Lara Bryant, VP sales and marketing at Herefordshire-based litter clearance tools manufacturer Helping Hand Environmental, outlines how she plans to continue the company’s global expansion, despite Brexit
Brexit has caused a lot of concern among British exporters whose key overseas trade is within the EU. With the outcome of negotiations, or lack of, still unknown, it is tricky for businesses to plan for the future to ensure a smooth transition.
However, as a British manufacturer and exporter, we have successfully grown our export business to Europe since the EU referendum in 2016. Despite the dual challenge of impending Brexit and competition from cheaper overseas manufacturers, our export revenue has increased by 750% in the last six years. We doubled our overseas sales from £450,000 to £986,000 between 2016 and 2017 alone and are now exporting to more than 20 countries worldwide, proving that with the right approach Brexit should not spell disaster.
This overseas revenue growth has resulted in our family-run company winning a prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade this year, an accolade we’re incredibly proud of.
So, here are our tips on how businesses can grow a global client base, despite the tricky economic conditions and uncertain future – based on our own experience:
1) Talk to your customers
Talk of a no-deal Brexit, hard borders and new tariffs have all triggered understandable concern that UK companies will lose many European customers, with some claiming they are already suffering negative impacts. However, there are ways to overcome these issues.
The key thing is to put the customers’ needs at the centre of everything you do. We have worked really closely with all our European customers to ensure we are in a strong position to allay any problems thrown up by Brexit, such as transportation delays or materials shortages. We have robust contingency plans in place to deal with potential hiccups. For instance, we have built up good stocks of our raw materials, so that we can continue to manufacture in the event of a slow-down in supply for at least 90 days.
Even now, no-one knows what is going to happen, but we were proactive in going to our European customers to discuss their concerns and needs to try to pre-empt any issues. For instance, if we have concerns about supply lines shutting down, we can ship products early or even send out the components and put the products together onsite.
Comprehensive preparation has reassured our customers that we remain the supplier best placed to provide them with quality products when they need them, deal or no deal.
2) Don’t compromise on quality
It may be tempting when faced with much cheaper overseas rivals to cut costs wherever possible and compromise the quality of your products. We would warn against this. Customers will pay for quality. The reason the ‘Made in Britain’ tagline is a powerful one is that it is associated with top-quality products.
We have more than 50 years of technical expertise in producing litter clearance tools for local authorities, waste management companies and major brands keen to add litter clearance to their CSR [corporate social responsibility] activities. This has enabled us to refine and innovate to ensure our products are the best available in terms of design, function and durability. We cycle test our litter pickers to 500,000 repetitions.
All this requires investment, but the result is incomparable quality and ergonomics proven from one generation to the next. Our customers trust we will provide them with quality products to CE and ISO standards.
Due to higher overheads, material and staffing costs than south-east Asian rivals, there is no doubt there are far cheaper alternatives out there. Yet our customers across dozens of countries remain loyal because they are happy to pay for better quality. With a much longer lifespan than cheaper versions, our products ultimately offer better value. There is a lesson for everyone there.
3) Keep it green
As our company name, Helping Hand Environmental, suggests, we really care about the environment. As well as our mission to make the whole world litter free and divert as much rubbish as possible from landfill to recycling, we also constantly look for new ways to minimise our environmental impact. From manufacturing as much as possible using recyclable materials to recycled compostable packaging, we aim for zero waste. We also produce recycling kits alongside our products, which can extend their lifespans by 300%.
Our customers care about the carbon footprint of the products. They are working with us to boost their environmental credentials, so it would significantly undermine this if they were to source their tools from a company with a terrible environmental record.
Thankfully, there is also a wider trend towards consumers and companies holding their suppliers to account when it comes to responsible manufacturing and production. Across Europe, more consumers now demand strong environmental credentials when they buy, governments are legislating to reduce emissions and waste and this has a knock-on effect across all markets. Going greener pays in more ways than one.
4) Add value
We refer to ourselves as an anti-litter consultancy and there is a good reason for this. Having supplied the litter collection industry and worked with countless councils, charity projects and national and international campaigns we have a breadth of experience and network of contacts in this area that is unrivalled.
As well as supplying more than 90% of all local authorities in the UK, we are the official partners for environmental charities and campaigns in the UK and Europe from Keep Britain Tidy and Keep Scotland Beautiful to Nederland Schoon in Holland and Limburg.net in Belgium.
We worked with 346,012 litter pick volunteers in the first three months of this year alone, providing them not just with litter-pick tools, but also educational and promotional materials.
This has led to major global brands including McDonalds, Coca Cola and Costa approaching us in relation to their CSR and charity work. Due to our knowledge, experience and network of partners, we can act as a valued advisor on new environmental litter clearance projects and help link up community groups with local authorities, charities and businesses looking to fund such projects.
We are not solely focused on commercial gain, but we have a long-term view on developing sustainable relationships. Our business has grown in tricky conditions because we exceed our customers’ expectations – both at home and abroad – and other UK businesses must do the same.