Export Experts Magazine followed the story of William Winter C.E.O. at Groundwork Engineered Systems Ltd. His journey took him from their base in Stalybridge all the way to Saudi Arabia – and as he informed us, he ended up taking the long route to get there!
William starts: “If I had known at the beginning of this journey how many hoops I would have to jump through, how much money and time I would waste, and how much stress I would put myself through there may have been a completely different story to tell”.
“After resigning as a director of a construction company, I embarked on my own venture. I had brochures and offices, but no product, and came close to packing it all in. Then one day, a call came out of the blue, “Do you have a solution for forming and protecting concrete building foundations in contaminated ground”?
“I followed this enquiry up with an on-site meeting – to study the problem, discuss my ideas with the builder and engineer, make a model, conduct a conceptual demonstration, convince the builder of the benefits of a more cost effective and less labour intensive method and wham!
“We had something special on our hands – and ‘Corriform’ was born.
“I applied for a patent and successfully installed the first prototype. We launched, located and ordered stock and we found the correct machine type. Slowly orders begin to filter in and within months my idea was being copied by others, who managed to circumvent the patent description.
“We didn’t have the cash to fight them, so I decided immediately our business model was to provide a solution for the builder/contractor. From their construction drawings we’d design, manufacture and deliver a project-specific system to site with installation instructions.
“Word began to filter through to the ‘coal face’ and sales grew and we soon required larger premises, better machines, staff and stock.
Choosing the Export route
“The UK market provided sales – but with a reducing profit margin due to cheap competition. We decided to explore overseas markets beginning with the UAE. I met local builders, technicians, engineers, consultants and building product suppliers, and was fortunate to be able to install Corriform on a number of small projects in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“I also instigated several small business partnerships – in Australia and Dubai – but these did not last. But I was learning what worked and what didn’t work! In 2007 Corriform was awarded ‘The most innovative building product’ at the Dubai Big 5 Construction Exhibition.
“We seemed to be moving forward, then, BANG! The recession hit us!
“Orders rapidly fell from over £1m to less than £450,000 in just over 12 months. We were 90% dependent on housing and this was the first sector to be hit hard. We were in a continual daily fight for sales and struggling to survive. I looked at bringing in new innovation but the cost of that meant it was an option that was out of our reach.
Getting Expert Advice on Exporting
William continued: “It was shortly after this that I was introduced to Core Business Solutions who taught me to look at things differently and to revisit the untapped potential in overseas markets.
“Together with John Holmes of Core I travelled to the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Australia and India enabling me to open huge franchise opportunities for Groundworks through Core’s large network of construction industry contacts.
He added: “This expertise was invaluable; and my advice?”
“Learn from past mistakes and move forward, take stock of what you have – experience, contacts, ideas, desire and a passion for doing things right. Then talk to the experts who may help you look at things in a different way”.
William concluded: “How are we moving forward with Groundworks? We have now just signed our first franchisee in the Middle East with more soon to follow.
Onwards and upwards!!
From an interview with William Winter C.E.O. Groundwork Engineered Systems Ltd