On January 20th 2016, Open to Export hosted the inaugural Export Action Plan Competition finals day at i2i Events Group offices in Paddington, London. 10 companies were shortlisted for the final from over 400 to have begun using the tool, and one winner was announced following a thorough and difficult judging process on the day.
Charles Farris Ltd. – a Wiltshire-based Chandlery, which holds two royal warrants and has been making candles in England since 1845 – were the worthy winners, though in truth, any of the 10 finalists would have been worthy winners. The judges spoke highly of the quality of all the finalists, but made the announcement before all the attending finalists, with Open to Export Chairman Julian Hucker presenting prizes and certificates to the winner and other finalists.
Mark Pountain, MD of Charles Farris, presented the company’s export plans, building upon the Export Action Plan they had created using our brand new business planning tool at the end of 2015. The company is looking to expand its consumer sales – as well as its longer established sales to churches – in Germany and Poland. The £3000 funding they won through the competition will be put towards internationalising their website for this international growth.
Mark Pountain said: “We are surprised, humbled and excited to win this prestigious prize, given the strengths of the other finalists, all of whom have much to offer international markets. The funding and support will enable us to develop our international website for export – we have ambitious plans this year for Germany and Poland; and are looking forward to maximising the profiling benefits emanating from our success.
“We look forward to an ongoing highly productive working relationship with Open to Export and the Institute of Export as we grow and diversify further.”
Like all the finalists, Mark gave great insight into the challenges and opportunities faced by UK exporters – he noted how while in Germany there is scepticism about the quality of British products in comparison to German products, there is a demand for ‘Cool Britannia’ style gifts and goods.
The day began with Sarah Watts from 2 Little Boys, who make ‘ intelligent, well designed and often quite silly, products for children’. Sarah noted how they were looking to Mexico as an untapped market with plenty of demand for British offerings, even if it isn’t the most obvious export market for all UK businesses.
Kim Pott from Funky Feet – who make ‘original multi-sensory music and movement resources designed to deliver early years education goals and to be lots of fun’ – gave a musical demonstration to the judges, and talked about the importance of word-of-mouth community (especially among the expat community) for building her international growth.
The judges were further treated when Rebecca McIntyre gave them samples of Intrepid Brewing‘s range of ales before talking about additional income through exporting as an important means of bringing down variable costs in their production, therefore decreasing risk.
‘Dedicated personal alarm provider’ Lifeline 24 spoke of the opportunity for growth in Australia before Opal Contracts, who make ‘hygienic alternative to traditional hospital cubicle curtains’, spoke of the need to properly plan for exporting, thinking through an export strategy rather than becoming an exporter as a reaction to international orders.
The need for planning was a constant theme throughout the day – unsurprisingly given the day’s focus was export planning! Prison Voicemail, ‘a social venture with a mission to use technology to improve communication channels between prisoners and the outside world’, spoke of needing to find markets where there were similar prison systems – or more generally, similar needs and demands – to the UK in order for their product to work internationally.
The ‘award-winning apps for special needs children’ produced by Special iApps had a more certain international demand, but Beverley Dean, the founder, spoke of the importance of being able to properly translate their apps in order to be able to sell them in more markets.
The final presenters Turtle Tots, however, spoke about how conducting a proper competitor analysis has already helped them to pro-actively consider their strategy and branding for entering Canada, UAE, and China with their ‘innovative and unique swimming programmes’ for newborns, toddlers and young children.
Much was learned throughout the day as companies in similar positions were able to exchange thoughts and ideas about how to approach exporting. Charles Farris may have won the prize, but everyone from Open to Export and the judging panel left feeling inspired and incredibly optimistic about the potential of all the finalists to grow internationally, flying the flag for GREAT British innovation and products overseas.
Open to Export CEO, Lesley Batchelor, said: “The entrepreneurial spirit, vision and energy of the finalists – who are passionate about harnessing the wealth of opportunities in international trade – was inspiring.’
“The judges faced a difficult decision as all the shortlisted companies were worthy winners – a big congratulations to them all and to Mark and the team at Charles Farris.”
The competition, sponsored by the International Festival for Business, HSBC and the Institute of Export – three organisations dedicated to contributing to the UK economy by doing their bit to help more new and inexperienced exporters to thrive internationally – will be returning soon as Open to Export seeks to encourage more SMEs like Charles Farris et al to take the next steps towards exporting successfully.
The Export Action Plan tool remains free to use and it’s already having a great impact in helping innovative UK businesses to reach and inspire more and more international customers.
You can relive the day as it unfolded here.