Despite the global economic downturn, some UK manufacturers are continuing to grow by increasing their sales in overseas markets. Andy Owen, Managing Director of UK-based manufacturer MasterMover Ltd, describes how his company is beginning to prosper from strong foundations that were laid back in 2007.
"In 2007, as a British manufacturer whose sales were primarily from the UK market, we decided to focus on cultivating our export sales, whilst ensuring that the UK still remained our platform and guide for everything else we do as a business," says Andy Owen, Managing Director at MasterMover Ltd based in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.
"We’ve always exported, but in 2007, it was obvious that if we really wanted to expand the business, we had to be more proactive in overseas markets. We firmly believed that one of the keys to increasing sales from overseas markets would be to localise our services and products in each of those countries. Customers are increasingly finding our products and services via Internet search engines and so we saw our website as a critical marketing tool."
As a manufacturer of electric-operated pedestrian tugs, MasterMover is a market leader in providing solutions for moving wheeled loads from 50kg up to 100,000kg. Established in 1995, the company has provided handling solutions to some of the biggest brand names in industry. The business offers a portfolio of 27 machine models that are designed to safely and efficiently transport wheeled loads.
In 2007, export sales were less than 5% of MasterMover’s annual sales turnover. Now this figure is more than 30% and growing year-on-year. In 2009 and 2010, UK sales remained steady, but the focus on export growth has definitely paid dividends for the company. In 2011, despite ongoing difficult global economic conditions, MasterMover still managed to increase annual turnover by 12%.
After securing website domain names for overseas markets, a language platform was put in place, where the company’s website content was translated into the appropriate native languages. "It’s important that the translation is of a high standard, because any poorly translated marketing or sales information can be detrimental. What we needed was a technical translation agency that understood and could accurately translate engineering terms and phrases."
It is also vital that each website properly conveys the key benefits of your technology, products and services to new overseas customers. As Owen puts it: "Using the correct industry buzzwords are important, in our case these included phrases such as ‘improved handling efficiencies’, ‘productivity’ and ‘safety’. By appointing dealers to each territory who would know precisely what these buzzwords were for each industry sector, has created a very effective website for each country. We also revamped our existing UK website, with clearer messages for each individual industry sector. Once overseas dealers were appointed, we asked them to update the keywords and language content."
We also spent a lot of time and effort on search engine optimisation (SEO), which helped to improve the visibility of our website within search engines. As an Internet marketing strategy, this meant we had to look at how the search engines worked, the actual search terms or keywords that potential buyers of our product were typing into these search engines, and which search engines were preferred by our target customers. We worked with an SEO consultant, who helped us to optimise our website with new edited content and HTML, to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove any barriers to the indexing activities of search engines."
In late 2007, MasterMover rolled out its export sales strategy to European dealers, starting with France, then Italy, Spain and Germany. This was part of a phased export strategy, not trying to go for all overseas markets too quickly, as business resources would not be able to support everyone at the same time. "It’s better to have one effective overseas dealer than 10 dealers who just have the MasterMover name on their reception wall but never sell any of your products," says Owen.
"We also wanted to make sure that our sales team still focused its efforts on the UK market, ensuring this remained a firm foundation for our export push. The UK is our critical mass, the strongest and most established market for us and will remain so for the foreseeable future."
When the European websites were launched in late 2007, the critical aspect was to respond very quickly and positively to any sales enquiries. "This was key because you may only get one chance with new overseas customers," states Owen. "It’s all very well having a great looking website in place that says all the right things to customers in the appropriate language, but if you don’t respond rapidly and prove to those new customers that there is actually a strong business behind it all, you may as well give up. We also wanted to ensure that time, currency and language barriers didn’t delay the progress of orders."
It is also critical to provide ongoing support for your dealers. For example, MasterMover provides marketing material, Google ad words, mailshot campaigns, product training and technical support to overseas dealers. "I personally visit overseas dealers to carry out on-site demonstrations of our machines to customers and to help with training. I don’t want to steal time and resources from our UK sales structure. Being at the coalface, I can also judge how clients are responding to the dealers in each territory." In just four years, from 2007 to 2011, our dealer network has contributed more than x million pounds towards our growth and helped secure more jobs in Derbyshire. More recruitment is now required as the daily activity for MasterMover is now a 24-hour operation with our dealer network spanning Europe, South Africa, Brazil and Australia. MasterMover is also selling direct to a number of countries such as India, China, Canada, the US and Malaysia.
Due to the ongoing global economic downturn, many companies, including dealers and distributors, have had to look closely at what they’re doing, both in terms of their internal efficiencies and productivity, and externally with respect to sales and export markets. The more enlightened businesses have recognised early that they have a sales network that isn’t big enough, so they need to grow by adding other products to their portfolio and to diversify to grow. These are the types of companies that we are dealing with in overseas markets.
"The UK is the springboard for our success in overseas markets. We drive innovation and new product development here. Wherever the sales enquiry is from, our engineers have probably already seen a similar application here in the UK, where we supply products to almost every industry sector: food and beverage, healthcare, automotive, aerospace and defence, nuclear, airports and so on."
"However, the BRIC economies are very interesting markets for us because we sell our products based on customer benefits such as improved handling efficiencies, productivity, improved safety and reduced risk of injuries to employees. As labour costs are rising in these countries, we’ve started to see customers in China and India looking to automate their factories much more, reduce their labour costs and improve logistics and handling efficiencies by using our machines. Static build production sites and assembly areas are now looking for these extra efficiency gains. We therefore expect to sell significantly more machines to the BRIC economies over the next decade and beyond."