Insights Into Exporting with Douglas Jackson | DNA Business Engineering #21
“Who ordered the battered cod” doesn’t sound like a book about exporting.
But that’s what it is, and written by a genuine expert in the field, Doug Jackson. At Grow through International Expansion, we think it’s a must-read for anyone in business thinking about exporting – and even those who are seasoned will find many useful insights. Doug explains the important methodologies of export through a whole panoply of his own anecdotal experiences, as well as those of others.
Doug Jackson is a Business Consultant and Chairman of DNA Business Engineering. He specialises in International Trade, advising clients on export strategy and assisting them in developing an international footprint.
His career history spans 40 years working in metals distribution and manufacturing. With a sales and marketing background, he has led a number of businesses with turnovers up to £40 million. Much of this time was spent selling overseas and developing international sales and marketing strategies.
His exporting activities have taken him to Europe, Scandinavia, Africa, India, China, South East Asia and Australia. He set up a new business in Singapore on behalf of a major steel trading group to distribute steel products in SE Asia.
Doug has written two books. The first was a memoir about his early experiences as a child at boarding school in the UK, the proceeds of which were donated to Alzheimers Research UK for whom he is now a Community Speaker. His recently published book “Who Ordered The Battered Cod – A Guide to the Business of Exporting” does what it says on the tin! He is a member of Bewdley Rowing Club where he rows competitively as a veteran.
Contact details and Links
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +44 7753 796316
OLIVER: I’m talking today with Doug Jackson who’s an expert in exporting. He’s written a great book which we’re going to talk about today. Doug, welcome to the ‘Grow Through International Expansion’ podcast.
DOUG: Thank you Oliver.
OLIVER: Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background.
DOUG: OK, I’m Doug Jackson. I spent 40 years of my career in international trade one way or the other, largely in steel and metal distribution but also clearly a couple of engineering companies. Over that time, I just gained a love of travel, let alone exporting. I was travelling from the age of 8 from boarding school back to my parents abroad on the old Comet 4B when they first started flying, so that sort of gave me a taste for travel I suppose and then when I went into business, I realised fairly early on that exporting for the U.K. was really important and of course it remains so today. So, I’ve loved travelling the world, exporting to countries all over, I mean there are 190 odd to choose from these days isn’t there? So, it is a big market.
OLIVER: 195 actually
DOUG: 195, is it right.
OLIVER: According to my list I have a running competition with a friend of mine over how many countries we’ve visited, I’m up to 131 and he’s up to about 140. That’s because when he was young he crewed a yacht around the South Pacific where almost every island is a country!
DOUG: That’s cheating!
OLIVER: That’s what I tell him! I’m often accused of having got into international business because I like travelling so much, but there we go. Do you think that actually loving travel is a necessary starter to getting into export?
DOUG: I think it’s important. I mean travelling, as you know, is pretty tiring and tough, and if you don’t enjoy that aspect of it, I think it becomes just another job. It’s a passion for me, I mean I just love going to different countries, meeting different people and it gives you a completely different perspective on the UK when you look back from another country. Even today with all the shenanigans we’re going through with the Brexit process. There is a huge respect for the UK, and that’s something that you can leverage into your business activities and then help to sell products from this country.
OLIVER: And yet there are a lot of businesses still that are not into export. I have sometimes thought that that’s because, while businesses wouldn’t admit it, owners sort of reach a level of contentment or complacency, they become risk averse and maybe they don’t like travel?
DOUG: I think there’s a bit of that. I think also there’s a lot of fear about exporting because it’s viewed as something that is difficult to do and indeed this is why I wrote the book, really to try and demystify it a bit, and get people as passionate about exporting as I am.
OLIVER: The book is full of great anecdotal evidence of experience and exporting. You’ve obviously not only had great experience but a really good time doing it?
DOUG: Yeah well don’t tell too many people that, I was supposed to be working!
OLIVER: Well I don’t know, I think if you can mix work and pleasure from that perspective then obviously it makes it much better.
DOUG😐 Yeah absolutely.
OLIVER: So, for businesses that are not already exporting, but they manufacture things and they want to export. What’s really the first thing they should be thinking about to get into it?
