Shipping office services, helpline, consultancy and supply chain security

Monday, 28 May 2012


The language barrier can be a serious obstacle to doing business internationally. We should also regard language as just one item in our cultural toolbox when meeting our overseas representatives and customers. I sold interior products into 32 countries for 8 years from the late ‘90s, mainly into Europe and the fringes of Europe, and my travels took me on regular business trips (Oops! Sorry, “Jollies”) to Istanbul where I was privileged to work with one of the finest and most dedicated distributors on the planet.

These guys were really keen. I mean REALLY keen! I would arrive in Istanbul around mid-afternoon, to accompany them to a couple of potential customers before finally touching ground in their office, where I would give product training sessions in slow, deliberate English. Because no, I don’t speak Turkish. Then back in the car to be steered wildly through narrow and hilly backstreets in order to avoid the seemingly permanent rush hour traffic, sometimes I suspect in the wrong direction, and then out for a meal more often than not with clients – on one occasion two meals! Well it would have been churlish to refuse.

If midnight couldn’t come soon enough, my 6:30am breakfast alarm always came far too soon. I was generally picked up by 8am and taken to the office where the morning would be spent in meetings. I was always heavily outnumbered, normally around five to one. The meetings were chaotic, with two partners talking simultaneously, and generally about different things, sometimes in Turkish, sometimes in English. Then there were the project managers who also speed-talked bilingually and gesticulated their way through the morning, while occasionally taking themselves off to answer the phone in mid-conversation. And I would have several working days like that before taking my flight back to Manchester.

All that sounds disorganised and a bit mad, but that was their way and they seemed to miss nothing. All projects were properly logged and each and every one of that fantastic, energetic team could forecast almost to the day when orders would be placed. In the calm after the chaos my own forecasting took minutes because they had done such a good job. And after several trips, and a number of long exhibitions, we developed substantial business and forged a strong friendship that generally meant I would have to stay out well after midnight and still wake to a 6:30am alarm!

By a complete quirk of chance, I found a very good way of holding their attention during meetings so that I could say my piece uninterrupted for at least 15 minutes. It became a tradition to buy each other small gifts, and as I looked in the Manchester Airport shop for suitable English items my eyes fell upon toffee tins shaped like a number of very British icons: a London Bus, a red postbox, a telephone box, and others. So I bought a different one for each of my Turkish distributor friends.

They collected me from the airport. We visited a couple of customers en route to the office. I gave them product training. We saw some more customers, and took some of them out for a meal until well after midnight. My alarm went at 7am. I was collected at 8. Through the traffic. Into the office, and into another couple of hours of loud and frenetic organised chaos”. I was finding it very tough to break through the wall of enthusiasm and hold their attention for more than a few minutes … until I remembered the toffees.

One of the guys was due to go to see a client, and I wanted to give out the gifts while everyone was in the office. So I paused the meeting in my most polite loud English, and asked to distribute my gifts. I wasn’t expecting each of them to sample the toffees straight away. And after a couple of minutes I realised that the meeting had fallen silent. The English toffees were so sticky that my Turkish friends were having great trouble talking. I was able to hold the floor for an uninterrupted 15 minutes, during which I delivered every key point that I had wanted to get across. They seemed to like the toffee, so I took some more on my next visit. In return, they gave me real Turkish Delight.

I learned several things from my time selling in Istanbul.

1.       You will never have more energy than your Turkish distributor
2.       The Turks are the most efficient salespeople on earth
3.       Friendship and business do mix, and business thrives on the back of friendship
4.       Be prepared for very long working days and minimal sleep
5.       Either learn Turkish or take an interpreter who can then hear what is being said
6.       Sticky toffees are great for meeting control


