Exporter Spotlight on Shapemaster

Established for 30 years, Shapemaster is a manufacturer of power assisted exercise equipment with an international reputation. Business Development Manager, David Heathcote tells us how, with the help of the Department for International Trade, the company has adapted throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to increase export opportunities and make the business more resilient than ever.

Tell us about Shapemaster.

Shapemaster is a UK manufacturer of power assisted exercise machines, which provide a ‘helping hand’ that supports users to exercise a combination of joint and muscle groups. Our equipment is used in healthcare and leisure settings around the world.

Where in the world do you export to?

We currently have an excellent leisure export market in Norway, where our distributor has established 50 ‘Feelgood Centres’ in five years. We also export to Africa, Austria, Australia, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Spain, Switzerland and the USA. We are planning further export growth in Benelux, Italy and the Middle East.

Why did you decide to export?

There has been a global demand for power assisted exercise and assisted therapy for decades and Shapemaster is recognised as a leading manufacturer and innovator of the technology. As an enterprising company, we have looked to increase our share in the global market for most of our 30-year history. We also believe in sharing the great things that come out of Yorkshire with the world!

How has DIT supported your export journey so far?

We have a wonderful and dynamic trade advisor in Eve Husband, who has supported our ambition from our first phone call. Eve invests time getting to know our business in detail and helps us to connect with the world. The teams in Benelux, Kuwait, Switzerland and France have been very supportive in helping us in our early developments in these countries. Crucially, DIT helped us to assess the suitability of our target markets, identifying where conditions are not yet right for us, which allowed us to focus our limited resources on the right opportunities. Working with DIT has improved my confidence, too. They are so encouraging and have helped me develop tremendously as a new exporter.

How has exporting benefited Shapemaster?

We are currently working with our Trade Adviser and the DIT team in Saudi Arabia to respond to interest from a potential business partner, which could transform our business and take us to a new level. Exporting has helped us to improve our business performance and practices and the relationships we have with our partners. It also provides great opportunities for our team to develop in new areas as well as magnifying the immense value, potential and impact our products can have on people’s lives. We gain huge financial benefits from export sales both in normal circumstances and as we emerge from Covid-19. Exporting has helped us to experience earlier recovery from the impact of Covid-19 due to the diversity of our markets.

How has Shapemaster adapted in response to Covid-19?

The situation gave us an opportunity to examine our business operations. The immediate response was to strengthen the support we provided to our customers, providing guidance as they responded to the disruption. We also considered how we were optimising our resources, including how to better use the skills within our team. As a result, our exporting activity has transformed beyond recognition. We’ve been exploring new markets and building relationships with potential and existing distributors. We have realised the commercial value of existing products rather than the next development rollout and the improvements to our export operation has built diversity and resilience to secure a solid future for our business.

How has DIT supported you through this?

DIT has been a rock throughout. Our Trade Adviser, Eve, initially helped me to prepare Shapemaster for more effective exporting and created a short and medium-term strategy. Eve identified the areas in which Shapemaster needed to improve and where I needed professional development training, so recommended a series of useful resources including online webinars and training programmes that would put us in the best place to continue our exporting journey. Eve then helped me to research markets of interest and began connecting us with regional DIT offices who would understand our ambitions and advise a way forward, which has regularly included connecting us with potential business partners. DIT has been very generous with its support and we are in a much stronger position as a result. The trade mission Omnia Health Live was also a catalyst in preparing our approach and resources for exporting in the healthcare sector and to focus our minds on the export opportunities available.

Omnia Health Live was DIT’s first virtual trade mission. How did you find it?

The mission content was useful for building contacts and relationships with the DIT teams and sharing experiences with the other delegates. DIT helped us to make the most of the mission and connect with the right people. Omnia Health Live was a key part in increasing our export markets and diversifying our business and it continues to have an impact on our export growth, weeks after the mission.

What does the future look like for Shapemaster?

Our target export markets have changed, largely due to being forced to accelerate business diversification. Prior to Covid-19 our exports were mainly in the leisure sector, which was paralysed during the pandemic. The situation has reinforced the importance of the healthcare sector, in which we were planning to expand into in the future but are now actively pursuing interests in the Middle East and parts of Europe. Covid-19 has shaken up our entire business operation and we are emerging as a more resilient company with more exciting opportunities.

To find out more about how DIT can support your business growth, get in touch.

Enterprise Growth Solutions Ltd (EGSL) deliver the contract for the Department for International Trade in Yorkshire and the Humber.