With the joint British Chamber of Commerce and DHL Express report showing UK exporting confidence at an all-time high, Phil Couchman, CEO for DHL UK & Ireland, speaks to James Pozzi about the results and how his company supports UK export.
The British Chamber of Commerce-DHL Express figures show the highest export turnover confidence on record. Where do you pinpoint this confidence stemming from?
The huge rise in online activity is well documented and we think that with the features that the UK has to offer – such as the prominence of the English language and the popularity of the British brand – alongside government and media encouragement has made the environment very favourable for British exports. We’ve seen a huge surge in exports from online activity, with sales from web orders far outstripping other sales, resulting in progressively more export orders than domestic ones. The UK has had a head start on that, and this is obviously going places and will continue to do so.
Despite the optimism, the report also states there is a feeling more needs to be done if the UK is to hit the government’s £1trillion by 2020 export output. Which areas require improvement to aid reaching this figure?
It certainly does like a very ambitious figure. But it’s fair to say, the government through UK Trade & Investment and the British Chamber of Commercial are certainly giving it their best shot. But somewhere in there there’s a problem with finance, with small companies having real difficulties to obtaining finance through normal banking channels. I do here from our small customers that this is an issue. The banks do talk it up, but when you talk to the businesses, they will say for one reason or another, it’s not working. So there’s a disconnect existing, which is one of the core problems. The other thing we need to keep working on is, generally speaking, confidence and optimism. There’s still either an apathy to exporting, even for successful domestic businesses, and a psychological barrier to step over. To some businesses, it is seen as being too difficult, complicated and not profitable. Our job is to help with this.
What role does DHL play in helping UK businesses to export?
We’ve got a lot of advisors and sales people where we can speak to customers on getting started on exporting. It really isn’t so difficult. If you consider a fledgling exporter can come to DHL, and if there connected with international customers through a website, we can get those first shipments moving very quickly. What sets us apart is through our vast network. DHL’s network can get anything from one side of the world to the other in 24 hours, with the shipment going direct to the customer. That’s a great big step that’s a bit understated sometimes. This makes it very different from decades ago, when the way to get into exporting, was sending someone across the world to seek out distributors. The web has changed things dramatically, and I see a huge future for express integrators such as us.
There is a big focus from the likes of UKTI on the so-called BRIC territories (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Geographically, where is DHL seeing potential through its customer base?
Employing something known as the export curve, we advise fledgling exporters to start with the established, English-speaking markets. These are generally more developed in terms of customs clearance and ease of understanding. The big markets which are really going places currently are the USA and Australia. In terms of the BRIC countries, they are clearly very exciting in terms of having big populations and consumer bases waiting to buy British products. But the reality of it is they are markets that companies should address, but they are slightly more complicated. Going back to the export curve, if an SME starts with the English-speaking markets, they’ll get their feet wet and then get the confidence to progress into the likes of China and India. But exporters need someone to talk to, to eliminate the psychological barrier of it being too difficult and simplifying the process of entering a new market.