Anne Wilson, managing director of Numill, a precision engineering company based in Sheffield, shares her story of exploring new opportunities in Singapore and her aspirations to grow the business through exports to Southeast Asia.
When I first started working for Numill in 2000, export sales accounted for just 18% of the business, and now they are between 45-50%. I am keen to see this figure go even higher, with exports exceeding our domestic market, and believe that much of our export growth will come from the flourishing markets of Asia. With this in mind, it was back in 2010 that I first started to explore opportunities in Singapore, often seen as the gateway to Asia.
We provide a service to a whole host of industries by processing damaged machine tooling at our facility in Sheffield. Following expert repair, tooling is then re-exported back to clients. We also produce new, customer-specific, special tooling if requested. Our expertise is definitely in demand in Asia where there is a huge and ever expanding manufacturing base.
To make the most of the potential in Asia, I’ve been working with UKTI and signed up to its Passport to Export programme in 2010. Having the expertise and knowledge of UKTI on hand has been crucial in helping me get a foot in the door in Singapore.
I was first encouraged to explore Singapore by my UKTI International Trade Advisor as it is a good entry market for the rest of the region. There are already many UK businesses out there and, of course, English is widely spoken; it is no surprise therefore that Singapore is the number one in the World Economic Forum’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking.
My first visit to Singapore followed on from a trade exhibition in Bangkok. I’ll never forget my first impressions of the country when I arrived. I was amazed at the advanced infrastructure, highly skilled and welcoming people, and the global outlook of the country. And as a woman travelling alone I felt very safe there too.
It was very reassuring that in such a new and unfamiliar market I had the backing of the British emblem from the High Commission. They created a welcome reception for me, and provided warmed up contacts for me to visit while I was there. This certainly made a real difference to the success of the trip and I left feeling excited by the prospects of doing business in such a dynamic market.
Spurred on by the positive feedback from this initial visit, in April 2011 Numill exhibited within the UK pavilion at MTA in Singapore, an international precision engineering event. This was a fantastic experience, not only in terms of leads it generated but also by being part of a British contingent led by the Engineering Industries Association. It was great to network with more experienced British exporters and learn from them, and together with UKTI’s on-the-ground support the whole experience was much more rewarding than I imagined.
While I can’t recommend enough how important it is to visit potential export markets, it is also imperative to adapt your business back home in order to meet the future demand. Again, thanks to UKTI we did an Export Communications Review which concentrated on tailoring our website so that it was ready for international business. This has given our business better international online profile and helped to bring in additional enquiries.
Doing business in an Asian market certainly has its challenges, and I’ve learnt some important lessons along the way. It’s vital that you take your time to find the right partner in the market to represent your business. We thought we’d found the right one for us in Singapore but after putting them through our training process we realised that the relationship wasn’t going to work. We’re currently handling enquiries ourselves until we find the right partner.
For us the biggest challenge also has been organising logistics as the nature of our repair service means metal has to be shipped out of and back to Singapore. Singaporeans prefer a presence in the region to confirm commitment and this is something that needs to be considered quite early in the process as it could be key to the viability of doing business there.
However, we are still committed to doing business in Singapore and exploring China and Malaysia too. I’m going out again to Singapore in March 2013 on a four-day trade mission organised by the South Yorkshire International Trade Forum supported by UKTI. I’m going to use this as an opportunity to meet contacts and hopefully invite potential customers to an event at the High Commission. I’m also hoping to meet potential distributors, including one who we’ve been in talks with. Again it will be a good chance to network with experienced British exporters and great to be part of a big group especially when you’re travelling alone.
I’m positive about our prospects in Singapore in 2013 as it looks like we’ll be securing our first customer there. I encourage other companies to get all the help and support they can through UKTI and other business and trade associations to start exploring the huge potential that Asia offers.
Anne’s Top Tips for Doing Business in Singapore
- I can’t stress the importance of networking and relationship building, find people who have been there and done it who you can trust and learn from
- Go out there and explore – talk to people in your sector and establish how your product can fit into the marketplace
- Be in it for the long-haul and don’t give up!
- As a woman you’ll find that you’ll be welcomed and respected if you present yourself well and demonstrate your knowledge
- Make use of UKTI and the services they offer – the Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) was invaluable in putting us in touch with interested contacts
Numill – Facts and Figures
- Numill Engineering was founded in 1969 and became Numill Ltd in September 2003
- It employs 17 staff in a 7,000sq ft factory in Sheffield, South Yorkshire
- It currently exports to 12 countries around the world