Shipping office services, helpline, consultancy and supply chain security

Friday, 20 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

Strong  & Herd LLP would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is a working website.....

By Liz Ward of Virtuoso Legal
I took a phone call recently from Jenny (not her real name of course!) an old client. We’d first advised Jenny 3 years ago when her luxury goods business had problems with credit card fraud. We re-drafted her terms and conditions and included new payment terms in accordance with the Distance Selling Directives. Her merchant services provider had insisted that she had professionally drafted terms, and the new systems for delivery and taking payment seemed to almost eliminate the problems. Job done!
Well not quite.

A new website....

In summer Jenny decided she would have a new, re-freshed website ready for the Christmas rush. She’d contacted a number of website suppliers and chose a new developer. She is based in London. By August all was ready for transfer to the new website. In September, the website was beta tested, appeared to work ok and then went live on 1 October. Immediately Jenny saw problems. Orders dropped off a cliff edge and the new website was nowhere to be seen on Google – even when key words were used. Jenny’s old website was quite well optimised for certain key products.
It didn’t take long to get to the bottom of the problem of orders not going through. Customers simply couldn’t check out on the website. So once they’d put items in the basket, payment was either delayed or couldn’t be taken at all, with the customers left with a page that just froze. Angry calls and emails to the developer ended up with no clear result; although some features were improved. She refused to pay him the final payment. He couldn’t make the site work properly and refused to take her calls. A complete impasse resulted.

A business disappearing down the pan.....

By mid November, things had deteriorated to the point where he wanted more money to resolve matters and she was watching her business disappear down the pan. He threatened to sue for money owed and take her complete site down. She threatened to counter-claim for business losses.
Now there are all kinds of technical reasons for the faults – which it transpired arose mainly because a key member of staff had left at a critical time in creating the website. Jenny had chosen her web developer because he had provided the lowest quote – and she simply signed his badly drafted terms of business. We’ve all done it.  However, as Red Adair famously said.....

“if you think going to an expert is expensive, wait until you’ve used an amateur.”

A good website is akin to having the best shop on the High Street. With a proper contract, specification planning and sign off schedules incorporated into the terms, a lot of this headache could have been avoided. So if you are planning a new website in 2014 just email Dan for a full checklist that should help you agree proper terms and avoid problems arising between developer and client. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

9 Top Tips for Trading on the Internet

By Kim Highley of Virtuoso Legal

  1. Ensure that your Terms and Conditions of Website use, Terms and Conditions of Trade (Goods/Services), Privacy Policy and Cookies Policy are brought to the attention of your website users on your landing page. 

  1. Customers should be required to click on a button to confirm acceptance of all Terms and Conditions of Trade before they can place orders.

  1. Always include a Copyright Notice on your website.

  1. Consider registering any company name / business name and any logos or devices used for marketing as trade marks so that no one can copy them.

  1. Consider registering domain names you may wish to use in the future for your online trading.

  1. Web Transactions must comply with the Distance Selling Regulations therefore you must provide as a minimum –

  • Information about the supplier and the goods/services should be supplied to the Customer in good time before contract is concluded.
  • Notification of right to cancel goods/services within 7 working days with full refund.
  •   Check that your returns policy complies with the regulations.

  1. If you are trading using a website with restricted access to password users then consider how you will handle this data to avoid any data protection and liability issues.
  1. If you are trading wider than the UK, consider whether your website complies with foreign regulations e.g. advertising, financial services regulation, purchases of goods/services.  Consult with lawyers in any relevant countries.

  1. If you are taking payment using merchant services (i.e. credit card and other payments on line) then you should consider fraud and fraud protection. The banks and merchant service providers will want to see professionally drafted terms of trade BEFORE providing you with merchant services facilities account.

Friday, 29 November 2013


During my international experience I have exhibited at trade shows in the USA, Europe, Middle East and Far East. Whilst the cultures and the business environment may differ, I have found the fundamentals of mounting a good display stand remain the same whatever the local situation. In this short article I will literally concentrate on the stand itself and the people who man it.

