When Leeds-based Quality Bearings Online first launched its website in 2012, the plan was to focus on the UK market. Now, the business is selling all over the world with the majority of its turnover coming from international sales. Simon Riley, Managing Director and Marta Biarnes Carrera, Global Marketing Manager, joined us to tell their story of success.
Tell us more about Quality Bearings Online and how you got started?
The company was established in February 2012 but started trading in June 2012. We sell ball bearings and engineering spares through e-commerce. We set up as qualitybearingsonline.com, so we deliberately chose a .com website to give us that international presence, but it wasn’t really in our focus, we were concentrating on the UK. But the UK market is very saturated, it’s very well serviced and it’s extremely competitive. In time, we started getting orders from overseas and decided that we’d get in touch with the Department for International Trade (DIT).
What happened next?
Our International Trade Adviser (ITA) told us there was a series of workshops particularly for online businesses. That was over three years ago and is what gave us the real knowledge from which to drive forward the business. Although we did have some skills and some knowledge about working with Google Analytics, it encouraged us to invest far more into the website. It identified where the potential customers were coming from and at what point of the website they were dropping off and weren’t completing the sales which really was key.
“Export sales currently account for 80% of our turnover.”
Simon Riley, Managing Director
How did you take what you had learned to improve your overseas sales?
We spent a long time working on the back of the website to try and remove the barriers from overseas customers placing orders. One of our key markets is the United States (US), that’s where a lot of our sales are, so we made sure we got the US dollars on. There are simple things that you can do quickly like putting a +44 on your phone number. And then the more you get into it, the more technical stuff about geo-location, it makes a massive difference. There are many countries that have come on board off the back of changing the website and making it more international-focused.
How has your relationship with your International Trade Adviser helped your business grow?
Our ITA, Mel, is a great help, and the initial support was really hands-on. Mel was, and still is, considered part of the team. We make sure she’s fully aware of our plans, because she points us to the right people, she can do market research on our behalf or tell us where we could get the market research from if she can’t help. DIT have certainly made things quicker without a doubt, I don’t think we’d have got there anywhere as quickly and we wouldn’t have learnt so much so quickly.
You used the Exporting for Growth grant to help fund an overseas visit to the US. How did that go?
We went to see customers in Miami, South Carolina, Washington DC, Chicago and Iowa. The US is so big – over there you go to an industrial estate and it’s just manufacturer after manufacturer which is exactly what our customers are, so the potential was just enormous. It confirmed that we were right with our exporting vision. We’ve invested yet more in exporting and the results are even more positive, I mean the turnover on a month-by-month basis has gone up probably 50/60% since, so it was a fantastic trip.
How important was it that you had funding to help make this visit happen?
Without the Exporting for Growth funding, we wouldn’t have done it, because it would have been too expensive. It was great value because it allowed us to make a decision on South America that saved us money, but it also identified other marketplaces to us. So, it was absolutely worth its weight in gold.
How much has the business grown since you first started exporting?
When we started trading overseas properly, three and a half years ago, there were four of us, there’s now 12 of us. Year on year the business has doubled, and we expect hopefully we’ll double it again this year.
Do you have any advice for other businesses aspiring to export?
My key bit of advice would be, don’t do the scattergun approach. Concentrate on one or two countries at a time and really focus on them, analyse every aspect. If you’ve got a website, if it’s e-commerce you’ve really got to study the drop-off points and where you’re losing customers. If you’re working to export you must work with DIT, because they will support you and help you get there a lot quicker, and bigger and better than you thought you could do. We learn so much about different ways of dealing with customers and we can apply that to our traditional UK marketplace too. I think exporting is just so much more exciting and it makes us a better business, it’s as simple as that!
Enterprise Growth Solutions Ltd (EGSL) deliver the contract for the Department for International Trade in Yorkshire and the Humber.