Even as the fifth largest trading nation in the world, Britain’s businesses face many challenges finding success in the international market.
Figures in 2017 showed 14.3% of UK businesses were actively engaged in international trade. Of these 340,500 businesses, 236,000 were considered SMEs.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, this figure rose by 6.6% in 2018. So, is international trade the best way to grow your business and maximise your success?
Looking at previous international business ventures is one way of knowing how to move forward with your business. Many brands have approached the global market, to varying degrees of success:
Shortcomings in Europe: Walmart
Although Walmart has seen reasonable success, with stores in Africa, Canada, China, Japan, and of course, America, the company’s European venture went less smoothly.
It became apparent that reputation doesn’t necessarily spell unencumbered success.
Undoubtedly, Walmart had a consistent process, but sticking it too rigidly meant it lost out on the German market when its American style clashed with German tastes.
For example, in a country renowned for its love of efficiency, having someone else bag your groceries did not sit well with customers.
Plus, while Walmart is famous for its overly enthusiastic greeters and smiling staff, these things didn’t translate well in Germany, or in Europe in general where people are little more reserved and favour personal space.
Walmart was left with no choice but to cut its $1 billion losses in 2016. Therefore, it had to leave the German market.
How to build a global reputation: Houghton International
Initially, Houghton International supplied coils to Portland Electrical Repairs in Nigeria. The company was founded by Ron and Christine Mitten, in 1984, and it grew from success to success, offering many services such as pump motor rewinding.
After just four years of steady growth, thanks to its focus on speciality work, the company was able to move to larger premises. Soon afterwards, the company won a contract with a firm in Hong Kong, which provided a valuable foot on the ladder in terms of international growth.
After steady growth, Houghton International was able to relocate yet again. The company is based in Newcastle upon Tyne. By ensuring every order was fulfilled to the highest quality, the company was able to stand out and build strong relationships with its clients. The process has certainly paid off: between 1984 and 1994, Houghton International’s customer count went from one to over 400.
The continuity of this global growth led to a lucrative business opportunity across in the Texas oil market. Then, in 2001, the company was part of the UK’s top 100 fastest growing companies as listed in the Financial Times.
Thanks to their efforts, Houghton International was awarded for its success in 2018 — the company was named the winner of the Services category in the North East Business Awards. Houghton International had further expanded its range of services to include a dedicated pump repairs service and testing.
What is the secret of international trading success?
What lessons can be taken from the steadily growing success of some international businesses? Houghton International’s success story for example, compared to the hit-or-miss success of Walmart, can somewhat enlighten us.
Key takeaways include:
- Reputation building: Even in a digital age, word of mouth is a powerful thing. Small contracts can still make big waves, so by ensuring your business completes every contract to the highest standard, word will soon spread among the industry of your business name.
- Consistency: Your business must deliver results consistently. Fair or not, many successes can easily be tarnished by one oversight, and clients will certainly speak of such negative experiences far louder than they would of positive experiences.
- Growing within means: Being eager to grow as a business is fine but biting off more than you can chew will only lead to mistakes, impacting your consistency. Keep your short-term goals in mind as much as your long-term goals, and don’t be put off by going at a slower pace if needs be.
- One size does not fit all: Consistency is one thing when it comes to quality, but don’t mistake that as sticking rigidly to processes and service delivery. What lands well for an Australian client may not fly for a customer in Poland! It’s important to understand the cultural nuances of your prospective clients before you try to enter that market — failure to do so simply exposes your business as lacking awareness.