Trading with China: One UK manufacturer’s success story

According to House of Commons Library research In 2019 China 'accounted for 4.4% of UK exports' and was the UK's 6th largest export market. With China being the world's second largest economy UK manufacturers cannot afford to ignore the opportunities to be had by trading with China.

The Manufacturer Community benefitted from a presentation by Playdale Playgrounds Ltd’s CEO, Barry Leahey, MBE, recently on the company’s experiences of trading with China. Members of the Community gained insights into Playdale’s export experience in the last twelve years and some key lessons for other manufacturers who are planning on trading in China.

Playdale Playgrounds, based in south Cumbria over three sites, is a ninth-generation family business that has been trading since the eighteenth century. In the last 43 years the company started making playgrounds. In recognition of  its excellence in international trade, Playdale was awarded a BOFTA (Board of Trade) award in 2018. With the global fall out of the 2008 financial crisis the company realised it needed to diversify and look to expand globally. By assessing the competition in various countries and using data to analyse web traffic, the company made the decision to explore export opportunities in China.

Barry explained to the community his experiences in dealing with a client in China. One of the first steps for doing any business is to check a company’s financial credit worthiness but instead of sending a copy of their latest accounts, Playdale’s potential client in China drove Barry to a huge development around two purpose-built lakes with around 300 villas, the cheapest being around 50 million dollars. After a visit to the development Barry was taken to a fine restaurant in Beijing and there met with the company’s financial advisor from Merill Lynch who had flown in from Washington.

Playdale’s average order book in the UK is around 10,000GBP but in China their average order was 100,000GBP. One of the first projects they were asked to build was in the forest park of Beijing’s National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest Stadium, where the 2008 Olympic Games were held. Doing business in China is unlike doing elsewhere and attendees were advised to do their prep before making plans including using the Department for Industrial Trade’s OMIS Programme (Overseas Market Introduction Service). However, Barry emphasised the importance of face-to-face meetings and encouraged manufacturers to visit the country if they wanted to make a successful deal.

Advice for UK manufacturers thinking of trading with China

  • Familiarise yourself with China’s messaging and calling app WeChat
  • Get to know the culture of China
  • Become an AEO (Authorised Economic Operator) approved business – more from HMRC here
  • Protect your intellectual property
  • Get advice from authorised bodies in the UK including the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Institute of Export and International Trade

Playdale Playground in Beijing National Stadium Forest Courtesy Playdale


Join us for our next Community Meet Up – Tuesday 4 May 2021

If you’re a manufacturer i.e. you work for a manufacturing business then please join us for our next Community Meet Up on Tuesday 4 May at 18.30 with Richard Hagan, Managing Director, Crystal Doors on Going for Green: How to be a sustainable manufacturing champion. For a link to the virtual meeting please email Daniel Kirmatzis