I believe the main purpose of your stand is to differentiate your company from competitors and attract attention quickly. Regardless of the stand’s size and location, visitors should be able to immediately recognise your company’s name and logo; your company’s products and/or services; how the company can solve their problems.

These are brief messages in appropriate languages. The more product ranges you have the greater the temptation to display all. This will only confuse – concentrate on the main seller or new offering.

Additionally the stand should be information driven through having the right combination of lighting, open space and graphic presentation. The ‘look’ should reflect your key communication message in all promotional & support material. The name of the game is to attract casual passerby’s to your stand. Remember at most international events there are hundreds of exhibitors all trying to attract visitors, many of whom only come for the day.

However before designing and setting up a stand, the most critical element is its location. Every expert will say ‘location, location, location’ You can have designed the best stand but if it is in the wrong site then arguably it will not be worth exhibiting. Technically there are many considerations such as
·       Most visitors walk to the right on entering an exhibition hall and miss the front exhibits
·       Corner locations draw traffic from two directions
·       Visitors miss dead-end aisles
·       Spaces near exits, toilets and food areas are high traffic but not necessarily good selling positions
·       Spaces by freight/lift doors are usually congested
·       Structures such as columns can obstruct the visibility
·       Locating  near competition is not generally beneficial as they can view who visits your stand
·       Locating close to complementary products can encourage cross-selling opportunities

As a newcomer to any show, prime positions will already have been booked so I always invested time to continually consult with the show organisers to seek upgrading my location. For some international shows the requirement was to demonstrate a commitment by contributing to ancillary activities such as the show catalogue, on-site display features or social events. I always made sure that before I left a show at its conclusion I would meet in person with the organisers to negotiate next year’s site.

·        Having established the best location available, I considered whether to rent or build a stand. As a first time exhibitor, I rented to gain practical experience of both the show, the type of stand and the dynamics of working with visitors.
If, at later stage, I decided to create a custom-built stand I could be more objective in its design. Critical features to consider will be the adaptability, versatility and suitability of the bespoke stand to different trade environments and its ability to be transported & shipped. You will need to consider the stand’s comfort in terms of working space, storage & display of materials and floor coverings ensuring it is carpeted. Any demonstration area must be able to handle at least two visitors at a time

·        Most important of all, the stand must appeal to the target audience by having appropriate displays i.e. for a target of computer technicians they will expect computers running interactive programmes
·        As appropriate, attention getting techniques should be employed such as revolving pictures or running signs. I have found that as a general rule 60% of the stand border should be open so allowing easy access

In the early stages of my exhibiting experience we could only afford a comparatively small stand so exposure was limited even in reasonably good locations. I had to make the best of what I had so employed a number of techniques to raise visibility to the passer-by such as:

  • Using lighting appropriately as it can increase awareness by up to 40%
  • Keeping the displays simple, feature only one to two products
  • Using bold colours
  • Using fewer but larger graphics
  • Using flowchart graphics and designs to depict product solutions
  • Being proportionate, reception counters and other non-productive sales items will clutter space

A sometimes overlooked matter id the staffing of the stand – selection of the right personnel and in the right numbers. I recall once visiting a company stand (not my responsibility!) at a European show where it seemed to me the world and his wife was attending. It appeared traditionally all of the company’s country sales employees would attend plus any associated company personnel. It was a mini United Nations, highly chaotic, disorganised and expensive,

·                  It is recognised that staff will account for 85% of the show’s success, however not all staff are suitable as they will be working a different environment. Key characteristics are for people who are open, warm and friendly; who can talk comfortably to strangers and be good listeners. You certainly need to ensure you include some decision takers. If you know the show will attract buying teams, rather than individuals, ensure your team is staffed with a mix of expertise. A general guide for staffing levels is one per 50 square feet of public exhibit area.

