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Why and how we started exporting

​Mark Pountain of Charles Farris Ltd shares his thoughts on beginning his business’s export journey

Recently announced as winner of the Open To Export Action Plan Competition, Wiltshire-headquartered candle maker and seller Charles Farris is about to start selling to customers in countries in Northern Europe, with other overseas markets to follow. Its managing director, Mark Pountain, discusses his export journey so far.

Name: Mark Pountain, managing director.

Business: Charles Farris, manufacturer and seller of high-quality candles to customers online and via outlets in South West London (Battersea) and Wiltshire (Mere). The business also sells handmade beeswax candles and other supplies to UK churches and cathedrals. More recently, Charles Farris has started making scented and dinner candles.

Background: Founded in 1845, Charles Farris was originally based in Bishopsgate in the City of London and has remained at the centre of London’s candle business ever since, holding a Royal Warrant to underline the fact. “Our small team still makes candles by hand in Wiltshire using traditional methods and the highest quality ingredients,” says Pountain.

You must be delighted to have won the Open to Export Action Plan Competition?

Mark Pountain (MP): “We were surprised, humbled by the quality of the other finalists and thrilled to win. We’re so grateful to Open to Export, UKTI, the Institute of Export, the International Festival for Business 2016 and all the sponsors, including HSBC, who have been so generous in supporting the competition. We’re going to put the prize money [£3,000] towards developing our international retail website.”

Why did your business decide to start exporting?

MP: “For about 160 years our core customers have been UK churches and cathedrals. Two years ago we decided to add scented candles to our retail products. That took 18 months to develop, and following initial success in 2015 in the UK, we took part in Top Drawer, the London interior design show. This brought us our first international customers, from Australia, Germany, Japan and the USA, which got us thinking. We were then fortunate to join UKTI’s Passport to Export service, which in turn alerted us to Open to Export.”

What support have you accessed to help you on your export journey?

MP: “A huge range - largely facilitated by UKTI - including having an international trade adviser, who’s been brilliant. We went to an event where we met commercial officers from various British Embassies and High Commissions; we’ve also gained knowledge from various webinars and seminars and signed up to the online market opportunity service. More recently, we’ve taken up free membership of the Institute of Export - with its marvellous help desk - and of GreatBritishStore.com as a result of being an Open to Export finalist.”

Which international markets are you looking at first and why?

MP: “Countries in Northern Europe - although we’re open to opportunity sales elsewhere. One great piece of advice we’ve had has been that it’s easy enough to sell abroad, but if you want to become established as an exporter, you really must focus on one or two overseas markets. We chose Northern Europe for various reasons, including the fact that countries there are within a short travelling distance of the UK and the business culture and markets are similar to the UK.”

Which channels will you be using to sell your products?

MP: “Having researched various countries, it seems that every country is different and requires a tailored approach. As a principle, we’ve explored five key potential routes to market - retailers, distributors, agents, trade shows and e-commerce.”

How important is it to carry out thorough market research and planning?

MP: “They’re both very important. Obviously these are early days for us as regards exporting, but looking back, even at this early stage, I appreciate how much time, effort and money we could have wasted had we not done four months’ concentrated market research. There’s always more one could do, but I think the trick is to gain sufficient knowledge and confidence to give a selected market a go.

“I also recognise the importance of cultural intelligence, and while having someone in your company who knows a particular country or speaks a particular language may not be a reason to target a market, it can be a factor. There are lots of things to think about and to get right, but who wouldn’t want to have the world rather than just the UK as their market?”

  • Written by freelance editor and SME content writer Mark Williams.

Read more:

How we started selling to customers overseas

How we’ve grown our online and international sales

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