A company based in Porthlevan which designs and manufactures sustainable packaging has broken into the US market.
Flexi-Hex based in Porthleven has increased its sales to the US by 2200% since 2019 with support from the Department for International Trade (DIT) as part of the drive to level up businesses in the South West of England.
In the next five years the business sees its projected sales to the US doubling year on year towards £2m.
Flexi-Hex was co-founded by twin brothers Will and Sam Boex who wanted to create a sustainable packaging solution for surfboards. The patented honeycomb sleeves are made of 85% recycled paper and biodegrade within eight weeks. 75% of the company’s sales are now in the drinks industry.
The company’s export sales have grown, especially through the pandemic and various lockdowns around the globe. Flexi-Hex is now sold in 28 countries, linked to strong e-commerce sales. The business has seen solid sales growth in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the US. In the last 24 months, export sales have made up to 31% of its revenue with 69% in the UK.
“Right from the onset of starting the company, we had an article on a platform called Magic Seaweed which had an international following and we received enquiries from all over the world. We knew then that we had to think slightly bigger about the project.
“So, from there we started exporting to the US and Australia and it was really great to have our DIT International Trade Adviser, Ben Leonard, onboard to support us.”
The company initially approached the US because they knew there was a market for their surfing products in areas like California, while sustainability is also high on US companies’ agenda. The US is also starting to relax prohibition laws around eCommerce in the drinks industry, which will offer a huge business opportunity for Flexi-Hex to expand their drinks packaging products.
“The US is quite complicated to ship to because it’s almost like you’re dealing with 52 separate countries. We concluded, through working with DIT, that building our brand with partners which are already established in the US was the best way to go forward.
“Importing the product was initially difficult as unless you have created a US company in America then you would have to pay a lot of taxes to bring your product to the US. This is why it was much easier to work with a partner in the US that could then help pull our product through, rather than us doing it ourselves and having to put the cost of this on top of our product price.
“DIT supported us with finding the right shipping partners and gave us invaluable advice as and when questions arose.”
Flexi-Hex also took advantage of the Export Trade Forum project, a European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funded programme in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The programme supported the company in providing market research which helped Flexi-Hex overcome some of the aforementioned hurdles.
Will offers some advice for companies looking to export:
“Get in touch with the DIT as they will be able to answer any questions you have. Start small and make sure your product can sell. The US is very different from the UK and Europe and just because your product is selling in the UK and Europe, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll sell there. You need to make sure you gain traction and build your brand there gradually.”
Get started with exporting
The Export Academy has recently been introduced as part of the UK Government’s levelling-up agenda, equipping small and micro businesses in the South West of England with the know-how to sell to customers around the world with confidence. The latest edition of the free 10-part events programme started on 25th October 2021 and will run until end of March 2022. Businesses can join the programme at any time and a full list of the sessions and the link to apply can be found here.
DIT’s services in the South West are delivered by Business West. For further information, click here.