Then finally one of the most overlooked elements of good exhibiting, You may the best stand and location but nobody knows you are there. I spent a good deal of time ensuring existing customers and other interested parties were aware of our presence well in advance of the event. The full list could include existing customers, potential customer, new leads, suppliers, current or potential agents or distributors, media and trade and industry personnel.

There is much planning and thought to be applied if one is to maximise the investment in exhibiting. If one can spare the time walk around the show with a critical eye and rate each exhibit in terms of location, attractiveness and accessibility. You will be no doubt surprised as to how many fail the test.

Friday, 22 November 2013


In a previous Tale I described a three week business trip to the US where I had been booked in to Holiday Inn Hotels for every night of my stay. That experience is what put me off chain hotels. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the hotels, or the quality of service, or the cleanliness, but those places are a bit formulaic. Since 1993 I have tended to book my own accommodation.

I remember thinking ‘corporate is best’ when I was booked into a New York hotel between a flight from the UK and an onward flight to Vancouver back in 1992. The room door security was ridiculous and I felt like a multi-padlock was the only thing missing, other than maybe a doorlock-activated sub-machine gun! For the most part I have felt safe in the places I have stayed, but there have just been a few instances in the USA where I have felt less than comfortable. A second was in Charlotte, North Carolina when the pizza delivery man refused to bring the pizza into my room as normal. Apparently only a few days beforehand another pizza delivery man had been badly beaten after entering a hotel room, all for the sake of a few dollars.

My quest to book into local, family run establishments led me to some interesting and memorable places. In 1997 I flew with a colleague to Salzburg en route to Villach in Austria, arriving at about 9:30pm to find the place pretty well locked up. After poking our heads around various creaking doors, we were eventually confronted by a formally dressed middle aged man who organised our keys and then told us that the restaurant had closed for the night and that we would not find anywhere open nearby where we could grab a bite to eat. So we ate almost the entire breakfast buffet the following morning! The beds were comfortable although the rooms were stark, and at the time it was a little alien to stay in a place without a television, but that’s something I have become used to, and now prefer.  

I stopped in a similar, much friendlier hotel near Kiel in northern Germany in 1999. Our distributor Thomas Siewert had kindly booked me into a ‘local family run hotel’ where I was to stay for three nights, again without a television. In reality, when I have travelled the only times I have watched TV is to catch up on a few minutes of news. Hotel rooms provide just a bed for the night, and I generally fall into them after a late night with clients, and fall out again for breakfast or to get on the road.

Thomas was an incredibly likeable and hardworking fellow, and became a good friend but he lived, breathed, and dreamed about his work, and days out with Thomas were a nightmare: at least 14 hours including travel, multiple meetings, and then a restaurant meal to talk more about work in the evening. I told his partner Petra that Thomas would drive himself into the ground if he was not careful, and she agreed but said ‘what can I do?’ So one night near Frankfurt I decided to challenge him. Barcelona were playing Manchester United that night in the Champions League, so when the clock struck exactly 9pm I told Thomas that I had had enough of work for the day and that I was going to watch the football. He was incredulous: “But we have not finished our work!” he shrieked. The following morning I explained to Thomas that in order for me to think clearly about my work I needed to have some time away from work that didn’t involve sleeping! I also explained that I felt Petra was becoming concerned for his health, and that perhaps he should have some more quality time with her.

Back to the local family run hotel near Kiel. On the final night of my stay Thomas joined me for an evening meal and to discuss our plans for the German market. At exactly 9pm, he proudly stated “and now, I have had enough of my work John so I will show you my photographs from my holiday in the Seychelles.” I have never seen so many photographs of a man holding a fish in all my life!!

Throughout my travelling years I have stayed in places for the sake of convenience, either to be close to highways for an onward journey, or to be within a short drive of my first meeting the following day. So I have stayed in Campaniles and Toucans and Shoney’s and all kinds of places that would not normally be my first choice, but which are perfectly adequate if a bed for the night is all you need.  However, when you stop in a hotel for several nights running, you don’t want shower heads falling off, chair legs collapsing, damp carpets and the other horrors that can occasionally conspire against you. And when that happened to a group of us in Hannover one year during a five night stay, I swore it would never be allowed to happen again!

