Case Study

Blue ocean thinking: How to grow your business through exports

22 Jun 2016

Brother and sister team John and Gillian Croasdale transformed playground equipment manufacturer Playdale Playgrounds with an ambitious new export strategy. Here they share their expertise on how you too could benefit from selling abroad.

In 2011, Playdale Playgrounds was in trouble thanks to an industry-wide slump. It had a great reputation, built up over the past 20+ years, but was hit by an industry slowing down by up to 35%. While some rivals were forced to merge and/or go out of business, John and Gillian had other ideas. 

Realising the only way to pull through was by going global, they hatched the “Blue Ocean” strategy. Turning Playdale Playgrounds into a primarily export-oriented business wasn’t easy. Culturally, logistically and strategically there were many new challenges to overcome in the road towards becoming a successful exporter. But the plan worked, and the business is now stronger than ever.

Playdale Playgrounds has gone from exporting 5% of its products in 2011 to 25% in 2015 and anticipates this number will hit 75% by 2020/22. The business is predicted to double in size to around £25 million in turnover over the next 5-7 years. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its success, UKTI has made it an ‘Export Champion’ and one of only 30 ‘GREAT’ UK companies.

“In 2011 we Googled 'how do you export?' and 350 economy flights later around the globe we have researched in excess of 30 markets and have trained and contracted distributors in 27 countries well on our way to the 40 we desire by 2018,” says John Croasdale. “The 30 countries we have started looking for distributors or signed means we have given the Playdale brand exposure to 61% of the world's population, from less than 1% four years ago.”

And while competitors were forced to merge and/or go out of business, Playdale Playgrounds has managed to turn its fortunes around.

Five Top Tips

With that in mind, here are some top tips from Playdale Playgrounds on how you too could successfully grow your export business:

  1. Cultural change

“You really have to change your culture because you’re dealing with different cultures. We had people ringing us from South Korea and nobody wanted to answer the phone, so we started educational lunchtime sessions. We also sent our team leaders on courses to answer sales and financial queries. We have boards updating people with objectives, currencies, and time zones – keeping everyone in the loop.”

  1. Plan, plan, plan

“Planning and preparation are very important. In the beginning we researched the topic extensively online, got a few distributors on board and then started an action sheet. Once you’ve visited a location, you then need further research, discussions and feedback within the team before making decisions on how to pursue the project.”

  1. Get out there

“You have to be prepared to go out to these countries, meet people and then go back and meet them. Also be prepared to make mistakes – both culturally and business-wise. We target six countries every year and spend a week in each country. We’ll meet architects, local authorities, leisure operators, distributors, school head teachers, safety standards committees and other key entities.”

  1. Sort out payments/currency

“The financial side of exporting to foreign countries is very important, so make sure to protect yourself from currency swings. Also find a trusted partner in the payments space who can put secure, efficient payment methods in place before you get started.”

  1. Hire a specialist

“If possible, hire an export account manager internally to manage this side of the business. Ours has visited 27 countries in the past 12 months alone. She handles day-to-day communications and coordinates our key export staff from each department. She also reports monthly to the board and holds an export lunch every two months to communicate and engage the staff on which markets we are looking at entering. Without staff engaged in the process we would not achieve what we have done so far.”

We would like to thank John and Gillian for sharing their story and providing tips on how you too can grow your business through exporting. If you would like to share your own business success tips, you can email us and we can see how we can feature you in our next newsletter. 

22 Jun 2016