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Opportunities Offshore

It's important that islanders don't see their coastline as a boundary, says Sarah Spivey, managing director at Modulift.

Our home county has a long association with export, which will be among the many great things celebrated at next week's Dorset Business Awards 2018, where Modulift is among finalists in the Exporting Excellence category.

Much of that global trade has been channelled through the town where we're proud to have our headquarters, in Poole, which established successful commerce with the North American colonies, for example, as early as the 16th century. All businesses in the region are indebted to Poole's merchants of the era for paving the way—or charting a course—for the entrepreneurs and companies that followed through history.

Where would we be if Poole's shores, or the coastline of any island, were seen as the edge of the playing field?

When we sit down to the gala awards dinner on Thursday (1 November) I'll certainly be high-fiving our fellow finalists—Atlas Elektronik UK, of Dorchester; and Haystack Dryers, of Ringwood—and any other local business that has dared to dream big. I'll also raise a glass to all those across the world who've had the courage to look beyond their own towns, cities, counties, states, countries, and landmasses to seek growth and prosperity.

I work with many fine regionally focussed companies—most of our distributors are of that ilk—and it's true to say that the selling point of many firms is a clearly defined geographical presence. But for others it's simply a lack of vision or ambition that holds them back. I applaud the Dorset Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the organisers of the aforementioned awards, for helping to develop knowledge, skills, and capacity of businesses in my area to compete at a global level.

Hopefully someone is banging the drum where you ply your trade as well.

Dutch courage

Of course, starting, maintaining, and growing a successful export operation isn't easy, and one mustn't make a decision to "go global" overnight. Anyone who's in another category at the Dorset Business Awards whose business has currently only supplied products or services within a 50-mile radius, would be foolhardy to proclaim, on the third bottle of bubbly, that they're taking their business to all four corners of Europe.

However, opportunity does lay in wait for the right company with the correct strategy, as proved by this week's Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference (OEEC), which took place in Amsterdam 22-24 October. There, suppliers from all over the world presented their wares, principally to oil and gas, offshore wind, and marine energy professionals. Importantly, buying decision makers looked to other differentiating factors before considering where a product was from.

In tandem with fellow "trusted global brand", Straightpoint (SP), a fellow UK-based manufacturer (of load cells), we were quizzed on a great deal about our respective products' capabilities but not where they were made. Ok, it was apparent we were from the UK, establishing an element of trust in manufacturing principles from the outset, but export markets are created, in simple terms, when there is not an alternative made locally that compares on price, quality, engineering, etc. I'm certain there are many companies that've hit a ceiling regionally or domestically that have a great offering for an overseas market, if only they'd be prepared to turn their sails to the wind.

Roving reporter

By way of a brief report from the aisles at the RAI Amsterdam Convention Centre, it's apparent that the show continues to engage the heavy-lift sector. Many significant players are based in Holland and neighbouring Belgium, and the nations share a great expanse of coastline. It's an overused phrase in summary of a marketplace's mood but again I found representatives of the oil and gas industry to be "cautiously optimistic" about the future, with many pointing to a significant upsurge in 2020. Our order book and tender activity chimes with that, although our custom engineering offering is driving growth ahead of the curve as Q4 approaches its midpoint.

Fittingly, it's upon our bespoke capability, and inherent modularity of product, that we continue to base much of our export strategy—as we told Dorset Business Awards judges in our entry. It's been a slow-burning candle (exporting isn't a route to a quick buck, as I've said) but it feels like we've made the transition from being known as a manufacturer of modular spreader beams to becoming widely respected as a custom engineering business with the finest below-the-hook and lifting engineers on the planet. It was a long-term goal set many years ago but consider its lucratively in export markets now.

Few succeed overseas without a strong domestic base, and that'll be acknowledged at next month's LiftEx show, which takes place 14-15 November at Arena MK in Milton Keynes, UK. We're looking forward to catching up with fellow Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) members and mingling with the trade at this annual get-together. Under the stewardship of the association's new CEO, it'll be interesting to see what the long-term plans are for an event deemed by many to be treading water.

On the subject of trade shows, it's exciting to have recently nailed down a plan for 2019, much of it involving our friends at SP.

Perhaps you're a trusted global brand waiting to happen.

Sarah Spivey

Managing Director

Modulift

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