Over half of manufacturers hit a UK growth ceiling within 5 years

Posted on 29 Oct 2013

The national call to export more intensifies as Barclays’ research shows that 50% of exporting manufacturers hit growth limits in the UK in five years and say they wish they’d started exporting sooner.

Exports in England's regions 2011-2013
Exports from England's regions 2011-2013

Barclays is recommending manufacturers work harder on their exporting strategy, as new research shows that 56% of UK manufacturers hit the limit to the growth they can achieve by trading only within the UK in under just five years in business.

Surveying 500 UK businesses that export, including 100 manufacturers, the research tips for those companies who only have domestic markets and are unsure about whether they should start trading internationally.

Forty-four per cent of manufacturers said they found the experience of trading internationally to be as easy as they had hoped, or even easier than they had expected. Half of manufacturers who already export say they wish they’d started sooner.

When looking at barriers for not exporting sooner, 52% of manufacturers said finding contacts for potential customers and partners had been their chief concern. Meanwhile, 32% of those who said they wish they’d started exporting sooner cited at least one psychological reason for not doing so, including that they ‘didn’t know where to start’, thought it would be ‘too complicated’, ‘didn’t think it would work’ or ‘didn’t think to do it.’

As to destinations, only 27% of manufacturers would choose Brazil, Russia, India or China in their top five countries if they started to export again. Based on their experiences, 75% would choose somewhere in Europe in their top five places of where to begin.

The top two key factors cited which made manufacturers start exporting and attracting overseas customers were increasing or changing their products and services which were better suited to other markets (49%) and in order to grow their businesses (46%).

And what advice would these exporting firms give to other manufacturers thinking of exporting? These included regularly liaising with customers and export agents (31%), knowing the most effective transport methods (28%) and taking a phased approach to new markets (23%).

The research showed that despite the successes of exporting, often it was not well planned. Mike Rigby, head of manufacturing, transport and logistics at Barclays said: “What is clear from this research is that manufacturers find exporting to be a very positive experience, often in the absence of much planning. Under a third of manufacturers (31%) reported that they had a formal plan together when they moved into exporting.

“If such a large number of manufacturers are experiencing the benefits of exporting on this kind of reactive basis, imagine what could be achieved if they had a comprehensive plan in place on how to best achieve growth?”