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"We're opening up business we didn't have before." Rosie Hill, Business Development Manager at Ireland Alloys, shares her experience of exporting and China's potential to grow the business.

Rosie HIll, Business Development Manager, Ireland Alloys Play video

Benefits of exporting to China

"We're de-risking the business," says Rosie.

Ireland Alloys engineers Play video

Around the world with Ireland Alloys

Exporting high value scrap metal since 1964.

Ireland Alloys ScotGrad researcher, Tina Liu Play video

How Ireland Alloys got started in China

Language no barrier thanks to ScotGrad support.

Ireland Alloys analyst at work Play video

Where next for Ireland Alloys?

Forecasting turnover of £12 million in next three years.

Why did you decide to start exporting?

Our export market is very niche. There are only a finite number of customers for us in the world who have vacuum furnaces, so our business relies on exporting heavily – mainly to Europe and the US.

Running a successful export business

Ireland Alloys are processors of complex alloy scrap. We buy high nickel and cobalt alloy scrap from around the world. We bring it back to Hamilton in Scotland, where it is sorted, valued, processed and analysed, then sold to superalloy manufacturers worldwide.

Do your research, speak to people who do business in China and go for it.

Rosie Hill, Business Development Manager, Ireland Alloys

We’ve been in Hamilton since 1964 and in that time we’ve won the Queen’s Award for Innovation, managed revert (scrap) for the largest aero-engine manufacturers and have relationships with major superalloy mills globally to supply them our products.

Why did you choose China?

China has always eluded Ireland Alloys. With demand slowing in most geographical areas in 2015/16 due to the demise of oil and gas, we didn’t want the risk of lower volumes so we decided to explore emerging and previously untapped markets. And with China’s economy still growing, albeit at a downgraded 6.5%, it seem logical to try. 

Rosie Hill and ScotGrad, Tina Liu at Ireland Alloys
Rosie Hill with ScotGrad researcher, Tina Liu

Who did you contact for advice?

We were fortunate to be already account managed by Scottish Enterprise who helped us look at our strategy and gave advice on getting started in China which involved lots of research before anything else. 

Since we’re a small busy team they suggested we speak to ScotGrad – a fantastic resource to employ students and graduates to work on a particular project. We advertised for a Mandarin-speaking student to work part-time for us as a market researcher. 

Meanwhile, Scottish Enterprise’s High Growth Markets Unit invited us to attend their events on doing business in China and introduced us to China-Britain Business Council. 

What have been your biggest challenges and how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenges dealing with China have been the language barrier, cultural differences and finding the relevant contacts within businesses. 

By bringing on Tina Liu, our student researcher, she has helped us research thoroughly, contacting and communicating with potential customers and suppliers. She has organised business trips to meet these companies, which is essential in Chinese business culture.

What have you found to be the biggest benefits or rewards of exporting?

Importing and exporting to China has opened up a huge established market for us which should increase our turnover. We're de-risking the business away from reliance on Western markets.

China's such a huge country that they have huge demands there in our business sector. We are actually opening up business that we didn't have before. 

Since our business trip in October, we’ve secured two new suppliers and four or five potential new customers. 

Apart from moving the business forward, from a personal point perspective exporting, in general, has broadened my experience of dealing with different cultures, of doing business on a more personal level. It gets me travelling more.

Ireland Alloys engineer
Ireland Alloys engineer at work

Have you had to adapt your product or service for overseas markets? 

Yes, we have to adapt our service and product to each individual customer. When doing business with China it just takes a little longer to get started. We’ve had to communicate on a more regular basis to build relationships and trust first.

What is your route to market? 

For customers we deal direct and for suppliers we deal with traders. Our advice would be to do your research well and meet the people you will be dealing with. We like to go direct as our market is niche and our product is certified by us. It also gives us greater control.

What advice would you give to other companies thinking about exporting to China?

Get in touch with Scottish Enterprise's High Growth Markets Unit and the China-Britain Business Council. Network and speak to people who have the experience of business in China. Research is so important, do lots of it. Get as much help and support as you can. 

By securing an intern through ScotGrad, we have someone who's capable of speaking directly with customers in market. The fact that we have a very good quality product helps us get there as well. 

Without Scottish Enterprise's guidance we wouldn’t be started in China yet. They have helped us get the resources required, given us focus and the confidence to move into the Chinese market.

Where is your company now in terms of exporting?

We’ve just secured our first export to China to supply our first state-owned superalloy mill – their first purchase ever from a Western supplier. 

On the import side, we’ve also received our first two purchases from two new suppliers – traders worth in excess of £300k. 

Turnover-wise, we're looking to take this from £1.1 million within the first six months right up to, potentially, £12 million after three years.

Do your research, speak to people who do business in China and go for it.

Get support to do business in China

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