With a successful export management background in the private sector, Sharon Stathers brings a wealth of experience to her role as a field-based International Trade Adviser (ITA) at the Department for International Trade. For over 6 years, Sharon has worked with businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber to create and develop their global export strategies and help them expand into new markets.
We spoke to Sharon about her role, the clients she works with and the kind of support she offers.
What region do you cover?
I work in the Humber region, predominately covering Hull and the East Riding.
Do you have a sector focus?
I am a generalist ITA so work with companies from all sectors, from defence and security to creative, food and drink to construction.
What did you do before you became an International Trade Adviser?
Before joining DIT, I was an export manager for a global food manufacturing company. I spent 13 years in the role working with overseas distributors to grow the brand/sales globally. The role took me to many international exhibitions, working in partnership with the distributors or exhibiting to attract distributors from new markets. I worked closely with other internal departments such as production, product development and marketing.
Which countries have you visited?
I spent a university semester studying in Southern Germany which was a great experience but many years ago now! I was lucky enough to travel with my job before I joined DIT and I spent 13 years doing that. I spent a lot of time in the US and also visited clients and exhibitions across the world – China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Benelux, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Austria, Iceland, Russia…
I have always had a great appetite for travelling and culture personally. It started at school with exchange trips – I was always the first to offer a home to an overseas student. Luckily Mum and Dad agreed! I have also been lucky enough to travel throughout Europe and the US, island hopping in Hawaii, a 3-week trip up the East Coast of Australia, Bali and Kuala Lumpur too.
What kind of advice and support do you offer your clients?
I provide support to clients to help them with their overseas growth whatever their stage of export. So it could be assisting companies who are new to export and really don’t know where to start or those who are relatively experienced exporters who are looking to enter new markets. I always tell clients about the DIT services but there is usually some bespoke follow-up that is required, usually information gathering on a particular topic or connecting companies with the DIT overseas offices and partners.
We work very closely with other support organisations in the Humber area so I am able to signpost companies to funding opportunities or business support provided by other public organisations such as the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Manufacturing Growth Programme, Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund and Enterprise Europe (EEN).
What does a typical day look like?
Every day is different, however typically there is a client meeting or two. I have worked with some clients for a number of years and I meet new clients all the time.
What skills do you need as an ITA?
Being an ITA, you need to be organised in order to keep the various plates spinning! We work across a number of projects – Northern Powerhouse activities and ERDF funding to name a couple as well as delivering our core DIT initiatives.
As an ITA, you also need to have good listening skills and identify where our services and support can assist a client’s need. Building trust and relationships with clients is also key, so good interpersonal skills as well as international trade experience and knowledge are vital.
What do you like about your role?
What I love the most, is being able to assist a company and see their success! It’s always great to receive kind, positive feedback too, whether that’s just about sharing some valuable information or helping an export sale develop.
Tell us about your experience of trade missions
Back in 2014, I assisted on a trade mission to Gulfood in Dubai which was my first experience of a mission from an organising perspective, although I had been on missions in my previous role as a delegate.
Then in Summer 2014, I led a trade mission to the New York Fancy Summer Food Show along with my colleague Natasha Leach. It was a show/city that I was very familiar with, so it made arranging the programme easier.
There were educational workshops on offer, store visits which we escorted, a showcase on the British Pavilion and an evening reception with buyers. I really enjoyed the visit, assisting the delegates to get the most from the visit and met a lot of my old US contacts along the way too.
Which export events do you enjoy?
Trade shows are a great way to research a new target country, see new market/product trends and identify key players/operators in the sector. I particularly enjoy and promote Meet-the-Buyer/Meet-the-Commercial-Officer type events as I find them so useful and a great way to meet new contacts.
Tell us about your clients
I work with such a diverse portfolio of companies including a number of ambient food companies who export their goods around the world, a hairdressing scissor brand, various consumer goods, software developers and VR providers.
I work with services providers too, from a change management business who exports its services to countries such as Kosovo, Serbia and Kenya, to a Doctor of Science who exports her consultancy services globally working on skin science projects, to a bespoke adventure travel provider.
Can you share a client success story?
I worked with Crème d’Or, a Yorkshire-based confectionery company with 30 years’ experience in the UK market, to create an export plan and choose a market as a starting point for their international expansion. Laura Gunderson, their export manager, attended Gulfood in Dubai as part of an NPH delegation, and took advantage of the contacts and Exporting for Growth funding DIT was able to offer.
Within 2 years exports were making up 16% of their turnover and they have continued to grow with our support, attending Food Hotel China, the International Food Expo and Gulfood for a second time, and becoming a Northern Powerhouse Export Champion in 2018.
What Sharon’s clients say
Thanks as ever to Sharon who really works hard for her customers! She is a great support and it is always good to celebrate these wins together.
Laura Gunderson, Crème D’Or
Sharon’s support has been invaluable not only in helping facilitate our travelling abroad to meet with our clients face to face but in helping us build relationships with our business partners abroad.
The support has helped us raise the profile of our products as well as ensuring the continued work for the people that Heald employs. I have no hesitation in recommending Sharon and her team and would like to thank them for all their assistance.
Debbie Heald, Heald
Sharon has been outstanding to help our export growth at Pipers. Her patience, drive and flexibility has really helped us throughout the process.
Liam Dooley, Pipers
What are you most proud of from your time at DIT?
I am most proud of seeing companies develop, sometimes starting from a bedroom and growing to a business on an international platform!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spare time is spent doing family activities. We have a 9-year-old son who keeps us busy! We love the outdoors and visiting different places and we have just returned from a week of snowboarding and skiing in France. Any time to myself, I like to walk, cook and recently joined a yoga class!
And finally, what advice would you give a company looking to export into new markets?
Whether you’re new to export or experienced and looking to expand into new markets, an International Trade Adviser can help you with tailored support, funding, market intelligence or finding contacts. Get in touch to find out how an adviser can help your business.
To talk to an International Trade Adviser about how they can help your business to expand internationally, Contact Us or call us on +44 (0) 300 365 1000.