A manufacturer of educational toys based in Gloucestershire has achieved 15% export growth year on year to markets including Russia, the US and Germany with its educational toys for children.
The founders, Richard Hardstaff and Cyril Dowling, established the company in 2006 after running a successful business called Polydron, making geometry construction resources.
To mark World Autism Awareness Week, we are highlighting the work Educational Advantage does to support children with special education needs to learn and express themselves.
To ensure it's creating suitable resources, the company talks to therapists and special needs coordinators who advise them on products that will be suitable for children with autism.
Darren Bell, the company’s Sales Director said: “Some of our products are created for students with SEN (Special Educational Needs).”
“We have a product called Feelings & Emotions Sorting Bags for children who have difficulty communicating.
“It includes cotton bags with photographs of situations that stimulate emotions and the children can then place cards displaying different expressions inside the bags. The teacher then talks to them about why they might be struggling with a certain emotion.”
The company also has a product which allows children to build using magnetic blocks with the help of a picture guide. For children who do not have very well-developed motoric skills, this makes it much easier for them.
Darren said: “often children with autism need time to get on with tasks without adult supervision and because the pieces easily fit together there’s that reward factor too.”
The company has been exporting for several years and because many of the products don’t have a language, they can be exported more easily.
While the company’s exports have been growing year on year, COVID-19 has been a challenge, however by making the most of technology the company has been able to continue much the same as before.
Darren explained: “Zoom isn’t so bad… it’s not quite the same as putting a product in someone’s hands but I think we will use technology a lot more in the future to help develop and maintain relationships with key customers.”
The company has received support from the Department for International Trade (DIT) for a number of years, which has helped them to build these contacts.
Darren added: “We’ve received some grant funding over the last few years which has enabled us to exhibit at trade fairs in the USA and Russia and go and meet new customers who have potential. Financially this has been great.
“Karen Knight, our International Trade Adviser (ITA) has been incredibly helpful. She’s met with us to discuss our export strategy and I can’t sing her praises enough.
“If there’s an issue, she can help us to solve it. She’s very well connected and will always put us in touch with relevant people.
“Due to the pandemic we have had to seriously look at our export strategy and change how we operate. The ESIF Internationalisation Fund is very timely as it has enabled us to create an overseas social media and marketing strategy.
"What has worked for us when growing in the US is visiting the country and attending shows. This gives you an idea of the market and how different it is and gives you the opportunity to meet people.
“We went on a trade mission to Chile a few years ago which was really useful. The way we’ve grown our business is through networking. When you make the effort to get on a plane and see someone it really shows that you’re serious."
While the company has had a positive experience of exporting it has not been without its challenges:
“One barrier is people not wanting to import and buy a pallet or container as they might be inexperienced with importing. We have solved this by working with a third-party warehouse logistics company. We can now hold stock in the US which our customers pay for domestically before getting this easily sent to them.
“In the USA there’s zero duty on educational toys so this made it easy for us to export there too.
“I would recommend getting in touch with DIT because there’s a wealth of information available to help you understand markets and you can get support to attend trade missions to expand your business.”
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