St George’s Day may not be marked with the fanfare that accompanies national celebrations in many other countries, and few people will be setting off fireworks or waving the flag this April 23. But more small businesses are realising the value in trumpeting their English credentials, particularly when selling to overseas markets. And many companies right across the British Isles are bringing their manufacturing back to the UK from cheaper locations, such as China and India, in order to sell themselves on the back of the ‘Made In Britain’ brand.
More than ten per cent of UK SMEs that previously manufactured their goods abroad brought their production back to Britain last year, according to research from the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS). But why this sudden trend for domestic production when only a few years ago many businesses were looking to Asia and Eastern Europe to cut costs on manufacturing?
Surprisingly, more than a quarter of those who MAS surveyed said that bringing down their overheads was a major reason for bringing production home, despite foreign producers typically bringing goods in at a lower price due to cheaper wages. Firstly, manufacturing costs overseas have been increasing in many areas in recent years. But many British SMEs have also found that correcting mistakes, longer delivery times, and issues around protecting goods against counterfeiting can all bring about unforeseen expense when producing goods abroad.
The key issue of ensuring the quality of products is what concerns many firms. Indeed, improving quality was the driver for 20 per cent of the SMEs in the MAS study that had reshored their production processes. A common perception that British-made equates to high quality is a strong selling point for many companies – almost half of firms see the quality of UK products as giving them a competitive advantage, according to the recent report Backing Britain from the engineering umbrella body EEF. Evidence suggests that many customers – both foreign and domestic – will pay a premium for a product or service with the ‘Made in Britain’ stamp.
The practical matter of how long it takes to deliver goods from foreign countries was a worry for many others that MAS questioned, with 18 per cent citing reduced lead times as a motivation to relocate manufacturing within the UK rather than overseas. Domestic manufacturing reduces the probability of disrupted supply chains, and also doesn’t leave businesses vulnerable to fluctuations in international freight costs.
Whatever their reasons for shifting manufacturing back to British shores, the move has reaped rewards for many enterprises. About 68 per cent of SMEs that reshored production said that their sales had increased as a result.
So, what has rendered ‘Made In Britain’ such a powerful selling tool in recent years? Perceptions of tradition, quality and heritage have always helped British companies, but there have been some specific boosts to Brand Britain recently. Some point to the success of the London Olympics in 2012, when the games showcased all things British, and proved a great promoter of UK creativity and drive. The Royal Family may have also had their part to play, with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Queen’s Jubilee, and then the birth of the new royal baby, Prince George, following each other in rapid succession.
The powers that be have been quick to realise the opportunity that all of these events have created for British businesses. The Government launched its Business is GREAT campaign late last year, which offers support for firms looking to break into new markets. While there appears to be a growing appetite for British-made and branded products internationally, few UK companies are operating overseas at present. Three out of four SMEs in Britain don’t trade internationally, according to a recent study by currency exchange group Caxton FX, with many saying that they’re too caught up in short-term goals, or lack the knowledge to work globally. But help with these perceived barriers is at hand – UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) is still the first port of call for any firm that has ambitions to export, and it has a network of trade advisors who can give guidance on how to exploit the British roots of a business for marketing purposes. Its biannual Export Week encourages SMEs to grow by breaking into international markets, pointing out that if a quarter more businesses exported it would be worth about £36 billion to the UK economy.
So, if you slice into your enterprise would you find a Union Jack running through it? And, if so, how can a business actively promote itself as Best of British? Start by asking yourself a few simple questions:
- How British are you? Does your business source materials or services from within the UK, or are your products effectively home-grown or made? Do you produce and sell something that is strongly associated with the UK? From tea and marmalade, umbrellas to good tailoring, even education, science and innovation, and accountancy services, there are some things for which Britain has a very good reputation. If you operate within a service industry, is there an opportunity to play up your Britishness? Once you’ve identified the areas where your business can genuinely lay claim to British DNA, trumpet these elements through your marketing. Even having a .co.uk domain name ending on your website marks your business out as British in origin.
- Are you using your native language to best effect? British firms have the advantage of operating in the main language of international business and the internet, in particular. Commonwealth countries such as India, Canada, and Australia are huge potential markets for enterprising smaller firms, and existing cultural ties, as well as a common language, can make establishing trade easier with these nations than with some others. And don’t forget the biggest English-speaking nation of them all, the USA, where many British brands have found great success in the past. At the same time, don’t alienate non-English-speaking customers by neglecting to translate your marketing into other languages. The internet means that all businesses potentially have a global reach, so if your product or service is likely to be a big hit in Japan, for example, make sure that customers there can read what you have to offer.
- Do you know your history? Even if yours is quite a young business, research local history or the origins of your industry to see if there are aspects of relevance to your products or services. You could create a sense of tradition around your brand, something that many people associate with the UK and its businesses. And, of course, if your company does have a strong British heritage, you should be taking advantage of that fact in your promotional literature and advertising.
- Are you reaching your potential markets? If you believe that your business could prove popular with overseas customers, then look at all of the possible methods of getting your message out to them. Tourism bodies like VisitBritain or regional equivalents could provide your business with a listing on their websites. It may also be worthwhile coordinating with other local firms to promote yourselves through each other’s company literature, or by organising joint events to create a Great British marketing push. And don’t forget those who are closer to home. Many domestic buyers are just as keen on British-made items as foreigners, so tell all your customers your company’s roots.
All in all, the time has never been better to declare your business’s Britishness. And even if your firm’s patriotic credentials are not obvious, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find some way to wave the flag. After all, look at St George himself. The third century martyr was born in what is today Turkey to Turkish-Palestinian parents, and yet he’s the patron saint of England. It demonstrates that Made in Britain can mean many things to different people. But one thing’s for certain: it’s a powerful brand that is recognised the world over – and SMEs should do all they can to exploit it.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net