The secrets of successful exporting

  • Posted on Aug 11, 2017
  • Blog

Playdale MD Barry Leahey has recently been awarded an MBE for his services to UK trade & investment and exports. Barry has driven the company’s strategy which has taken them from zero export sales to over £2m in seven years, with distribution agreements in 46 countries. 

How did it feel to be named on this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List?

I was told about two weeks beforehand and asked to keep it strictly confidential. I was bewildered and thought – me, really?  There’ll be an investiture in the next six months at Buckingham Palace.  We attended a Garden Party at the Palace fairly recently for my services to exports, so it’ll be the second time, and my wife’s pleased as she gets to buy another dress!

I think my MBE was to do with the help I’ve given in my own time to local businesses, advising them on export issues. As we started winning awards I got asked to do some after-dinner speaking and to go to local council events.  I’ve also spoken at the Department for International Trade a dozen or so times and helped to judge international trade awards.

What would you say to anyone thinking of starting to export?

Do your research. And put a cost to it – it’s not free and it takes time and money.  You need boots on the ground – I’ve spent a week in each country meeting local authorities, schools, distributors, etc.  Be prepared to invest because, as we know in this business, it can take two to three years until you get the order.

What you’ve achieved is phenomenal. How do you go about expanding?

You can’t play at it, you have to have to strategy. You have to have the right people and processes in place so you can change the product to meet the markets and the resources to do that quickly.  Think about how you will deliver, about installation and all the details, for example – whether you will have instructions in English.

If you’re aiming for a truly international business it will be forever changing and you have to upskill your existing staff. We’ve invested heavily in machinery, materials and training and we’ve gone from 13 to 300 people carrying the Playdale catalogue around the world.

Why export?

There’s a clear advantage to diversifying your business so that it’s truly global and you’re not dependent on just one or two markets. It’s about spreading the risk so that if one market goes down it doesn’t greatly impact your business.

What was the catalyst for your venture into exporting?

We had grown as a family-run business and we started to think about going global. We’d won a big order and beat the biggest company in the world in the UK.  That gave us the confidence to wonder if we could beat the biggest in the world around the world too.

What effect will Brexit have on the global marketplace?

I sit on several Brexit steering groups at the DIT and no-one knows what is going to happen. So all we can do for now is educate ourselves as much as we can and strengthen our businesses wherever possible.  Of the 46 countries we’re in, less than half are in Europe so look beyond Europe – the globe is a small place!

What do you enjoy most about exporting?

I love learning about other cultures. I have made mistakes but as long as you learn from them that’s fine.  Do your research though – some of my mistakes have been funny but could have been a lot worse!  My favourite destinations are Vancouver which is a stunning city, Singapore because it’s absolutely perfectly clean and Melbourne  which feels like home.

For further information and advice on exporting contact Barry on 07887 780118 or [email protected]