Customer relationships key to mitigating Brexit risks

Posted on 22 Aug 2017 by Jonny Williamson

The current challenges surrounding the UK’s EU exit negotiations aren’t new, and can be largely alleviated by forging deep, long-lasting relationships.

Brexit - UK manufacturing employs 2.7 million people and makes up between 10–12% of UK GVA – image courtesy of Icon Aerospace Technology.
As a community, UK manufacturers are well versed in facing uncertainty and moving forward while those around them take a more passive stance – image courtesy of Icon Aerospace Technology.

There is no shortage of articles, videos and reports detailing the seemingly ever-present uncertainty facing UK businesses following the country’s vote to leave the European Union.

With political and policy inertia only helping to further muddy the waters, manufacturers are unsurprisingly having to pull up their own bootstraps and get on with the job at hand.

As a community, UK manufacturers are well versed in facing uncertainty and moving forward while those around them take a more passive stance.

Take Nottinghamshire-based Icon Aerospace Technology, for example. The business was established 150 years ago, and has so far weathered both World Wars, two Industrial Revolutions and the more recent financial crash.

On display at its head office are journals written in 1954 by its general managers, who not only discuss increased competition from low labour cost countries, but also countries that were once customers, becoming competitors following the break-up of the British Empire.

Icon’s current CEO, Tim Pryce explained: “The managers write that the business has to become more innovative and learn to work smarter, not harder. This was written more than 60 years ago, so current challenges – i.e. Brexit – aren’t new.

A vital strength helping to mitigate the effects of Brexit is Icon’s multifaceted business ethos, ‘Face2Face’.

In the context of relationships, Face2Face symbolises Icon’s commitment to get out there, meet customers, and – most importantly of all – listen to their challenges. The strategy has seen the business forge strong, deep relationships with customers, many of whom are expected to remain on the books regardless of what happens in Brexit.

Speaking exclusively to The Manufacturer, Pryce commented that he believes in building a better business to the best of his abilities every day.

“If the business keeps on doing that and we keep on supporting our customers with innovative solutions, then we are doing everything we can to mitigate whatever Brexit may look like. You have to look at what you can control and what you can’t, and act accordingly.”

That being said, Pryce admits to fears around tariff barriers being imposed on British-made goods sold into the EU, however Britain could adopt a similar approach in response. For the most part, it’s win some – lose some.

“One of the effects of Brexit is on the currency markets. We’re in aerospace, so deal in dollars. The weakness of the pound has certainly helped us as an exporter, but whatever gain is made there is tempered by rising material import costs.”

Currently, 50% of Icon’s exports are outside of the EU. The business operates a global supply chain and that’s where the business increasingly wants to play – on the main stage.

Pryce added: “I think anybody serious in UK manufacturing has to play on the global stage, otherwise our market is just too small to sustain long-term growth.”