The net result was that we stayed for seven consecutive years in a fabulous little artisan hotel in the middle of Hannover and within a five minute walk of the Hauptbahnhof. And each year Mr. Reed stayed there, his room was upgraded until in the fifth year he was in the Presidential suite! In what other hotel would you be greeted by a free shot of schnaps? These hotels are out there and very often you don’t have to look too hard. They allow you interact with real people from the city, who can genuinely tell you the best places to go to eat and drink and be entertained. So live the places you stay, even if you do only need a bed for the night.

Friday, 15 November 2013


Those of us who have been in international trade for many years know the feeling well. We have all walked into a new challenge with a new company and asked ourselves ‘where on earth do I start?’ And after those brief moments of panic subside, we have realised that the answer is incredibly simple: ‘start with what you have got!’ That rule of thumb applies whatever the size of the organisation, but crucially there are still too many companies who have traditionally seen their exporting activity as an ‘add-on’ to their business, rather than an integral part of long term sustainable growth, vital to the company and not to be treated as a business backwater. ‘If it works it works’ is simply not good enough.

It is only by starting with what you have got that you know where the gaps are, where the challenges are, and where the good news is. I can remember walking into one company where they didn’t even have a filing cabinet (remember them?) for exports, just a pile of folders on a desk. But that is what I had to start with, and I found by rummaging through every bit of paper therein that there was some good potential in our selling partners but a lot of dead wood. My first job was to fly to Hamburg to stop our distributor in Kiel from sueing us. My predecessor had failed to keep his promises about the level of marketing support provided to this fabulously hard-working and dedicated distributor, who after 18 months had lost all patience. There was no contract in place, and the threat to sue was more out of frustration than serious intent, but the fact that I had made the effort to visit him and draw up a new plan paid dividends.

My second job was to fly to see our ‘best performing’ distributor, who were based in Dublin and referred to in an earlier Tale. Sure, they had the largest turnover of any of our distributors, but they did not pay their bills and they had exceeded the credit limit we had agreed with our insurers. They also had severe cash flow problems, and I had absolutely no desire to find out why. I just wanted a decent distributor who paid their bills. In the end, I stopped their shipments, and in hindsight that was probably not the greatest idea because the company eventually went bust and I failed to replace them with anything better. On the flip side, we had stopped pretending and it allowed us to move on and locate significantly more valuable and reliable business elsewhere.  

You guessed it. My third job was a problem too. Well partly a problem anyway. Our French distributor was a very nice guy and he had won some interesting and prestigious projects for our company, but he too had been unilaterally stretching his payment terms which were supposed to be 60 days. There were some significant bills that had reached the 180 day point and nobody had challenged them. When I did, the distributor did not immediately have the funds to pay. So we had to put together a plan that would bring him back in synch. It was a struggle but he was worth the effort, he carried on bringing in new business and the plan worked.

Much of the rest of the portfolio I inherited were one-off or sporadic orders and enquiries that had come our way in the previous year or two, where little or no further contact had been made. The guy who gave me the job said at interview that ‘to be better than the last guy you just have to turn up!’ I spent the rest of my first couple of days following up outstanding opportunities, and I can remember being surprised that almost all the people I contacted were grateful to have received my call, and most of the projects were still ‘live’.

So I had started the ball rolling, and now needed to devise a plan to build export turnover from £400,000 to £1 million within two years. It transpired that some of our exports had been achieved via distributors that were common to our sister company, and who had been given the distinct impression that they also had exclusive rights to sell our products. So I had an internal and external battle to bring that to order on the grounds that my sales commissions would then be based wholly on my own efforts. I needed direct relationships with all of the people who were selling our products. It is the only way.

