Lessons in steering your business to export success – The Brompton Bicycle

The Brompton Bicycle is a great example of how a simple idea can be transformed into a global business. Today, the company behind the bike is a well-known British business success story, but it wasn’t always the case.

Back in the 1970s, having looked at the folding bike designs already on the market, Brompton founder Andrew Ritchie, decided he could do something better.

For a number of years, a lack of funding meant only small numbers of bikes could be made. But finally, in 1988 funding was secured to enable the bike to go into full time production, and the Brompton was on the path to success.

Having expanded through organic growth, Brompton is now the UK’s largest maker of bicycles. Their bikes are sold in over 40 countries, and exports account for an incredible 80% of sales.

So what are the secrets to Brompton’s success? Here, Will Butler-Adams, Managing Director of Brompton Bicycle Ltd reveals how they have grown the business through exporting and shares some valuable business exporting advice and the lessons they’ve learned over the years.

The success of Brompton Bicycle has relied on three core elements: well-designed, well-engineered, and well-made products. In fact, these factors have helped Brompton to become not only a UK success story, but also a globally recognized brand.

However, the road to success hasn’t always been plain sailing. Successfully breaking into the global export market has taken a lot of time, effort and research. Exporting certainly isn’t for the fainthearted, but any business can make a success of it by following these four steps;

1. Set out your stall

Firstly, it’s important to ensure you have a mission statement at the core of your business – set out your stall with something that everyone understands, endorses and works towards on a daily basis.

Once you’ve identified and honed in on your mission statement, make sure that everything you do amplifies it.

Every conversation you have about the business internally and externally, as well as your advertising and media work, should all reinforce your core identity. By doing this you’ll find that staff, suppliers and customers better understand and appreciate what your company and its products have to offer.

When expanding into new markets, your mission statement is vital as it will help you set out your stall with foreign partners and other stakeholders that you’ll need on side, committed to the brand and ultimately selling your products abroad.

2. Surround yourself with the right people

This might sound obvious to many entrepreneurs, but getting the right team in place can often be overlooked when driving a business forward.

In fact, when expanding your business overseas, this particular point becomes even more important, as you want to surround yourself with people who have the local knowledge and passion to drive sales in unfamiliar markets.

When exporting overseas, we always look to take on partners who fully understand our central mission statement and can deploy their specialist knowledge to great effect.

All our overseas partners are passionate about overcoming cultural, linguistic and legal barriers to ensure a clear route to market for our products.

What’s more we also rely on them as the eyes and ears of our business. Not everything is going to work in every country. Through our various partners we’re able to engage in a two way dialogue, which allows us to act on feedback and make the right revisions to how we market and sell our bikes in each different country.

3. Amplifying ‘Brand Britain’

Many businesses don’t see the benefit of manufacturing in the UK. However our bikes have always been manufactured in London, and we can’t see this changing as we look to expand even further over the next few years.

Although this might not seem like the shrewdest of business moves its actually paid dividends in the overseas market when it comes to export. Our British roots are central to our brand and it’s for this very reason that we’ve had so much success in the Asian markets.

British brands invoke a sense of nostalgia and heritage that associates our nation with fine quality craftsmanship. This may be a remnant of the past, but British manufacturers are reviving that image and British brands are performing well in global markets – Brompton certainly being one of them.

4. Make use of the support that’s out there

For a small business, overseas expansion can be a very daunting prospect, particularly when assessing how labour and capital intensive it can be when you take the first steps.

However, there’s a lot of support out there which can get your business started and on the road to global success – and a lot of it is free.

With support from the Manufacturing Advisory Service and also the Government’s Growth Accelerator, we’ve been able to gain the skills, knowledge and prescience we’ve needed for expansion in the short and longer term – this has really helped us to hit the ground running and ensure we have the right business structure and capacity to deal with growing orders from outside of the UK.

Other entrepreneurs I’ve met on my journey have also accessed the UKTI’s Passport to Export scheme, which gives small businesses the training, planning and ongoing support they need to succeed in several territories.

It’s as a result of the support I’ve received over the years that I’ve become an ambassador for the ‘Business is GREAT Britain’ campaign. The main aim of the campaign is to arm businesses with the right information so that they too can access the support that will help turn their business into a roaring success.

About the author

This article was written for ByteStart by Will Butler-Adams, Managing Director of Brompton Bicycle Ltd. To find out more about the business support available to you, visit GreatBusiness.gov.uk

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