STM Packaging Group
STM Packaging Group was established 40 years ago, but the successful Norwich-based polythene products manufacturer has only recently started to explore foreign markets and export overseas.
“We realised that there was a great deal of potential for export, so in 2011 we attended a presentation by the UKTI about exporting ahead of the 2012 London Olympics,” explains managing director Esther Evans. “They visited us and we discussed what we wanted to achieve, our limitations, our long-term vision and the regions we wanted to break into.
“They were fantastic and did a great deal of the hard work for us – using embassy staff to research markets, approach contacts and assess the level of interest. They then sent us a list of interested contacts for us to make appointments with. Nothing was too much trouble for them.
“We quickly realised that Southern Ireland should be our first target for export, because there is no language barrier and transport costs are reasonable. We were able to do much of the initial contact work from our base via telephone and email, and we then made a couple of client visits.
“Within a month or so we were exporting, so overall the process was pretty quick and painless. Since then we have broadened our client base overseas to Scandinavia and we plan to tackle Benelux and Germany as well.”
Dealing with clients overseas can be a challenge, so what obstacles has Esther had to deal with? “Cultural differences are often something you have to bear in mind, and communication,” says Esther. “Some countries prefer email to a phone call, for example, and knowing this can help things run a lot smoother. The UKTI has been brilliant at finding out everything we need to know about our customers overseas, the way they prefer to do business, including their holidays. This knowledge has been invaluable.
“In addition, we had to bear in mind that transportation overseas would add a lot to our overall costs. But there really have been no major issues for us to overcome.”
Transportation is a major issue these days, with fuel prices ever rising. How does STM keep this expenditure under control? “We only sell through distributors in each country - companies that sell a large range of packaging products - which means we only have one or two ‘clients’ to send our product to. We don’t sell to end users at all,” explains Esther.
“We transport by road, as it is the cheapest method, and we work closely with a variety of haulage companies to maximise the opportunity to take available space on their trucks.”
Does Esther have any advise for companies considering exporting? “Contact the UKTI as a first port of call. They have been so helpful in finding suitable markets for us and taken a lot of the worry and headache out of the entire process. The UKTI can also part-fund trips overseas to visit target areas, and put companies in touch with embassies that will hold events for them.
“There are so many opportunities out there and so much help to get started. It doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect at all – and the benefits speak for themselves.”