DOUG: The first chapter of the book is entitled ‘Getting Match Fit’ and that’s a phrase I use to talk to companies about the fact they need to be absolutely 100% sure that their people, their products, their systems, their documentation is 100% right before they ship anything abroad. I mean if something goes wrong that you ship to Guangdong Province on the Eastern seaboard of China, it’s much more difficult to sort out than if you’ve got a problem in Gateshead. You know your domestic market, get in your company car, go and see the customer, sort the problem out and problem solved. If it’s the other side of the world it is very much more difficult. So, it’s really important that that everything is 100% right. Indeed, the Department of Trade published some statistics about how successful businesses are once they start to export. So, there’s a there’s a benefit that comes back into your business once you’re exporting, and the reason for that is that to export in the first place you have to be absolutely sure that your products are correct. One of the companies I spoke to for the book was Morgan Motors in Malvern. Talking to the Chief Executive there, he was telling me that their cars have 30-month warranties. 70% of their cars are exported. So, if something goes wrong in the course of the first few months of that vehicle it’s really expensive to get the thing back to the UK. You fix it, because they’re specialist motor cars and they don’t really want people in other countries tinkering with them unless they know what they are doing.
OLIVER: I can understand that and obviously that’s an important area too to think about. So, I think the lessons you’ve put in the ‘match fit’ section are really important, particularly your observation of “don’t take your problem children abroad”!
DOUG: Yes, I think that anybody who has had young children on a holiday or an aircraft will know what I am talking about, and you can liken that to a business. You have to make sure that everything is 100% before you take them away, because it’s going to be very expensive if you hit a problem later on.
OLIVER: And yet that shouldn’t actually put businesses off exporting, they should really be thinking, selecting what it is that they do, what it is that they make, that they can be completely reliant upon sending abroad. Right?
DOUG: Yes. I agree with that totally.
OLIVER: OK. Now lots of businesses are tempted into starting their export journey purely through using agents and distributors. Sometimes some of the advice that I see coming out, particularly from governments and quango type agencies, is just get an agent or get a distributor and they’ll do everything for you. But I see dangers in that, don’t you?
DOUG: Yes, there are, and I’ve made some mistakes over the years, so I’ve put my background into the book so that other people don’t have to make the same mistakes. There are some do’s and don’ts with agents and distributors, assuming that’s the way you want to channel your product into a market. I always start off by talking to the local Embassy or High Commission through the DIT here in this country because they very often have lists of agents and distributors, people who can help you in that market. So it kind of makes sense to start at that point. They won’t necessarily find you the right people, but at least it gives you someone to talk to. Then I think you need to ensure you get references, talk to people who are using these guys already and find out if they have done a decent job for them. As to some of the don’ts, I mean don’t sign up long term. It seems fairly obvious, but it takes a while to get to know somebody, particularly across the other side of the world. Even if you do business regularly, because you don’t know what’s happening once you have jumped on a plane and gone home. So, don’t sign up long term and don’t give them exclusivity until you’re absolutely certain that’s the right way to go with that particular distributor or agent.
OLIVER: Right, sometimes I’ve met people who’ve been tempted into this, or just assume that they can appoint an agent or distributor from here and then not actually ever go and meet them in their own territory. I suppose it’s partly because I love travel, but I really see the need of actually seeing it on the ground. I’ve visited so many sorts of offices I really wouldn’t want to go into even if they were in the back woods of another country.
DOUG: Yes exactly. I mean these days it’s very easy to communicate with people on Skype, FaceTime or whatever, but there’s no replacement for getting in front of people face to face, understanding the body language, getting to know these people and as you say understanding where they operate and going to visit some of their existing customers with them just to understand how they operate. There’s no replacement for that and there’s a cost to that of course. You’ve got to get out to that particular country and total the time you have got to put into it but there’s no other way.
OLIVER: Sometimes you can really learn how to adapt your own product or business to exploit opportunities in other countries. I mean I was taken by the story in your book about the potato processors, Tyrells, who went from crisps to was it vodka?
DOUG: It was vodka, yes. That was amazing, but that’s the story of William Chase, he was a potato farmer in Hereford and he was struggling with his margins, with selling potatoes to the big supermarket chains and he thought, well maybe I could do something different. He bought a small potato crisp, or chips as we like to call them now as they are owned by an American company, and started trying these things in one of his barns, and it took off from there, literally. Tyrells crisps have now been sold onto some venture capitalists in the States and is worth trillions of dollars, but he then moved into Vodka. The way he came across that was when he was on a business trip to the States, talking to some guys in a bar who were making Vodka out of potatoes, and there was another lightbulb moment so he came home and started that. Chase Vodka is the result of that and then that was exported to 42 different countries.
