Dan Robson, Managing Director of horticulture company Seedcell, recalls the drastic uprooting effect the EU referendum vote had on a London trade show in 2016. “When the result was announced the whole event was killed. Everyone was looking shocked and started to leave in droves,” he says. “We lost a lot of potential sales that day, and a potential investment to help us expand, because people were so concerned.”
However, he believes now that Brexit gave the company - which makes biodegradable pods filled with vegetable or herb seeds for planting at home - the catalyst and market environment it needed to ramp up its business via exporting.
“We had been to many trade shows since our launch in 2014 and garnered a huge number of business cards. The ones at the top were the small independent garden centres and large players, such as B&Q, in the UK that we began to build our business through,” he explains. “We had a lot of foreign cards from retailers and distributors, but they went to the bottom of the pile. Exporting was, we thought, for the future.”
Following Brexit, however, the group, aiming to take advantage of a weak pound and a faltering gardening market at home, decided to contact the names on those cards. It now exports to France, Germany, Italy and Malta with foreign sales accounting for 80% of turnover.
Dan says that the company's export strategy was boosted by Gardenex, the Federation of Garden & Leisure Manufacturers, and the Department of International Trade (DIT). Gardenex helped Seedcell meet potential distributors and gain an understanding of the complex regulations involved in exporting live products such as seeds. The DIT helped the company develop new packaging to suit overseas markets and help undertake research on customer demand. “The DIT helped a lot in explaining what we had to do such as protecting intellectual property and trademarks and doing proper checks on potential partners,” says Dan.
John Rubidge, head of innovation services at Business West, which runs the DIT contract in the South West, expands on the assistance it offers.
“We help companies put together an export strategy and select the most appropriate markets for their services and products. What barriers will be in the way and how can they be competitive? Is the demand there?” he says. “We can help companies do some market testing, look at IP, foreign exchange rates, customs paperwork and legislation.”
The DIT also offers an Overseas Markets Introduction Service (OMIS) with experts based in Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates around the world. Tracy Ruff, International Trade Centre Manager at the DIT in Bristol explains: “We are the first step of the OMIS. When a business has identified a market, and finessed exactly what they need, we put them in touch with our global staff. They can go beyond our UK based desk research and help with local intelligence, knowledge, contacts and language.
“They help again with looking at potential distributors and routes to markets and can facilitate introductions. They even arrange interpreters and drivers as well as allowing some embassies to be used for a seminar or lunch reception. Often it isn't until a business goes to visit a country and see how people shop, or how distribution channels work, that they fully grasp what they have to do to be successful.” Dan says he will likely make use of the OMIS on the next step of his export strategy.
“We are looking at the US, Australia, Dubai, Israel and China as potential new markets,” he says. “We are sending samples out and working with partners to get feedback on our products. There will be lots of flying to do! But we will do as we have always done on our exporting journey. Putting one foot in front of the other and taking the opportunity.”