02/04/2014

By Shaun Pulfrey Founder and CEO of Tangle Teezer Ltd

From the word ‘go’, exporting has been a key pillar of our business. Knowing the UK was never going to be a big enough market for Tangle Teezer, we had to quickly overcome our initial concerns about trading overseas. A shift in focus from the risks of export to the potential rewards it can bring has been crucial for our success.

It’s easy for SME’s to put exporting into the ‘too difficult’ box, especially when it comes to language barriers, marketing capabilities, logistical worries and legalities. But, I’m a firm believer in seeing the opportunity instead of the challenge and think others should approach business with the same positivity.

That’s why I’d encourage all small business leaders who aren’t meeting their export potential to make the most of all of the help and expertise that’s available to them. For example, we accessed the expertise of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) through the Passport to Export scheme. This gave us the training, planning and ongoing support we needed to succeed in several territories. It helped us to identify and plan our expansion – particularly when it came to selecting partner organisations in foreign markets.

For me, one of the key factors in our success was realising the potential of our product. Tangle Teezer suits all hair types, which is a challenge in some respects but it meant that the product knew no boundaries. That said we recognised that this ‘one size fits all’ ethos couldn’t be applied to our export strategy – every country is different. We needed to mine insights into different markets and tailor our approach accordingly.

Exporting certainly hasn’t always been easy for us, like anything in business there are ups and downs. Take Germany, which proved to be surprisingly slow going in Tangle Teezer’s early days. Few orders were coming from there and we were coming up against brick walls. This is where the support we received through Passport to Export was invaluable.

With the knowledge and support we received, we were able to turn the situation around and Germany is now one of our biggest markets. The first step was when the British Embassy in Berlin did some research for us and identified potential business partners. We then sent some Tangle Teezers to some celebrity hairdressers, bloggers, and top magazines in Germany. It worked like a dream! In fact, Bild newspaper ran a big feature upon the British ‘Wunderbrush!’ And then those customers identified by the British Embassy started calling us.

With the right knowledge, insight and support, small business can be confident in pursuing the potential that export has to offer. The benefits can be huge. According to official research conducted by the UKTI, exporting has a positive impact on business productivity, with 34% of companies who start exporting stating they were more productive in the first year alone. In addition, 85% of businesses said that exporting had led to a level of growth not otherwise possible.

I can certainly vouch for these benefits, I’ve seen business growth first hand. I started Tangle Teezer six years ago and we’re now exporting to countries from Holland (this was our first market) to China. In fact we were bigger in Holland than we were in the UK in the early days.

From my experience I’ve learnt that there isn’t a barrier to export that can’t be overcome with the right help and advice. It’s not just UKTI that offers support; for example the British Chambers of Commerce provides lots of advice and training. Small businesses can also learn a lot from their peers, either through networking events or online communities like Open to Export. Yes, there are challenges – some of which can be very difficult to conquer – but small firms shouldn’t let this stop them from reaching their global potential.

To find out more about the business support available to you, visit: www.greatbusiness.gov.uk

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