Phonic Books Limited was founded by three Special Needs teachers, from the Bloomfield Learning Centre at Guys Hospital, who have a passion for teaching children to read. When, in 2006, the UK government adopted Synthetic Phonics as the preferred way to teach reading, it was apparent there was a lack of structured reading books and teaching resources and the Phonic Books team decided to write, illustrate and publish their own reading books. Following demand from their customers, the range was extended from the initial 10 titles to 254. The range of books caters for pupils in Foundation Stage to reluctant readers in Years 7 and 8 in secondary school. Phonic Books is based in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
During the first few years, Phonic Books focused on the UK market, enjoying ad-hoc export orders from a range of countries. However in 2010, with increasing overseas interest via their website and two promising enquiries from separate Australian distributors, the company decided to investigate export opportunities, initially focusing on the Australian market. Alex Tweedie, Export Manager and husband to Phonic Books’ Co-founder, Wendy, explained their approach, “We found out about UKTI when Wendy was looking into Trade Missions; we were introduced to our International Trade Advisor [ITA], John Doorman.”
John recommended 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.
Alex talked with Clive Hogan, Research Adviser for the South West, and they created a research plan for Australia. “Putting together the plan was a very good discipline and Clive was extremely helpful and ensured that we got the job done!” They identified the key decisions Phonics Books needed to make: how should Phonic Books approach each sector of the Australian schooling system (based on understanding the dynamics of state, federal, private and church funding), should they target Special Needs teaching or mainstream (clearly requiring information about relevant policies), which distributors would best represent their business through Australia and what pricing strategy would be required to cover all the costs of shipping and taxes.
Alex and Wendy travelled to Australia in August 2010, spending 16 days in Western Australia, Victoria, Canberra, Queensland and Sydney. Armed with a discussion guide to ensure consistency across all meetings, Alex and Wendy each conducted interviews with schools, teachers, pupils, policy makers, Learning Difficulty Centres, potential distributors and staff at the British Consulates.
As a result of the research, Phonic Books gained a solid understanding of the Australian market for reading books, and felt significantly more confident in their approach. Clearly split into discrete geographic regions, it was apparent that each region had a different approach with exceptional standards in some areas; the team determined that each region of the Australian schooling system would need to be treated individually. Phonic Books were also introduced to the very active Australian SPELD (Specific Learning Difficulty) network in Australia, providing resources and training to Australian teachers – an important contact to support the team.
Phonic Books has now established a distribution network in Australia, which is being refined for each state. The on-going relationship developed with SPELD helps the team to develop their understanding of the market, and forge important relationships. Uptake of the books in Perth has been superb, initially through Special Needs and latterly into mainstream teaching, and Phonic Books continue to work with their key contacts to replicate this success throughout the rest of Australia.
Phonic books are now used in approximately 5,000 UK schools throughout the UK and are exported to 50 countries, leading to estimates approaching a million children enjoying the books. Since the EMRS trip to Australia, Phonic Books’ export business has grown dramatically, now accounting for 25% of the total business. In addition to the business growth, the Phonic Books team are also delighted with the strength of relationships they have developed with key Special Needs Teachers in Australia, “Business growth is clearly important,” clarified Wendy, “but our true mission is to help English-speaking people all around the world to learn to read our unique language”.
“We found the EMRS to be a most useful scheme,” explained Alex. “The people we dealt with were professional and flexible and we really appreciated the discipline of putting together our research proposal and closing report as it made us think about what we’d learnt and how we could develop our business strategy.”
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