Export Britannia: Keep the British brand alive say UK small businesses

A quarter of small businesses say overseas consumers are more likely to buy the British brand than a year ago, and are boosting their export plans to match.

From The Beatles to Beckham and Bowie to Cool Britannia, the UK has long traded on Brand Britain. Despite well-documented uncertainty, small businesses claim Brand Britain is as strong as ever – and a powerful driver of British exports, according to the eBay for Business Index.

Overseas consumers buy British because of positive perceptions about the quality of UK goods and services, expectations of good customer service and even a positive association with quintessential British institutions like the BBC and Royal Family, according to the eBay study.

In welcome news for exporters, a quarter (24 per cent) of the small businesses eBay spoke to have seen an increase in those looking to buy British, compared with twelve months ago, allaying fears that the June 2016 referendum has dented the image of UK exporters.

The eBay study reveals export optimism among British small businesses, with one in ten planning to enter new markets this year. Britain exported £550 billion in goods and services in 2016, according to Office for National Statistics.

Sally Steel, a single mum of three from Sheffield who runs two bespoke craft businesses on eBay, The Nose Warmer Company and Poppy and Petal, ‘won’t let uncertainty derail’ the growth of her businesses. She currently exports to 24 countries and has set her sights this year on consolidating her consumer base in the USA, and entering Poland. Poland has ‘a young, growing economy where demand for British made goods is increasing,’ she said.

Over 200,000 small businesses trade on eBay in the UK, with 93 per cent exporting overseas to an average of 20 different countries.

The top 5 export markets for British goods on eBay

1. United States

2. Australia

3. Germany

4. France

5. Italy

Whilst the potential for British exports is clear, eBay’s study sounds a note of caution on protectionism. A third (32 per cent) of the small businesses spoken to as part of the study said the continued rise of protectionist policies will harm to their business by limiting British exports.

The eBay for Business Index is an annual barometer of Britain’s small businesses selling online.

Most popular British items for overseas customers

Fashion heads the pack as eBay’s UK sellers’ biggest export category. The top ten categories for exports are:

1. Clothes, shoes and accessories

2. Vehicle parts

3. Mobile phones and communication

4. Home, furniture and DIY

5. Sporting good

6. Computers and tablets

7. Office and industrial

8. Jewellery and watches

9. Health and beauty

10. Collectables

Gareth Jones, Marketing Director at eBay in the UK says, ‘Small business exports have had a strong twelve months, powered by the lower pound but crucially by the power of ‘Brand Britain’. The UK is going through a period of change that has led to fears that our image abroad could be harmed. But the business fundamentals of Brand Britain remain strong: trusted, quality products and good customer service.

‘Small businesses are benefiting from this association and boosting their export plans to take advantage. This is good news for the economy and for eBay in the UK, which hosts over 200,000 of these enterprises, giving access to a global customer base of over 164 million people.’

Small businesses powered by Brand Britain

Anni Kriesche, founder of Funky Soap Shop

Inspired by rising demand for ethical and transparent skin treatments, German born Londoner Anni Kriesche founded handmade soap and shampoo firm, The Funky Soap Shop on eBay from her kitchen worktop in 2011. The business has since grown rapidly, with the firm now operating from a 1500 sq. ft. workshop in East London where all products are made, packaged and shipped.

The Funky Soap Shop now has six employees and sells up to 400 products a day. They reported annual turnover of £160k in 2016, and plan to take on more staff and move into a bigger warehouse to accommodate the firm’s ambition to grow by 20% this year. She said:

‘I moved to London as a fashion designer about twenty years ago, inspired by its influence in the arts. I’ve since met the love of my life, built a family and set up my own business, handcrafting soaps and shampoos. Not only has this been the physical location where I’ve started-up, but I actively amplify the soap as “handmade in London” across all my marketing as it resonates with consumers, both here and abroad.

‘I originally opened the shop as a market stall in Clapton in 2011, but soon realised there was an opportunity to access millions more consumers, so opened an eBay shop. Within days I was selling to the USA, and I now list in four languages, selling into seven markets in total. In fact, exports account for 30% of my business, with our biggest overseas markets being France and Germany – as someone who grew up in Germany, I know first-hand how much consumers there admire British design and craftsmanship.’

Sally Steel, founder of The Nose Warmer Company & Poppy & Petal

Sally Steel is a mum of three and former teacher turned entrepreneur from Sheffield, who now runs two bespoke craft businesses from her home and workshop in Sheffield. All designs from The Nose Warmer Company – which set up on eBay in 2009 to keep snouts warm in the cold – are made and sold from Sally’s Yorkshire studio, as are designs from Poppy and Petal, Sally’s latest venture (founded in 2012). The latter firm specialises in handmade personalised cushions, bags and rag dolls. Both firms were born as a result of Sally’s lifelong passion for sewing and crafts.

Sally actively nods to the British sourcing and production of her products, and has shipped 6000 orders in the past year to buyers around the world, including USA, Australia, New Zealand and Germany. She said:

‘The Nose Warmer Company has benefitted from Britain’s reputation for quality and humour. That’s why I market where our fabrics are sourced from and stamp put the ‘hand-made in Britain’ stamp front and centre. A significant portion of our sales are gifts so my customers rely on good quality, careful customisation, and timely shipping. Ultimately, these gifts can reaffirm their friendship and it’s vital we understand that to keep customers happy. By building on British heritage, we can inspire confidence in customers to choose us over competitors.

‘In the US for example, we’ve really jumped on the fad of Bridesmaid proposal parties, where brides will contact me on eBay and we’d create bespoke wedding tote bags, or socks, most of which include a personal message to those the bride would like be her bridesmaids. We’re seeing more and more demand for this kind of customisation, and therefore a reliance on quality service and design.

‘While it’s well-documented that the weak pound has increased consumer confidence, I’m aware that uncertainty reigns about future trade partnerships. But I don’t let that distract from growing my businesses. I currently export to 24 different countries and have my eye on entering Poland in the near future. It’s got a young, growing economy where demand for British made goods is increasing.’

Sally’s tips for exporting

1. Seize the opportunity – Most companies are ready to export a long time before they feel they’re ready. The UK is one of the world’s most advanced e-commerce economies in terms of the brands, service and services. Our businesses are truly world class; consumers globally recognise that and shop on UK sites as a result.

2. Have a business plan of how you will take your business overseas – Create a business plan, from inventory planning to market your wares in different languages through the likes of eBay’s WebInterpret service and global shipping programme.

3. Understand the culture of where you are selling – Understand the culture of international buyers and their culture surrounding consumer goods. If your American customers expect the highest level of customer service when buying, make sure customer service is courteous, clear, precise and timely. This understanding creates a positive experience and create repeat custom.

4. Emphasise your ‘Britishness’ – Slightly counterintuitively to the above point but build on buyers’ affinity with the British. Don’t be afraid to showcase yours and your businesses personality.

5. Be clear about your shipping procedures – Shipping expectation is high, so this must be clear and fully understood by the consumer so you can avoid quibbling about delivery times or returns

Further reading on exporting the British brand

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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