I had started in my new role in mid-August 1997 and by Christmas that year I had visited all of our important selling partners, to learn about their businesses and to put action plans into place. In early November I had spent a week exhibiting at Batimat in Paris where we shared stand costs with our (now compliant) French distributor and generated some good business together. And it’s the word ‘together’ that best explains the way in which our export business was driven forward from that point. We worked closely with our selling partners, agents, distributors, and not just in reacting to their needs. The plans we put into place covered a number of areas: project analysis and timetabling, so that I could forecast sales better; a programme of visits, both to provide product training and to support them with key customer meetings; UK factory visits so that our selling partners saw more of the company than just me; and a marketing programme which included brochure and sample book translations, attendance at exhibitions or a commitment to exhibit.

So the ball had very much started to roll, and in a later Tale, I will summarise some of the strategies that led us to £1 million of export sales by Christmas 1999. The plan worked, so always have a plan!

Friday, 8 November 2013


During the many years that I was practically involved in marketing and selling consumer products overseas I realised there were a number of fundamental issues that always need to be addressed. For my company the core task was to maintain a consistent programme that enhanced brand image and product performance in differing markets throughout the world,

Each of our branded products possessed a value in the mind of the consumer which we wanted to preserve and enhance. We offered a wide range of international products which would be categorised according to the brand profile. Our range would be segmented into International brands – generally high value and imagery and standardised, where possible, across all markets; Regional brands developed to target local consumer preferences and Tactical brands created market by market to satisfy a specific need such as flavour, style or price

Being a consumer product, most were sold to the end purchaser through a retail outlet. .There are, therefore, two distinct forms of planning and activity to be considered.

First the traditional consumer marketing directed at the end user through sales, advertising and promotion. The second and as important, is trade marketing which ensures the right parties in the local supply chain, including the retailers themselves, are handled and directed in the right way.  The key to successful trade marketing is grouping customers into trade channels so as to focus marketing efforts on the special needs and characteristics of each channel.
There is much evidence that trade marketing is either ignored or not followed through by many exporters.

Some of the key elements of trade marketing are channel mapping – how many of each trade type are selling what and where; decisions on channel priorities; assessment of trade pricing and promotional policies; agreement with local partner, agent or distributor, on how best to handle the trade. All of which are carried out to ensure every potential consumer will be able to purchase your products at the right place, at the right time, at the right price, in the right manner in the right quality and in the right manner.

Space prohibits a detailed examination of these activities but to endorse my message let me pose some rhetorical questions.

Select a key market to which you have exported for a number of years. Can you describe the trade through which you sell? How many wholesalers and retailers? Of the wholesalers how many are traditional and how many are of the cash and carry style? What are the main retailer types that should be selling your products and how many are there in each trade sector? The questions could go such as who are they – by name and where are they and how often do they purchase and in what quantities?
Let me briefly describe two examples from my experience – the Middle East and West Africa.
Working with my local distributors I would analyse the breakdown of local trade – remember this is for the sale of consumer products. In the Middle East main sectors would be Wholesalers, Supermarkets, Specialist shops, small shops in the Souk, Horeca outlets and so on. In West Africa there would be a similar breakdown of sectors but with the addition of street side Hawkers who, incidentally, in certain countries accounted for over 60% of the sale of our products.

We would then total or estimate the numbers in each sector and set trade promotional strategies accordingly. For the key sectors we would develop specific advertising and promotional activities including special discounts or rebates. For the literally thousands of souk and hawker outlets we would rely upon the salesman’s word of mouth and giveaway items.

Let’s return to the all important consumer marketing element. Frankly it would take a book to cover most aspects but I will raise a number of issues that we always had to consider. With regard to the product itself there are two broad areas to manage – changes that have to be made to the product and changes that are required to suit the local consumer.

Most exporters are aware of the various factors that could enforce product changes such as legal, governmental, and logistical. Other common issues can include transportation and climate.

Let me provide one example affected by the latter. We marketed semi-perishable products around the world with a six-month sell-by date and normally used a series of protective packings enclosed in a plastic display tub for each individual product. For some of our South American markets we found that these protections were not sufficient. We had analysed the period from manufacture to point of sale and taking into account the shipping time, period from landing to delivery to a retail outlet, the ambient temperatures in local outlets and the time for a consumer to purchase, sell dates were exceeded. The whole package was redesigned and enhanced to ensure the freshest product available to local consumers.