Thursday, 24 May 2012

International Trade Compliance - a thought

I have noticed that compliance has been raising its head recently, what with all the goings-on in Iran and Syria. I am continually emailed information from both the US and UK authorities advising me of new regulations which, if I fail to comply, will result in fines, prosecutions and even jail.
Experience tells us that there are many UK exporters who don’t take compliance seriously, or in some instances, don’t really understand what it is all about it. This is particularly the case where someone has decided to start exporting without any previous experience or training. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of them don’t even know there are embargoes and/or sanctions for certain countries they are selling to. And when it comes to the “less serious” issues like correct tariff classification and checking Customs entries for accuracy, how many exporters, or indeed importers, take the time, or even have the time, to perform this task? I would suggest that the number is fairly low; firstly because they possibly assume this is their forwarder’s responsibility (it isn’t!), and secondly because perhaps they don’t even know they should ask their forwarders to provide them with the information. And even if they do receive a copy of the entries, how many comprehend all the information contained on them?
Of course, none of this becomes an issue… until the company gets a Customs audit; and how often does that happen?
But perhaps things are changing. A more positive slant to international trade compliance is being championed - selling the benefits.
The flip side of all the perceived hassle of compliance is that if you do take the time to get things right then costs, delays and “the aggro factor” can all go down, and consequently customer satisfaction goes up. And don’t forget, if you are an importer, you are the customer! But as an exporter, think of the benefits for your customers. Their goods arrive on time, documentation is correct, accurate and appropriate, they clear Customs without any fuss, and the import costs are unambiguous and can be known in advance. What’s not to like?
If exporters, and in particular export sales staff were to adopt this positive mentality and see compliance as an opportunity and even a unique selling point rather than a burden, the benefits could far outweigh the perceived negatives. Your company reputation would be enhanced, your knowledge valued and your business could gain an advantage as customers see the benefits of working with a professional, well organised company who care about the customer; all leading to an increase in business.
There are benefits in having people with specialist knowledge working in this area. Many companies have done away with the good old fashioned Shipping Manager who had the time to do the “shipping” job properly; looking at the details in depth, and with a good understanding of compliance requirements. Maybe the current preference for wrapping up the shipping function into the “Logistics Manager” or “Supply Chain Manager” role means that these individuals just have too many strings to their bow, too many other pressures, to treat compliance as a core function and get best advantage from it.
Dave Heaver

Sunday, 20 May 2012


I’ve always thought of an exhibition as part of a wider promotional campaign, where 60% of effort is in the preparation, 20% in doing the event itself, and 20% in the following up because the preparation was so very good in the first place. International exhibitions can be costly, therefore the planning element is vital to their success and in recouping those costs. This is a brief account of how that extra effort in planning worked rather too well for me at an exhibition in Hannover!
We hadn’t attended Hannover for a couple of years because we’d had nothing new to show, so the launch of a new product range was the impetus we needed. New products made unique by the introduction of state of the art machinery to our factory, new brochures and promotional material, and what better venue to show it for the first time than an international exhibition? Planning began 11 months before the event. We commissioned the design of a £30,000 stand, decked out with the new material, and with a meeting area for yours truly set on a higher level than the rest of the stand. An impressive display with real impact.
Our advertising focused on the Hannover launch and through it we invited distributors, architects, and contractors to book 30 minute time slots for discussions on our stand anywhere between the hours of 09:00 and 18:00. We mailshotted all our existing contacts worldwide, hoping that we’d achieve a good number of meetings over the six days of the exhibition. What I didn’t expect is that every invitation but one would be taken up!
So for 9 hours on each of five days, apart from the guy who didn’t show up (SSSSS!!!), I was rooted in meetings, barely able to get a minute to eat or drink, use the facilities, to have a thinking break, a change of scene, a restoration of sanity break. As one company left, the next was queuing up. I started to have delusions of being royal! By the end of the third day I was really beginning to flag, and decided that I’d have a quiet night in the hotel rather than another being sociable with more clients until the early hours.
That evening, our group of eight took the tram from the Messe back towards the hotel, and I can remember wishing that the tram stopped right outside rather than have that further five minute walk. Each evening as we got off the tram, our choice was to turn right towards the hotel or left towards the Boomerang Bar. Every night before then I had turned right, but for some inexplicable reason not this time. No, I was persuaded by a colleague that a single malt might give me a pick-me-up and restore some of the voice that I’d been gradually losing during the day. The rest is history really. We met a group of customers from Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Singapore and were with them until the early hours! No rest for the wicked, but the single malt(s) worked.
As the half hour slots during exhibition hours had been oversubscribed, I also arranged a couple of breakfast meetings from 08:00 for each of the following two days. Those people all showed up too, so no time for a headache! Follow up calls, quotations, sample packs were all sent out as the exhibition continued, and additional calls were made to companies who I had been unable to see. It was five days of non-stop action for all concerned, a great team effort, and terrific fun too. So what was the outcome of all this effort?

1.       Opportunity to properly showcase our new range of products
2.       Promotional articles in the trade press
3.       Presenting our company to new international clients
4.       First time discussions with invited international prospects
5.       A busy and well-designed exhibition stand attracted new visitors to lean more
6.       Maintaining face to face contact with our existing distributor network
7.       Demonstrating the strength and confidence of our sales team
8.       New international orders from Hong Kong, Russia, and Switzerland
9.       Increased sales from our existing distributors
10.   Increased credibility in a highly competitive market sector
The experience taught me a number of things. It reaffirmed my belief in the importance of preparation, not just for an exhibition but for any event, including trade missions or other overseas sales visits. Anything really. It taught me that you should only exhibit when the time is right for your company, when you have a new story to tell. And that when you have that story to tell, you should tell it well. It taught me that no matter how well you plan, your exhibition will only ever be 95% right. This was as close to perfection as we got.
And no, I didn’t tell you the product because it’s what you do with it that matters.