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A Retiring Glance At Trade – Past, Present And Future

As my tenure at UK Trade & Investment draws to a close, it’s time for a little reflection…

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October 2010

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1.    Please provide a company background including when it was established, where it is located, how many staff you employ etc.

My business background is unusual. Although I work in collaboration with a selection of fellow Latin-American consultants, I essentially operate as a single trader based in Leicester. The reason for this is that it simplifies matters if a customer requires that I hold an internal post on an outsource basis for a while or carry the client’s business card for through-the-door sales & marketing negotiations or lobbying purposes. It is also easier for SME’s.

2.   Please provide an overview of the products and services offered and areas of specialisation.

The services I undertake include market identification, business strategy development, through-the-door sales & marketing, the identification and creation of sales channels,  selection and appointment of distributors,  agents or representatives, the creation of suitable materials in target languages for (digital) publicity media, attending exhibitions and championing stands, political lobbying and business visits to anywhere in Latin America. Essentially, anything that the commercial offices can not or will not do.

3.    How did you find out about emita and what benefits do you find the most valuable?

It was so long ago, I can’t remember how I discovered EMITA.  As for valuable benefits, these are numerous: the opportunity to learn about specific markets for self-edification or client utility; the opportunity to meet UKTI personnel on a one-to-several or one-to-one basis from markets of interest; the opportunity to meet others from the East Midlands interested in importing or exporting; the opportunity to keep one’s import-export knowledge-base up to date. 

4.    How long has your company been active in the export / import market and which countries do you currently trade with?

Although I have enjoyed a 35-year long relationship with Latin America, I have only been active there in business terms for the past twenty years. I have undertaken commissions and projects varying in length from weeks to years in eleven countries in LA, including the key markets (in alphabetical order) of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. Each is different and usually requires a slightly different approach, depending on the customer’s product set. Of the 5+ years spent in LA, some 3+ years were spent in Venezuela. More recently, helping UK businesses establish sales channels in Spain and helping Spanish businesses set up sales channels in the UK has also been undertaken.   

5.    What made you decide to expand your business overseas?

I was already living in Latin America on long-term expatriate contracts, and
(part-) owned a couple of small local companies. I was country manager in Venezuela for Marconi Communications Inc. before being asked to return to the UK as Latin America Support Director.  When Marconi left the field, other companies contacted me asking for help.  So, for me, it was not a question of expanding overseas but a case of natural progression back to the UK.

6.    What have been your biggest exporting / importing challenge?

When Britons think of dealing with LA, they face a number of unsettling factors. The people out there look foreign, they talk foreign, they work in different time zones, they have different customs, and they have slightly or substantially different legal systems and business protocols. One of the key challenges is reassuring the wary that our cousins in Latin America are (largely) just as honest, industrious and trustworthy (and just as intelligent and knowledgeable) as those nearer to home and that LA is a worthy place to prospect for business.  

7.    What’s the most helpful piece of international trade advice you have received? 

There are probably half-a-dozen responses that would fit the bill here but, if I have to pick just one ….  Never open a conversation with a potential customer by showing him a list of what it is you are hoping to sell, unless you are specifically asked to do so. Always try to engage in a rapport-building and curiosity-quenching conversation about your customer’s activities in general terms, first, in the hope of identifying an immediate need that you can help him with. Don’t waste his time and yours.


8.    What does the future hold? Any particular markets you are looking to target next?

Until Gulf War II, it was possible to go to LA and say ‘Look, you are buying this product from the USA. I have a similar product made in the UK/EU that will meet your need and will cost you 25% less?’  Following the invasion, the dollar collapsed against the pound. It was necessary to end the same pitch with ‘it will cost you 25% more’.  Business and interest quickly fell away. Cometh the economic collapse of 2008, the pound collapsed against the dollar and the euro. Suddenly, UK products became affordable again and you would think that this would automatically equate to renewed orders and interest. Not so: few British companies had the cash to promote themselves in new markets and the continuity of interest on the part of Latin companies had been broken.  So, what does the future hold?  There are already signs that British companies are becoming increasingly aware of the business potential of Latin America. The British government has raised the profile of Colombia as a greatly undervalued market, for example, including it in its second tier of key markets.  This is definitely a good place to start but there are many good markets in LA that I shall be encouraging UK companies to address in the foreseeable future.   

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