Caley Marina

Caley Marina

Eight top tips for exporting success from Caley Marina

Are you ready to take your local business to the world? From its base in Inverness, Caley Marina supplies the leisure and tourism boating market with boats, engines, drive systems, maintenance and repair services. The company's export operation includes the delivery of specialist rescue, workboats and patrol craft to clients – from rescue services, oil industry and police forces to renewable energy operators and government agencies. We caught up with Jamie Hogan, director of Caley Marina, for his insights and tips on trading overseas.

Tip #1. Widen your net

We were operating in a significant leisure market in the UK, and in 2008 when the recession started to hit, we could see that leisure market starting to decline. So we wanted to replace that market. The logical step for that was to use the expertise that we’d already gained in the commercial market in the UK and take it worldwide. We started to make contacts with international customers at UK trade shows, which led us on our journey into exporting. Then we discovered that our revamped website had a worldwide draw and that too really kick-started our exporting.

Tip #2. Listen to your customers

When a customer comes to us with a concept or a plan, we take their ideas and then turn them into engineering solutions. In the UK our boats are generally towed behind Land Rovers or that style of vehicle, whereas in China, they actually wanted a bespoke trailer to tow behind a fire engine. So we then worked with a fire engine manufacturer and provided a solution that met their requirements. That’s what makes us fairly unique in the marketplace: we’ll build what the customer wants, and not what we think they want. And that’s what gives us an advantage over our competitors.

Tip #3. Know the regulations before you go

We adapt everything we sell, continuously, for each individual market. As soon as you go overseas, you have to comply with a different set of regulations to that of the UK, particularly in the boat sector. Each company we sell to has bespoke requirements for their safety standards and we need to exceed all those requirements. We’ve found it relatively straightforward to do, but we have to be very careful in some of the markets – if we’re exporting product for our boats to say the USA or Canada, the wood on the crates for the packaging has to be certified. It’s the little things like that where you can very easily slip up, unless you’re completely aware of what you’re doing.

Tip #4. Establish your route to market

We sell direct to some countries, but we also have network of agents throughout the whole of the UK. Generally, the agent will pick up an enquiry and we will then turn that enquiry into a sale and supply directly from Inverness to that customer. It really doesn’t matter which way you do it, but what is most important is that you understand your customer’s requirements entirely. And understand your requirements to get your product into that country, because if something goes wrong thousands of miles away, it’s very difficult and expensive to sort out. Make sure you respect that country’s culture, too. For example, in China and Malaysia, sometimes saying ‘thank you’ or giving a gift is inappropriate. Ensure you do it in the right way and in the right custom for that country.

Tip #5. Think ahead

One of the biggest challenges is actually meeting import regulations for customs into the markets that we sell into. When we’re selling into the Middle East some of the products require a ‘certificate of origin’ and that means we have to go right back to the base manufacturer. That’s fairly simple when dealing with major components like a boat, but when you come down to the whistle on the lifejacket, trying to find a certificate of origin for that is incredibly difficult. The attention to detail on the import has to be spot on before your product leaves the UK.

Tip #6. Enjoy the benefits of exporting

The biggest benefit to us is that it has raised our brand profile worldwide. Our product is now well known in the industries we work in. And that, for a small company in the Highlands, is a real achievement. Another great thing about exporting is when we meet the customers that we’ve exported to at trade shows and various events. It’s great to actually speak with them and hear how our product is working for them. That feedback – that building of the brand – is very rewarding for us.

Tip #7. Do your research

We wished that we’d had understood some of the import regulations better. For example, one of our products goes into North America and falls under the Food and Drug Administration. And because of that, the number of hoops we had to jump through to get that product into the market was enormous and cost several thousand dollars. Do your research, do your homework. If we’d known that beforehand, perhaps we wouldn’t have even considered it. So it’s important that we understand the market we’re going into and the requirements they need to make it happen.

Tip #8. Get help when you need it

Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise have both been very supportive to the company and we cannot praise them highly enough. Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve always done for us with good grace. And we’re very pleased with that.

Be brave. Don’t be afraid to test the market. But do your homework as much as possible. So that when you’re finally ready to ship that product to that country, you know that you’ve done as much as you can to make sure that the product fits.