Paul Brooks and Halil Bedevi discuss the opportunities and challenges of entering international markets.
The business benefits of exploring new international markets are well understood. Firms able to diversify by trading overseas can put themselves in a far stronger position to withstand economic downturns and deliver sustained, long-term success than companies which maintain a purely domestic focus.
But no one is pretending that entering foreign markets is a straightforward process. Getting international expansion right involves a good deal of time and effort, from researching potential locations and customers to understanding cultural issues and dealing with the inevitable red tape.
At Santander, we believe that as a truly global bank, we are in an excellent position to help our clients get exporting right. We have more than five million small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) customers around the world, and we have people on the ground – whether in our international subsidiaries or in partner institutions – in all the key territories, from mainland Europe and the Middle East, to China, the Far East, the Americas and North Africa.
Preparation is key
One of the most important elements of the exporting assistance we offer to UK manufacturing businesses is the regular trade missions that we run to key markets. In recent months we’ve visited countries ranging from Spain and China to the UAE, the US and South America.
We see trade missions as the successful culmination of a detailed preparation process that typically lasts eight or nine months.
Once we have identified a possible theme for a mission in a particular country – it could be linked to a trade show, for example, or based on a shared manufacturing sector specialisation in a certain region – we will start to work with clients to provide some sector background, as well as identifying market opportunities.
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Putting firms in a position to seal the deal
We know that trading internationally for the first time can be daunting and knowing where to start can be one of the biggest challenges. There is a lot of information available from the desktop or online, but there is a lot of misinformation too.
We can collaborate with our overseas colleagues and trusted partners to help customers understand what the real challenges and opportunities are.
Then, in the months that follow, we will work with our colleagues in the destination market to establish contact with potential trading partners and commercial organisations – and in many cases we will run virtual trade missions, via video conferencing, some weeks in advance of the actual trip.
The aim of all this preparatory work is for UK manufacturers to be able to use the actual mission to conduct face-to-face meetings with companies that they already know, and where they are in a position to negotiate over what business they are going to do – rather than simply finding out whether there is any business to be done.
Aerospace opportunities in Poland
One of our most recent manufacturing sector trade missions involved taking a delegation of aerospace businesses from the Midlands to the area known as ‘Aviation Valley’, near Rzeszów in southeast Poland.
The mission was run in partnership with the Coventry-based Midlands Aerospace Alliance, a trade body representing aerospace manufacturers in central England, and it took advantage of Santander Group’s relationship with its subsidiary Bank Zachodni WBK.
There were a number of factors that influenced our decision to take customers to this particular location. For a start, and as the name suggests, the area is a hotbed of aerospace businesses: as well as numerous Polish firms, the likes of Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, Safran and Bodycote all have facilities there.
Aviation Valley also boasts excellent infrastructure, with an airport and new road links, as well as considerable government support and subsidies aimed at incentivising businesses to set up in the region.
The mission featured UK companies of all sizes, with annual turnover ranging from £1m to more than £300m. To highlight just a few, we took a major logistics and distribution company, a parts manufacturer as well as firms which treat aerospace parts – all of whom were looking to buy from or sell to Poland.
The delegates were impressed at how ready Poland is to do business with overseas companies and especially the UK. They found it particularly valuable to meet with British firms that had already set up in the area – to find out first-hand what they had learned from the process, as well as what mistakes and potential pitfalls they should plan to avoid.
A post-Brexit European base
As we head towards a new trading framework, at Santander we’re set to continue helping businesses explore opportunities in relatively untapped markets outside Europe, while acknowledging that the European market will continue to be of great value to British businesses after Britain’s departure from the EU.
Our experience of working with manufacturers both in the UK and in other EU member states is that, while the Brexit process may well create some level of disruption, there is determination on both sides to continue trading and exploring the opportunities ahead.
For manufacturers in the aerospace sector who are considering their post-Brexit strategy, this part of Poland has a huge amount to offer, not least its highly skilled and experienced workforce.
Finally, it should be noted that the links Santander UK has with the rest of our subsidiaries and partner institutions around the world mean that, once international trading deals have been struck, we are also excellently placed to help British businesses manage administrative tasks such as processing payments or seeking legal advice.
While exporting for the first time or into a new market is a major step for most firms – and one that requires a considerable commitment on their part – our aim is to make the process as straightforward and stress-free as possible for the companies we are working with, so they can focus on reaping the benefits ahead.
To find out more about how Santander can help your business, please visit santandercb.co.uk
Paul Brooks, UK Head of Manufacturing, Santander Corporate and Commercial
Halil Bedevi, UK Head of Aerospace, Defence and Advanced Manufacturing, Santander Corporate and Commercial