Hadleigh: Buster firm Challs pulls out all the stops with export strategy

Graham Burchell, managing director of Challs International Graham Burchell, managing director of Challs International

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
6:00 AM

Suffolk cleaning products company Challs International has been hailed as a “great example” for the use it has made of Government-backed support for breaking into new export markets.

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Challs, which is based in Hadleigh and is a member of the EADT’s Suffolk Future50 listing of businesses with high growth potential, has taken advantage of UK Trade & Investment’s Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) around a dozen times.

The support and advice received has helped the company successful launch its products in a number of potentially valuable new overseas markets, and helped it to avoid at least one potentially expensive mistake.

Challs is the company behind the Buster range of kitchen and bathroom plug-hole unblocking products and other brands including Boost Stain Remover, Bin Buddy and Ice Clear.

The flagship Buster range is widely available in the UK, where stockists include supermarkets Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Waitrose, DIY chains B&Q and Homebase and other retailers including John Lewis, Wilkinson and online operator Ocado.

It has also been launched in countries including Denmark, Austria and Australia, with Challs also targeting markets elsewhere in Europe and in the Middle East.

Graham Burchell, right, managing director of Challs, said: “We’ve used UKTI’s OMIS service at least 11 times now. If you are going in completely cold to a country or region the OMIS gives you a starting point into that market.

“You can be confident that, when you visit the country for the first time, the appointments that UKTI has arranged on your behalf will be relevant and a useful step in the right direction. Also, we can sometimes send samples to the Embassy that we can’t always take on an aeroplane.”

Roger Goetze, one of UKTI’s team of trade advisers, said: “OMIS reports enable companies to gain reliable insights into overseas markets, by drawing on the knowledge of UKTI trade specialists based in British Embassies, Consulates and High Commissions around the world.

“They provide bespoke feedback that helps companies to conduct market research, identify their best route to market and find potential clients or agents. Companies can also use Embassy facilities to add kudos to their introductory meetings and launch events.” Mr Goetze said that Challs has become adept at using OMIS to double-check the accuracy of its own background research. The company knows exactly what it wants to find out,” he said.

“On each occasion their brief will give UKTI a clear picture of the picture that they want to have confirmed or challenged.

“They will say: ‘We think this is the size of the market, and the type. We think this is how we should position and price our product. Would you agree’?”

Mr Burchell said: “As you would expect, we’ve learnt over time how to fine-tune our brief to ensure that the results of each OMIS deliver maximum benefit for our company.

“For example, it can be as important to specify what you don’t want to find out as it is to say what you do need to learn. If we are looking for overseas distributors for our range of branded cleaning products for supermarkets, we don’t want to receive leads for distributors of janitorial supplies; we need to source distributors with direct experience of grocery retailing.

“We’ll usually run our brief past Roger, to get a second opinion, before we submit it. Often, the UKTI office in the target country will also give us a call to talk through our requirements before they begin to fulfil the brief.”

OMIS results vary significantly, depending on the needs of the commissioning company and the target countries. “Our OMIS reports about the Middle East gave us some excellent insights into the region,” said Mr Burchell. “For example, we discovered that there are very few distributors in Oman. The Consulate also advised us about visas and the best way to travel between borders in the region.

“More broadly, we found out that Middle Eastern countries are receptive to English packaging and to branded products from English companies. We also learned appropriate business etiquette for the region.”

Sometimes an OMIS will help to clarify that a particular region isn’t an appropriate target market. Mr Burchell said: “We chose to commission an OMIS for Poland because our initial research indicated that this could be a good option for Challs: it’s an up-and-coming market that hasn’t suffered from recession, and it isn’t too far from the UK.

“However, the OMIS report and our subsequent visit revealed that the consumer market for cleaning products in Poland is surprisingly well developed, with huge international competition for limited shelf space.

“We subsequently decided that it wasn’t the right time for us to enter this market, and we’ve moved Poland down our list of priorities. The OMIS was productive because it helped us to make the right decision for the business.”

Along side OMIS, Market Visit Support (MVS) funding from UKTI had enabled Challs to research several countries simultaneously.

“As an SME we don’t have deep pockets,” added Mr Burchell. “While grant funding was not the key issue for us, it did help to speed up our progress. It was advantageous to be able to visit several countries in the Middle East within the same trip, and without MVS funding that may not have been possible.”

Mr Goetze added: “Challs is a great example of a company that has made strategic use of the OMIS service when assessing the potential of new markets overseas.

“The service provides warm contacts that companies can build on as they develop their network; it saves them time and money while also delivering high-quality research.

“There is no substitute for visiting the market that you are interested in, but the Overseas Market Introduction Service provides a reliable and effective starting point.”

To find out more about UK Trade & Investment services in the East of England, call the local international trade team on 0845 641 9955, email info@uktieast.org.uk or visit www.ukti.gov.uk

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