated a need for different agents to support each product category.
As a result, OSIL now has two Japanese agents in place: one specialising in laboratory equipment and one in seawater products; they are also in talks with another organisation to handle the range of sediment sampling equipment. OSIL are now in direct communication with their customers and their agents, an arrangement considered normal in Japanese culture and which has eliminated confusion and ensured customers are aware of OSIL’s full offering. “It’s certainly made our communication with them much easier!” said Richard. OSIL’s sales to Japan have already increased and Richard is confident that, with the Japanese business now on a strong footing, they will continue to grow.
When asked his views on the Export Marketing Research Scheme, Richard was full of praise, “It’s fantastic that there’s support out there to enable us to launch successfully into areas of the world that, on our own, we simply could not.”
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