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Scottish drilling company, GeoSonic has tripled its growth in just four years by expanding its business into Europe. Read how they did it.

GeoSonic drilling
GeoSonic has seen work in Europe expand quickly, with a concentration of opportunities in France

Alloa-based GeoSonic Drilling has grown rapidly to provide specialist sonic drilling services across Europe. An acquisition in France became a springboard for expansion, which provided a strong base for sustaining the business at a time when Brexit inevitably raises questions about the best way to do business in Europe. 

A new drilling technique

We recognised that Europe represented a higher growth market for us than simply continuing to work in the UK.

David Dennis, managing director, GeoSonic Drilling

Sonic drilling is a relatively new drilling technique which is faster, safer and cleaner than conventional air or mud rotary drilling. While the rig looks similar to a traditional drill, an oscillating drill-head improves the speed and accuracy of drilling.

GeoSonic launched in 2013 with the acquisition of the assets from the UK operations of global drilling contractor Boart Longyear. 

Starting out with 25 employees and 9 drill rigs, the company quickly proved that they could service the existing UK market. Then they started to look for opportunities to grow the business and this took them into Europe.

A strategy for growth

“Growth was on the agenda early on at GeoSonic,” said David Dennis, managing director of the company which has headquarters in Alloa. “Our first year was about consolidating our position in the UK, but almost immediately we were looking to widen our horizons. 

GeoSonic drilling on site
In-situ geotechnical testing

"The similarity of environmental legislation and the challenging nature of geology across Europe means that we were well placed to offer our specialist drilling services beyond the UK.”

David’s advice if you're considering expanding into Europe

"Go and do it! There are opportunities in Europe and we have seen the benefits of going after them. It’s easy to sit back with what you’ve got, but it’s a mistake to do that. 

"There are so many similarities in the market in Europe and with legislation and with technical skills that it makes sense to explore this market, regardless of Brexit.

  • You have to hook onto the opportunities as they come up. If you see a steady stream of opportunities in a particular location then respond and go after them.
  • Business culture in France is different from the UK. You have to take time to understand how that works and put effort into recognising the differences. 
  • Do the market research and establish if there is a market for your product or service and who the competitors are. This is an area where Scottish Enterprise and SDI can really help.
  • Be patient. It will pay off.

GeoSonic drilling on site
GeoSonic drilling on site

"From a strategic point of view, we wanted to make sure that we had an operating base in Europe as a direct response to Brexit."

Stepping into Europe

By the end of their first year of trading, GeoSonic was already receiving enquiries from France, Poland, Spain and Sweden. David explains, “We recognised that Europe represented a higher growth market for us than simply continuing to work in the UK, so we began to service contracts in Europe, from the company’s base in Alloa. 

"We saw our work in Europe expand quickly, with a concentration of opportunities in France."

Rather than continuing to service the company’s European contracts from its base in Alloa, David began to look at the option of opening an office in France and about the same time discovered that there was the opportunity to grow through acquisition.

There are so many similarities in the market in Europe and with legislation and with technical skills that it makes sense to explore this market, regardless of Brexit.

David Dennis, managing director, GeoSonic Drilling

Benefits of local knowledge

David says, “We wanted to have a strong, sustainable base in Europe that could survive Brexit and enable us to grow our business there. There are cultural differences in how people approach business and plan work. It makes all the difference to have local teams who understand that. 

"The other huge benefit for us is to have rigs that are based in France and can be easily transported around continental Europe.”

In September 2015 GeoSonic Drilling aquired business France-based company, COFOR, adding an additional 14 people and 11 drill rigs to the expanding business. 

The company’s European strategy seems to have paid off. Since 2015 Geosonic has bought another small drilling company (Forasonic), amalgamated the French work under the name GeoSonic France and moved to new premises in Jardin, south of Lyon.

Why have a base in France?

  • It has similar technical standards and legislation to UK
  • It provides a central location for expanding into other European countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Belgium
  • Having French speaking staff is an advantage for winning contracts in other French speaking areas, such as West Africa

Winning contracts across Europe

Crucially GeoSonic’s strong French base has enabled the company’s presence across Europe to flourish. Business in France has increased. The company has gone on to win contracts in Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Germany and Poland. 

“Mining is a growth sector for us at the moment in Europe and our name is becoming well known as the leading sonic drilling provider – it is our expertise and our quality that is leading to growth,” said David.

“Many of the companies that we work with in the UK are actually international organisations who have requirements elsewhere that they want to be able to meet to the same high standards as we deliver here. Our growth in Europe – and elsewhere around the world – means that can happen.”

Support for growth

Supported by

Supported by the European Regional Development Fund

"Scottish Enterprise and their international arm, Scottish Development International (SDI), have provided financial support to attend conferences and exhibitions, market intelligence, research into new markets and connections in different parts of the world. 

"We currently have new mining projects in Sweden, Finland, Turkey and Saudi Arabia as a direct result of conferences that we have attended. Our sense is that there is increasing awareness of our brand which puts us in a strong position as we continue to grow.”

Explore EU opportunities for your business

Why not follow in the footsteps of GeoSonic's success and explore opportunities for your business in Europe? We can help and our 'Selling in the EU' guide is a great place to start.

Read our online guide to selling into the EU