Small to medium-sized businesses are often reluctant to explore international markets, but exploring could be among the keys to their success.

Great Bridge-based Narrow Aisle Ltd is one of only a handful of companies still building forklift-type trucks in the UK today.

The company has been marketing its Flexi range of specialist warehouse trucks overseas for many years, and such has been its success in developing distribution outside the UK, that international sales now account for some 40 per cent of Narrow Aisle’s business with products sold in over 60 countries worldwide.

Global sales are expected to more than double over the next five years with the Americas, Australia, Korea, China and India considered key markets; and orders have even been fulfilled to clients’ operations in regions which, due to political uncertainty or social unrest, had previously been considered impossible to operate in!

John Maguire, commercial director of Flexi Narrow Aisle, commented: “We are an internationally focused company that provides innovative warehouse truck-based storage systems to the Intralogistics industry. We are a manufacturing company with great products, notably our respected Flexi truck brand and this is reflected in the growing number of overseas warehouse operators who are investing in our advanced technology.”

Narrow Aisle began exporting as long ago as 1976 mainly on a project-by-project basis. However, the introduction of the company’s hugely successful Flexi truck system in the early 90’s saw a move towards a global distribution network. Since 2004, the company has actively sought to develop this network and now has partners in 63 countries, who provide full after-sales support to clients.

Organisations such as the Black Country Chamber of Commerce and UKTI have played a role in helping Narrow Aisle develop its overseas trade links.

“I have always considered the Black Country Chamber of Commerce one of the most useful sources of advice and guidance when trading overseas,” says Narrow Aisle’s sales operations manager, Joanne Wilson.

“The Chamber can provide access to an extensive network of contacts with the specialist knowledge and expertise that is invaluable to both novice exporters and companies such as ours with a long track record of selling overseas. When selling to the Middle East and Africa, for instance, we now deal exclusively with a partner recommended by the Chamber who guides us on matters such as Letters of Credit and international payment terms and shipping.”

Joanne continues: “The Chamber has also made us aware of the level of grant funding that is available to exporters and has been extremely effective in ensuring that our grant applications have been successful.

“For example, we recently received financial support from Economic Growth Solutions – a UK-based organisation that specialises in economic development and strategic planning – that enabled us to develop our corporate website to give it a more ‘internationalised’ feel. This investment has been supported by regular feedback from experts from the Black Country Chamber of Commerce who review our website to ensure that it is ‘working’ internationally.

“The BCOC was also instrumental in ensuring that we receive funding to cover the cost of translating our product manuals into the language of the country to which they are destined. This process had previously incurred a considerable expense, so the savings go straight on to our bottom line.”

Despite the success of companies like Narrow Aisle and others, too many local SMEs remain reluctant to tap-in to the potential developing global markets offer.

“Some managers see it as risky and are concerned about the extra work and travel that developing new overseas business contacts involves,” says Narrow Aisle’s John Maguire.

He continues: “In some cases, failure to respond to international demand reflects a lack of ambition at management level. Any company with real long-term growth aspirations that wants that success for all stakeholders in the business, must have management and leadership.

“Arguably, no one is ever completely ready to begin international business, although if you believe you have a product that is saleable and interesting to the market you wish to enter and that country is experiencing good economic growth, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be successful. But, make sure you chose local partners carefully and do not sign any agreements before you have successfully completed some business and you are confident that you can really work together in the long-term.”

To arrange a free warehouse consultation with our local Flexi specialist, contact Joanne Wilson on: 0121 5215 112