We asked Stephen Burns, Managing Director of Pyropress about his experience in exporting and what tips he can offer to businesses looking to follow in the company’s footsteps.
Stephen became a Department for International Trade Export Champion in 2020. Export Champions are successful exporters who volunteer their time to encourage and inspire other businesses to grow through international trade and provide peer-to-peer support.
Hello Stephen. Can you tell us a little about your company?
Pyropress was established in the early 1950s by Andrew Thomson and John Clyma who discovered that there was a market for switch sensors to provide protection and control functions for diesel engines, compressors, pumps, and turbines.
We supply these for use in hazardous areas and harsh industrial environments. The equipment measures process parameters such as pressure and temperature, level and flow in explosive atmospheres and ensures these environments are safe to work in. It’s a very niche market and we supply a lot into oil and gas and petrochemical works. Oil and gas however are not the fuels of the future so we’re shifting the business to create products for other explosive atmospheres such as hydrogen.
What is your biggest market and how did you start exporting there?
Our largest export markets are the Middle East and the EU.
We have built strong contacts in the Middle East, with distributors in several territories. We supply the products to large scale manufacturers and have been doing so for three decades.
The demand was there and it’s now about what we can do to maintain and grow our business there.
Distributors in the territory were located when having a presence at relevant trade shows. These were then screened in person to assess their credibility, capability, aspiration, and ambition. Maintenance of distributors is an ongoing process and there have been substitutions in some territories because of a divergence in priorities, changes in key personnel or ownership, and so on.
Did you encounter any barriers and how did you overcome these?
Having local representation and maintaining our distribution network is one of our top priorities. Over time, company ownership changes and the focus of the distributor’s business changes, and you might find what was once a strong business becomes no business. This is when you need to work hard to do your research and find alternative distributors to work with. Recently, we changed our distributor in Kuwait because a new owner took over who wasn’t focusing on the area that was going to generate business for us, so we had to find someone else.
Also, vendor registration is something to consider which is a requirement of the EPC and energy companies. Lots of documentation is needed and this can be quite lengthy. Having a distributor in the area helps to get this moving along.
How did DIT support you?
Our relationship with the Middle East has been long established, so we operate quite independently there. Recently however we have had support from DIT in South-East Asia and we visited the region in 2018 with a DIT representative. We met with potential distributors for Pyropress Thailand and Vietnam over the course of a week and a half which was really useful. As a direct result of this we have new partners in Thailand and Vietnam. We also took the opportunity to see existing customers in Singapore and we’ve seen growth in this market since.
I also used DIT support to get a prospect in Mexico after attending a virtual trade mission. This resulted in meetings via MS Teams, and we are still in discussions with them with the hope of securing future business. I think the next step is to travel to Mexico to get the process started.
Can you offer any tips to businesses looking to export their goods/services to the region?
Have a clear understanding of the channel of distribution you’re looking for. Are you selling B2B or B2C? If its B2B, what type of partner are you looking for? Are you looking for a representative there working on your payroll? Is it on a commission basis? Is it an established distributor already in the market you want to operate in? Are you comfortable about sitting alongside a competitor with a distributor?
Specifically, in the area we work in it’s important to understand the legislation such as the international IECEx. Sometimes there are parochial in-country standards which must be met. In China, for example, they’ve introduced something called the CCS which is very expensive and requires a visit from an inspector in China to assess your facility, which you must pay for. Before exporting you must therefore consider the regulatory framework and any additional costs.
What does the future hold for Pyropress?
Great opportunity. We are a small business with a turnover of around £2million a year, of which 35% is export. International trade is a great opportunity for growth. If we’re underrepresented or not represented in a territory at all, by gaining representation, we will have incremental growth.
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