SMEs should open their doors to the world

There has never been a better time for small enterprises across the UK to be embracing worldwide trade in order to help their businesses flourish and grow.

There has never been a better time for small enterprises across the UK to be embracing worldwide trade in order to help their businesses flourish and grow.

The weakness of the pound, the strength of emerging markets and the continued demand for British products abroad make international trading an area that UK companies cannot afford to ignore.

To be successful, SMEs must move out of their comfort zone, be more ambitious and start developing trading relationships with global markets. Having access to a constant and reliable source of quality products is essential to building and sustaining a profitable business. The internet has made the whole world a neighbourhood and nearly every citizen a prospective customer. Therefore, in order to grow and thrive, British businesses need to exploit all these opportunities and remember that language and geography are not insurmountable barriers.

Alibaba was founded with the vision of becoming an enabler to help companies across the world gain access to the best products and the best customers to help their business grow. The website introduces buyers to suppliers all over the globe, and with millions of members it provides an impressive host of opportunities to any business – large or small – that wants to make the most of them.

A report by into UK importing and exporting trends revealed that for the period April to June 2011 (Quarter Two), 27 per cent of buyer enquiries sent to UK suppliers came from five European markets – Germany, France, Turkey, Greece and the UK. This closed the gap on the biggest markets outside the continent – the US, China, Pakistan, India and Egypt – which had a combined total of 31 per cent.

The report also showed that UK SMEs’ reliance on China has fallen substantially year-on-year, dropping behind the US, which experienced the biggest year-on-year increase and accounted for more than one in ten enquiries made to UK suppliers in Q2 2011. China remained the most popular market for imports, with 71 per cent of UK buyer enquiries being sent to Chinese businesses – up from 54 per cent during the same period last year.

Millions of businesses in the UK have seen their profitability, growth and success rise as a result of looking abroad for suppliers and customers.

For David McLagan, CEO of manufacturer Tosh, it meant having to cope with the volumes that started to come through as his business became more and more successful. Brighton-based Tosh produces stylish, high-quality souvenirs, and David initially sourced all the company’s product development and manufacture from within the UK.

David explains, ‘As our company grew, it became more and more difficult to deal with the increased volumes cost effectively with UK suppliers. Sourcing some of our products from abroad was a natural part of our business cycle to improve profitability, and now we have supply chains both in the UK and worldwide.’

It can also provide an opportunity to find business partners with specialist expertise, as Tony Curtis discovered. He used to find experts to help him develop his innovative idea of heated sports gloves, and after two years of working with a fabric manufacturer in Pakistan and a manufacturer of heated pads in China to design and develop prototypes, he is now ready to launch his product.

‘I needed someone who shared my vision and who would be willing to work together to produce the samples,’ says Tony, who is based in Bristol. ‘It was a big ask. I searched Alibaba and came up with a list of manufacturers. I whittled it down to those who were serious and then chose from that. We have been working on samples and prototypes for the past two years.’

Chris Amos had been considering the idea for his wholesale reusable shopping bag business for a while before he finally had the chance to put it into practice. It was when he started to look abroad for suppliers that his business really took off. He was able to find one manufacturer in China that could supply bulk orders, and then another closer to home in Turkey that could fulfil smaller orders of 100 bags or fewer. Today he runs a thriving business from his London home supplying reusable promotional eco-bags made from non-woven polypropylene, jute, cotton and 100 per cent biodegradable recycled plastic.

Chris says, ‘Using, I found it very easy to compare quotes from numerous suppliers across the globe. I initially thought language barriers might be a problem, but my contact speaks excellent English and we have a constant dialogue, which is very reassuring given that they are located thousands of miles away.’

Trading globally on has made a big difference to Eagle Technologies, supplier of customisable card ID printers/systems. It led the company to discover new customers worldwide and to develop a second revenue stream that now contributes to the overall success of the business.

‘It’s fair to say that if we hadn’t found, we wouldn’t be enjoying the international success that we do today,’ says Chris Rayner, Eagle Technologies’ managing director. ‘We now have more than 700 dealer clients throughout the UK, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. There isn’t a single European country that we don’t sell into at present.’

The platform has also provided lucrative opportunities in the form of partnerships with other traders for the Bracknell-based business.

Chris explains, ‘We were approached by a trader who saw our profile and offered us cleaning products for our card printers. Following initial consultations, the decision was taken to partner with the trader, who would allow us to OEM their products under the Eagle Technologies Plus-Clean brand. As a direct result of the partnership, our profit margins on cleaning products have risen from 11 per cent to 80 per cent.’

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

Related Topics

International Trade

Leave a comment