The second critical area is adaptations required to suit the culture and buying habits of the local consumer.  This raises a vast number of considerations including pricing, style, colours and language of product packaging, appropriateness to local lifestyles and so on. One factor that was critical to us was the affordability of the unit of sale.

Our standard unit of sale for our European products was 6 items to one retail pack. However in certain markets both the size and the affordability were too high. This factor had nothing to do with the basic price; it was that consumers locally just did not buy products this way. We therefore provided a four-pack for these markets.

We normally marketed branded products with high perceived value. However in some markets the predominant preference was for local products at a lower price point. To gain both a trade presence for all of our products and provide the local consumer with a choice, we provided a generic product in addition to the premium brands. Tactically we were able to ‘buy’ shelf presence through the value product and gain listings for the higher value brands.

There is, of course, much more that can be discussed by space does not permit it. The main lesson of my international experience is to spend a good proportion of effort marketing to the local trade as well as the end-consumer to ensure a better chance of long term success.

Friday, 1 November 2013


Sounds glib doesn’t it, but it’s true. If you do your preparation well then the act of selling actually becomes the end game in a process, the knot that secures the package. Of course there are many different types of selling and you would use different methods to sell FMCG items than if you were selling construction materials into the specification market, or maybe medical equipment where certification and safety are paramount. However the principle behind the sale remains the same, and the relationships you build long term are the key. You locate your customers, learn what it is they want or provide them with something new and innovative that they need, achieve the necessary standards, market the product or service effectively, create the customer relationship, and then close the sale. And don’t forget you need a reason to go back, the opportunity to win repeat business, and the key to achieving that is the relationships that you build.

Then there is the small matter of getting your selling partners, agents or distributors, to sell your products just as well as you would sell them yourself, and that is where a number of challenges can arise. They may be selling a basket of products from different companies, so you need to do what you can to ensure that yours is at the top of the pile. They need a reason to prioritise your products in their basket, and that may either be because your product provides something unique that others don’t, it may be that it provides more profitability, or it may be that it is easier to sell because you have provided them with product training, technical know-how and above all the confidence to sell the product to its best advantage.

I may have related in a previous Tale a part of the story that follows. I had been collected from Moscow Airport by our excellent distributor to go straight to an important meeting with BP/TNK to whom we were to present our carpet tiles. It was just after the difficult merger between the companies and they were looking to re-fit their offices throughout Russia. En route I learned that my props for this meeting were a single, medium blue, tufted loop pile carpet tile, and whatever presentation material  happened to be in my luggage! This was not my first visit to the distributor, and because I had already delivered a certain amount of product training, I had wrongly assumed that they  would collect me armed to the teeth with a whole range of folders and sample options to present at the meeting. Furthermore there had been no information sent prior to our meeting, so I really was going in blind.

So there we sat, patiently in the lobby with our single blue tile as our competitors seemed to wheel in trolleys full of different options. And of course we were last to be seen, and because I was being introduced as ‘Mr. Carpet Tile Guru’, I simply had to busk it as best I could. It was therefore heartening to hear a Scottish voice from within the room as the previous presenters left after their pitch, and my short presentation achieved three things: first, it presented the qualities of our single blue tile; second the technical sheets and brochures that were in my briefcase helped both to reinforce the technical message and the illustrate colour options; and finally, realising that I had created interest and knowing that there was a second chance to meet the buyers at Sony’s offices and fabulous showroom the following day, I seized the chance to reserve a further five minutes to demonstrate how our various products could worked together cost-effectively and well within budget. Although we did not win the job on that occasion, our modest presentation came second to the pitch made by the sales team of our biggest competitor. I was left feeling that a better presentation would have swung the business our way, and the total amount of time I was exposed to the buyers over the two days was about 20 minutes.

