By Gerard Burke, MD Of Your Business Your Future

For Stephen Sacks, CEO of Wallace Sacks, who participated in a programme that we ran in 2008, the decision to start exporting was a case of 'do or die' for his clothing and textiles business. 'I realised that we were dead in the water if we didn't make drastic and immediate changes,' he recalls.

He started by making some enquiries about what help and support was available to UK companies looking to export - and quickly found that he was on his own!

'I found absolutely no support at all for this. There are plenty of organisations and advisors who claim to be experts but in my experience these claims are unfounded,” he says.

Taking matters into his own hands, he planned a road-trip across Europe, with Germany the first stop. “I decided to tackle Germany first because it seemed to offer the least resistance and the most potential,” he explains. Whilst in Germany, he visited agents and distributors of complementary businesses and competitors and, in his own words, ‘hijacked’ them.

Following that initial trip in November 2008, he appointed an agent and exhibited at three German trade shows. By the end of the first quarter of 2009, he’d amassed over £100,000 of orders.

Just over two years on and Wallace Sacks is exporting to 25 countries worldwide, by replicating this now tried and tested formula.

The company’s largest market is Germany, followed by France and then the USA. Stephen expects China to usurp Germany as its number one export market within two years. “Our growth in this mega market leads us to forecast its dominance for us within two years. My view is that within a few years it will be virtually the only game in town for any business with serious ambition.”

There’s no doubt exporting has saved Wallace Sacks from near certain death. Has it also meant that Stephen has taken his eye off the ball back home? “I still run the business and, despite now spending 75% of my time away, I use technology to stay close to the operation,” he says.

In fact, he argues that being away from the business so much has made him a more effective strategic leader, working ON the business rather than IN it. “My geographic remoteness also enables me to more easily take ‘the helicopter view’. I would argue that this has, somewhat counter-intuitively, made me a more effective strategic leader.”

And his advice for other owner managers looking to take their products or services overseas?

Develop a world-class product, buy an airline ticket and don’t come home until you have an economic route to market. Repeat the above elsewhere. If you don’t have a world-class product or service before you start, then you’ll quickly find out once you embark on the process. Exposing yourself to the world should force you to pick your game up and deliver one.”

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