James Leslie, Business Development Director of Surrey-based Conidia Bioscience, tells us how the company has brought technology for the rapid testing of microbial contamination in fuel to Singapore and Malaysia and is now developing wider business across Southeast Asia.
We develop, manufacture and sell technologies for the rapid testing of microbial contamination in fuel, specifically diesel and kerosene (Jet Fuel). Our products are in demand around the world, especially in hot and humid climates, such as throughout Asia, which offer ideal conditions for microbial germination and growth.
Our business has been developing in the Asian aviation sector for some 10 years, with sales in the Region currently accounting for around 30 – 35% of our total turnover. Our key customer in the Region is Singapore Airlines, while, within the last 18 months we have started spreading our profile beyond the aviation sector to users and distributors across the marine and land diesel sectors and within their respective supply chains.
We first explored our potential in Asia back in 2002 when we were a very small start up of just four people. From the outset, we had global aspirations as our product is beneficial across so many industries and sectors and along the entire fuel supply chain. In the early days, I remember a colleague and I drawing a line around the globe with him deciding to go one way and me the other way to commence our business development!
After attending a UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) event in London, where we met desk officers from every Embassy and High Commission in Southeast Asia, we were invited to join a UKTI sponsored trade mission to attend the Singapore Air Show, one of the largest and most influential aerospace trade shows in the world. We also took advantage of the trip to visit a number of other markets in the Region, visiting four capital cities in eight days. It was an unforgettable experience, which gave us a great first introduction to doing business in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Following this trip, we signed up to the UKTI Passport to Export programme and were introduced to our International Trade Adviser, Ian Brown from UKTI South East. He has been an invaluable support and mentor to us throughout the last 10 years, and still is a source of motivation and inspiration to us today! Over the years we have been on a number of trade missions to the region with UKTI, and they have helped us organise workshops and symposia as well as complete a couple of OMIS (overseas market introduction services) for us.
Our first break in Asia came following attendance at the Singapore Air Show with Satair A/S, our newly appointed global distributor involved in the airline aftermarket, and from this meeting we have built a long-standing and very successful relationship with them. They first introduced us to Singapore Airlines, and now sell our product to over 350 customers around the world.
While the commercial aviation market remains very important to our business, we are currently looking to expand our client portfolio in Southeast Asia, especially in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, and possibly even into Myanmar (Burma as was). Most recently, two weeks in October 2012 were spent in the region, to follow up some significant new opportunities and to develop others. In order to fulfil our potential, we are currently looking at how to best to grow a distribution process into the land and marine sectors – whether to establish a presence there or to arrange a local partner in the region. Finding the right partners and people that can be trusted is one of the biggest challenges to developing business overseas; you have to really understand all aspects of the market to make the right decisions and avoid the pitfalls.
It is not just about becoming immersed in the local business community, but it is also beneficial to become culturally and commercially aware, an education which can only be achieved by regular visits. Trips to Southeast Asia have been made four times in the past 12 months, which has not only provided further with business development opportunities but has also given the time to learn how to refine our sales and promotion messages and techniques in the countries on which we have focused.
This is essential in a business such as ours where education and developing product awareness is key to growing export sales, especially as many of our potential customers do not speak English as a first language. We have had to find an effective and simple way to communicate technical information and the benefits of using our product.
Many of our potential clients are aware that the issue of contaminated fuel exists, but they are not so aware of the damage that can be caused to machinery and processes if the issues are not addressed quickly and effectively. A laminated photo sheet illustrating the problem (from what contaminated fuel looks like to the damage it can cause) as well as the solution (regular testing with our kits), is ideal for explaining our message and engaging and educating with potential customers.
As we have developed into the marine and land market sectors, we have found that a more ‘holistic’ approach is required. We find many who ask “if we detect the problem of contamination, what do we do about it?” Although we do not produce the technology for remediation of the problem, we do offer to conduct risk assessment and training; to help people structure their fuel hygiene and monitoring procedures, to organise biocide treatment or other remedial solutions and to arrange tank cleaning services. This offering certainly helps to make our product more attractive to clients in Asia.
Our development in Asia over the years has certainly been challenging but successful. It has been fascinating to observe how the region has rapidly developed and opened up to the world over the last decade. A real challenge for us is keeping up with the pace of change and growth there and working out how best to exploit it! We are definitely in Asia for the long-haul and look forward to driving our business forward, particularly in Malaysia and beyond.
James’s Top Tips for Doing Business in Malaysia and Southeast Asia
- Conduct market research very thoroughly – look for relevant government websites and concurrently speak to the in-country UKTI office at the Embassy or High Commission. They will have specialists for every sector who know the market inside out, or will point you in the right direction.
- When presenting to local audiences where English is not the first language – confirm over and over again at each stage of the presentation, that they understand you, or your messages will be lost and you will not succeed in developing your sales dialogue.
- Research the in-country culture and the business & social etiquette – respect their ethnic, religious and social behaviour.
- Have a visual elevator pitch ready to show potential customers at any time – it will help communication your message much more effectively in any given situation. Design it to be as simple and as graphical as possible so it can be easily understood.
- A local partner can be very helpful, especially in Malaysia or Indonesia where it is essential. Select your local partner with caution – take time to develop a trusting relationship with them before finally committing to a contractual or otherwise binding relationship. Ensure they really understand your expectations of them, and their expectations of the relationship before signing anything!
Conidia Bioscience – Facts and Figures
- Based in Egham, Surrey, Conidia Bioscience employs 10 people.
- Conidia Bioscience does business on all 5 continents of the Globe, including within all major countries in Asia and Australasia.
- The FuelStat® fuel test is currently regularly purchased by some 350 airlines and aircraft maintenance organisations around the world, and increasingly by marine and land diesel users as awareness of the product grows.