Is it important to grow in the Irish market first?
It was extremely important for us to grow our business at home first. We invested heavily in Research and Development (R&D) and made sure our Irish customers really got value out of our innovations before taking them internationally. If a product works well on an Irish farm, we are always confident it will work well abroad. Enterprise Ireland have been very helpful in this respect, and they have supported us to grow the business significantly. We couldn’t speak highly enough of them.
How do you choose a new market to export to?
Our new market ventures often result from an inbound enquiry or a recommendation from someone in the industry which prompts us to explore potential opportunities that might exist in a market. Every market needs to be carefully considered, simple things such as the language barrier can make a big difference to your success - you need to be able to communicate with your customers at a technical level. We also have to make sure the market is right for our products. Entering a market at the right time is important, affordability can be a challenge when selling European products in some countries so Government support to the dairy sector can play a role – the equivalent of TAMS in an Irish context.
How important are distributors in overseas markets?
Having people on the ground and working with the right agent is very important to ensure you’re reaching a large pool of customers. Again, we often find our partner agents through word of mouth or a recommendation - it’s a small world. We are always looking for agents that understand our products and the type of customer we are trying to reach.
Do you need to invest in sales and marketing when entering a new market?
Sales and marketing are critical. There is a lot of work in getting a sale over the line after you initially meet a customer. Being able to explain how our technology can improve our customer’s business is key.
What kind of challenges do you run into when preparing for export?
There have been lots of challenges along the way as we developed our export business. Understanding the various regulations including customs and import laws can be a challenge. Once you understand the requirements, you can try work within them. For example, in some countries, law will require a percentage of the product to be manufactured locally. Despite the challenge this creates, it’s also an opportunity to enter the market by supplying components that can’t be manufactured locally.
What advice would you give an SME considering exporting?
If we were to give any advice, it would be to build your business in the Irish and UK market first. This creates a solid foundation to grow a successful small company. However, if you have ambition to scale you have to export.
Where possible, build your business at home first in the market you already know.
Treat the UK like a home market as you grow.
Partnering with the right agent in each market is essential to reach the right customers.
Recommendations and word of mouth go a long way, connect with peers in the industry and spend time building your network.
This article was first published in our 2023 Food & Agribusiness Report.