Expanding overseas can play a critical role in the prosperity of many mid-market companies, so it’s no surprise that 37% of businesses expect to increase exporting in the coming year. And if companies are not considering overseas growth, they can be sure their competitors will be.
Forging New Ground
One company that is already looking at exporting well beyond Europe’s shores is Norfolk-based Centurion, which has been making protective head gear, including helmets and face screens, since the nineteenth century. To safeguard its future, CEO Jeff Ward led the business through a total rebranding and restructure when he joined three years ago.
“Centurion is a 140-year-old business and, while our history is something we’re enormously proud of, it was hindering our progress,” says Ward.
“There’s no getting away from the fact that we were stuck in the past. Yes, we’d developed our product range and, yes, we were doing OK, but we weren’t growing and our approach to business was dated. We expected new business to come to us instead of going all out to raise our profile, to network and to make the types of connections that would lead to new contracts.”
Despite being one of the leading players in its sector, Ward says Centurion lacked visibility and definition in the market. “We were too vague about our identity, about what made us stand out from our competitors. Starting from scratch and looking at every aspect of our business helped us focus our attention on who we were and on our goals – the most vital of which was expanding overseas.”
Approaching Overseas Growth
Ward worked with our advisers on several aspects of Centurion’s restart, including raising its profile locally, optimising its R&D tax relief and, more recently, overseas growth. Over the past year, its international sales have grown by 30% – from £6 million to £9 million – and Ward expects this to continue in 2019, mainly in the Middle East and the US, where the company has a new partnership.
Repositioning itself in both the domestic and international marketplace was key to Centurion’s recent growth. “Exposure, perception and connections are vital when you are trying to expand,” says Ward. “Grant Thornton elevated our profile, initially on a local level by showcasing our company and its success as one of the top 100 businesses in Norfolk, and then by advising on our overseas growth. These are still early days, but I’m happy with the opportunities that are opening up. I’m excited about the partnerships we’ve established and hope that more will follow this year.”