How Counterline is meeting its export ambitions

Simon Dutton shares how the business has achieved international growth.

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Following new business opportunities

The business had been trading to mostly UK customers for almost 40 years until about seven years ago, when Simon says they decided to sell their products in Europe. It now exports to 37 countries and the Middle East has become its biggest export market. In 2018, Counterline won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its outstanding achievement in international trade. 

Here are some of the things Simon’s learned about following new business opportunities:

• Don’t let early export challenges put you off 

• Consider the cashflow implications involved with scaling up

• Build your understanding of how trade works to gain a competitive edge

• Taking a flexible approach to working capital could help you get paid on time

• Build your relationships with consistent and effective communication

• Explore ways you could future-proof your operations for sustainable growth

Winning corporate customers can be great recognition

“It gives us tremendous satisfaction to know we’ve been able to attract corporate customers around the world. The search engine Google, for example, has been a client of ours for a long time. We’ve supplied corporate catering equipment to Google’s head office in Dublin, London and their second largest office in Hyderabad, India

Don’t let early export challenges put you off

Initially the challenge for us was spending time on the ground, building relationships overseas. Beyond that, the challenges are financial. As an owner-managed SME, we rely solely on our own re-investment and the support of our bank. Our UK work is credit-insured but trading abroad brings very different problems around credit exposure and working capital.

The challenge for us is to make sure we get paid and to fund our suppliers and labour force during the longer manufacturing period.

A crucial part of any business transaction is making sure you get paid

I think a lot of businesses would say, ‘we know there’s potential customers out there for us’, but when you look to trade overseas the initial fear is, ‘am I going to get paid?’ This could be due to long shipment periods and extended payment terms requested by our overseas customers.

If we’re trading in the Middle East, the product is on the water for four to five weeks. They don’t consider you’ve delivered the product until it arrives in the port. Then there’s customs procedures and potential delays. So, the customer needs some credit as well. These two issues – the working capital demand and the credit risk itself – are massive factors in businesses choosing to export.

To succeed internationally, you’ll need a reasonable understanding of how trade works

We did have some experience of Letters of Credit but initially we weren’t aware of the wider support our bank could provide to exporters.

About two and half years ago we started to get offered larger contracts abroad, with manufacturing times that could span up to eight weeks. So, we picked up the phone and started exploring our finance options.

Once we understood the scope and flexibility of the financial support available, it gave us the confidence to believe we could explore different markets and make these contracts work.

Taking a flexible approach to finance could help you manage cashflow

We’ve explored different finance solutions at different points on our export journey. Export Letters of Credit from our international customers’ banks provided certainty of payment, pre-shipment, providing we met the agreed terms. It also gave us cash flow support, as we could discount the letters of credit if we needed to.

On our larger contracts, that still left us with a working capital gap, so we opted for a Trade Loan. In fact, we’re just in the middle of our second trade loan. 

Build your relationships throughout your journey

Our major export customers now have confidence in our ability to deliver quality products on time and to fit in to their wider programme. We’ve built up a relationship that allows us to draw up documentary credits quite easily with their teams.  

It gives us the confidence we can match their aspirations from a financial perspective and pay our own people and suppliers.

Rhys Lloyd-Jones, Trade Finance Manager, SolutionsLine for the bank, says: “It’s been great working with Simon and the Counterline team as they expand their export market share. We understand the importance and challenges of international trade, and we make it our mission to help businesses grow globally with ease. We’re delighted to support Counterline as they expand internationally.”

Move towards a more sustainable business model

Our plan is to continue to expand our product range and develop more energy efficient products. We’re using different refrigerant gasses, and we’re trying to use more sustainable materials, so the energy usage of some of our products, compared to a few years ago, is much better.

We’re driven by the desire to stay ahead of consumer trends and use the new technology available to us. New export markets will remain at the heart of what we do.”

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