OLIVER: Fascinating. That Tyrrell’s example, like two or three of the others in the book, really got into exporting and international businesses only after they’d been acquired by venture capitalists or other investors. Yet surely businesses really need to be looking to start their international journey long before they get acquired, because they can increase the value of their business once they’re in the acquisition process?
DOUG: Yes of course they can and there are some other businesses in the book I speak about, such as Sadlers Ales, a small micro-brewery in the Black Country and they really benefited out of that. That’s a family business and they’ve just started looking at how they might export and they just got on with it. They didn’t have any great big strategy, they just thought I wonder if our beer would go down well in Poland, let’s go and have a look, and now they are now exporting all over the world like a lot of these other companies. There’s endless examples in the book. Some people have fallen into exporting by accident, as I did with all of the businesses I was running a few years ago. Others have sat down and worked out a strategy. Allen Mowers, another one that is quite an interesting story. They are a supplier of lawn mowers to FIFA for the world cup every four years. They are now moving into Major League Baseball and football in the States. That’s a small company in Stafford making lawnmowers, and that’s all they do. These things are costly, so like 5 or 10 thousand pounds. It’s not like the £39.99 Flymo we buy from B&Q, they are professional lawnmowers. These things are going all over the world now, and the stripes that you see on football pitches, Wimbledon and wherever, they are created by Allen Mowers. There is another competitor as well but they are the main ones and that’s a remarkable exporting story.
OLIVER: I guess these these mowers are really expensive beasts.
DOUG: Yes, they are. You are talking £5 to £10 thousand a piece.
OLIVER: And obviously that’s going to generate a big turnover increase if they can get them out ,given that there must be an awful lot of sports fields to mow far more around the world than there are in one’s own country.
DOUG: Well yes there are, and they are now beginning to move into China. As they do with a lot of aspects of life, they have a major government program, building hundreds and hundreds of sports fields for the next few years, and Allen Mowers are onto that already. They have been sending out samples already to try and capture some of that market early on.
OLIVER: Well I’m not going to spoil the end of the story of who actually ordered the battered cod, it’s the title of the book, but interestingly enough I was actually reading that particular section while I was on a train in Taiwan – which happened to be where somebody was even contemplating ordering that battered cod! That’ss an interesting thought for people who’ve never been there but think it’s just purely Chinese. So, I’ll let people read the book to actually read the rest of the story.
DOUG: Thank you for not spoiling that.
OLIVER: I think they can order the book through Amazon, is that correct?
DOUG: They can. Yes, it’s available there and also on the Smashwords which is an e-book site.
OLIVER: OK. Well for all of our listeners you can find full details of where to get the book and even an article with an extract from Doug’s book, an entertaining extract set in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, in the supporting page that you’ll find on our growinternational.org platform. I hope you’ll read the article, listen again to the podcast and buy the book and read it. I highly recommend it. It’s a great background to exporting. Full of anecdotes from around the world but turned into real practical advice. So, it’s like a sort of combination of entertaining stories with real practical advice and diagrams and charts and how to do it. Doug, I hope you have a great deal of success with this book.
DOUG: Thank you very much.
OLIVER: Great, it’s been a pleasure talking to you Doug. You have got so much to offer to people and I know that you also run DNA business engineering, which is I think your own company right?
DOUG: Yes, that’s right. Two of us who run that, it’s a consultancy we are advising companies about how to grow their business, a big part of that of course is international trade shows.
OLIVER: I and my team at Grow International also welcome your calls and comments at any time and will happily put you in touch. So that’s great, thank you very much indeed.
Any facts and opinions presented in this content are those of the author or speaker. The inclusion of this content on the Grow through International Expansion platform does not imply endorsement by the platform owners of such facts and opinions nor by any business represented by interviewees or contributors. Whilst every care is taken to check facts and figures, we accept no responsibility for their accuracy. Please advise us of any discrepancy and we will endeavour to correct the information as quickly as possible.