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Ready to take your local business to the world? Jamie Hogan, director of Inverness-based Caley Marina, shares his experience and tips for exporting to China, USA and Middle East.

Caley Marina

Dipping your toe in overseas markets? What essentials should you pack before go? We caught up with Caley Marina director, Jamie Hogan to share his insight:

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Jamie Hogan, director of Caley Marina shares his exporting journey
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1. Widen your net

What made you decide that exporting was right for your business?

“We were operating in a significant leisure market in the UK, and in 2008 when the recession started to hit, we could see that leisure market starting to decline. So we wanted to replace that market. The logical step for that was to use the expertise that we’d already gained in the commercial market in the UK and take it worldwide. And that's exactly what we started to do.

How did you get started in exporting?

“We attended lots of trade shows throughout the year and noticed that they were becoming more and more international. So we started to make contacts with international customers, which led us on our journey into exporting. Then we discovered that our revamped website had a worldwide draw and that too really kick-started our exporting. 

Where is your company now in terms of exporting?

“It’s a significant part of our business that we’d like to grow more of. We export about 10% of our product annually.

What is your biggest export market?

“Our biggest export market was China and we had some huge orders to China. However, that opportunity has dried up a little now so this year Malaysia will be our biggest market. 

Why Malaysia?

“We have an agent in the UK who has a very strong business relationship with a tourism company in Malaysia. The tourism company has several islands in Malaysia and they want us to provide (through our agent) ferries to service bespoke upmarket hotels on these islands. That's where that market opportunity has come from.

2. Listen to your customers

What are the differences to operating in China compared to the UK?

“When a customer comes to us with a concept or a plan, we take their ideas and then turn them into engineering solutions. 

“In the UK our boats are generally towed behind land rovers or that style of vehicle, whereas in China, they actually wanted a bespoke trailer to tow behind a fire engine. So we then worked with a fire engine manufacturer with our Chinese customers and provided a solution that met their requirements. 

“That’s what makes us fairly unique in the marketplace, in that we’ll build what the customer wants, and not necessarily what we think they want. And that’s where we get the insight.  And that’s what gives us an advantage over our competitors.

3. Know the regulations before you go

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

“Yes, we adapt everything we sell, continuously, for each individual market. As soon as you go overseas, you have to comply with a different set of regulations to that of the UK, particularly in the boat sector. 

“Each company we sell to has bespoke requirements for their safety standards and we need to exceed all those requirements.

How have you found adapting to overseas markets?

“We’ve found it relatively straightforward to do, but we have to be very careful in some of the markets – if we’re exporting product for our boats to say the USA or Canada, the wood on the crates for the packaging has to be certified. And it’s little things like that where you can very easily slip up, unless you’re completely aware of what you’re doing. 

Jamie's tips for success

  1. Widen your net
  2. Listen to your customers
  3. Know the regulations 
  4. Establish your right market
  5. Think ahead
  6. Enjoy the benefits of exporting
  7. Do your research 
  8. Get help when you need it

4. Establish your route market

What is your route to market?

“We sell direct to some countries, but we also have network of agents throughout the whole of the UK. And if they have a particular customer abroad, then we can supply via an agent to that customer. 

“But generally, the agent will pick up an enquiry and we will then turn that enquiry into a sale and supply directly from Inverness to that customer. 

Any advice for other Scottish companies on selecting a route to market?

“It really doesn’t matter which way you do it, but what is most important is that you understand your customer’s requirements entirely. 

“And understand your requirements to get your product into that country, because if something goes wrong thousands of miles away, it’s very difficult and expensive to sort out. 

5. Think ahead 

What’s been your biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?

“One of the biggest challenges is actually meeting import regulations for customs into the markets that we sell into. When we’re selling into the Middle East some of the products require a ‘certificate of origin’ and that means we have to go right back to the base manufacturer. 

“And that’s fairly simple when dealing with major components like a boat, but when you come down to the whistle on the lifejacket, trying to find a certificate of origin for that is incredibly difficult. So that is something that you have to be aware of – that the attention to detail on the import has to be spot on before your product leaves the UK.

“Secondly, when you export to different countries, there are different cultures, and you have to make sure you respect them. For example, in China and Malaysia, sometimes saying ‘thank you’ or giving a gift is inappropriate. Ensure you do it in the right way and in the right custom for that country.

6. Enjoy the benefits of exporting

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

“The biggest benefit to us is that it has raised our brand profile worldwide. We’ve taken our product and it is now well known in the industries we work in. And that, for a small company in the Highlands, is a real achievement. 

“Another great thing about exporting is when we meet the customers that we’ve exported to at trade shows and various events. It’s great to actually speak with them and hear how our product is working for them. It’s great to hear that they’re recommending our product on to other customers. That feedback – that building of the brand – is very rewarding for us.

What advice do you have for companies just starting to export?

“Be brave. Don’t be afraid to test the market. But do your homework as much as possible. So that when you’re finally ready to ship that product to that country, you know that you’ve done as much as you can to make sure that product will go into the marketplace selected, and work for you in that chosen market. 

7. Do your research

What do wish someone had told you when you first started exporting?

“We wished that we’d had understood some of the import regulations better. For example, one of our products goes into North America and falls under the Food and Drug Administration. And because of that, the number of hoops we had to jump through to get that product into the market was enormous and cost several thousand dollars. 

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“So I think again, it comes back to do your research, do your homework. If we’d known that beforehand, perhaps we wouldn’t have even considered it. So it’s important that we understand the market we’re going into and the requirements they need to make it happen.

8. Get help when you need it

“Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise have both been very supportive to the company and we cannot praise them highly enough. Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve always done for us with good grace. And we’re very pleased with that."

Want to grow your business in international markets?

For all the support you need to explore your options and develop your export plan get in touch with our export advisers. 

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