Closer to home, I had a similar experience in the Irish city of Cork where a fifteen minute presentation won 2,000m2 of carpet tile business with RTE. We had sold to RTE in Dublin previously so we already had a track record of supply. The product had worn well and continued to look good. Our distributor therefore set up with glee an appointment for us jointly to visit the RTE specifiers in Cork, and I made my arrangements to fly into Dublin for our onward 3+hour journey by car. However, on arrival at Dublin Airport I found that the glee and enthusiasm which the distributor had expressed in setting up the meeting had turned into a bed-ridden flu bug.

So I hired a car and did the job myself, arriving in good time with my short presentation that provided a range of options and a few photographs of how the Dublin installation had turned out. It was a presentation template I had used for years, adapted to this particular customer. It took fifteen minutes to make the presentation after my long drive, and the architect was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t take up a whole load more of his time! I arrived back at my hotel in Dublin at around 8pm, by which time the 2,000m2 order had been placed. Buoyed at this success, I dropped into Grafton Street to sample a few local pubs, whereupon I bumped into my formerly bed-ridden distributor having a great time with his mates and demonstrating a complete and full recovery from the hideous flu bug that had laid him out that very morning. He didn’t last much longer after that!

Friday, 25 October 2013

9 Top Tips for Trading on the Internet

  1. Ensure that your Terms and Conditions of Website use, Terms and Conditions of Trade (Goods/Services), Privacy Policy and Cookies Policy are brought to the attention of your website users on your landing page. 

  1. Customers should be required to click on a button to confirm acceptance of all Terms and Conditions of Trade before they can place orders.

  1. Always include a Copyright Notice on your website.

  1. Consider registering any company name / business name and any logos or devices used for marketing as trade marks so that no one can copy them.

  1. Consider registering domain names you may wish to use in the future for your online trading.

  1. Web Transactions must comply with the Distance Selling Regulations therefore you must provide as a minimum –
  •  Information about the supplier and the goods/services should be supplied to the Customer in good time before contract is concluded.
  • Notification of right to cancel goods/services within 7 working days with full refund.
  • Check that your returns policy complies with the regulations.

  1. If you are trading using a website with restricted access to password users then consider how you will handle this data to avoid any data protection and liability issues.
  1. If you are trading wider than the UK, consider whether your website complies with foreign regulations e.g. advertising, financial services regulation, purchases of goods/services.  Consult with lawyers in any relevant countries.

  1. If you are taking payment using merchant services (i.e. credit card and other payments on line) then you should consider fraud and fraud protection. The banks and merchant service providers will want to see professionally drafted terms of trade BEFORE providing you with merchant services facilities account.
By Kim Highley of Virtuoso Legal

Friday, 18 October 2013


I suppose I ought to start with an explanation for those of you who have had the misfortune not to try Grignolino red wine. I was first introduced to it during a trip to see a distributor in Milan, and on a return trip some months later had left it to them to book a conveniently located hotel . So what did they do? Well as our main contact, Stefano, lived in the hills around the historic town of Como, they booked me into a wonderful hotel on the lakeside. Grignolino is a wine from the Lombardy region of Italy which is served young, generally after only a year or so in the bottle, and just as the Italians seem to always get their food right, they get the wine to go with the food right too!

I flew into Linate Airport on that first occasion, and Stefano collected me in his tiny Fiat Cinquecento and drove me to his offices on the outskirts of Milan, about a mile from the San Siro. There I had an initial meeting with Stefano to discuss new products, pending orders, marketing and sample stocks, and was then shown into a windowless room with orange fabric walls to wait for the business owner who wanted to meet the new kind on the block. I had been forewarned that it could be a long wait. An hour passed, then two, then three, by which time I had run out of reports to tap into my laptop, Italian newspapers to try and decipher with my limited knowledge of the language, and their well-thumbed collection of interior design magazines, and spent a further half hour twiddling my own thumbs waiting for the great man to appear.

You always know an important Italian by the fact that they don’t put their arms in their jacket sleeves, and when Mr. L. finally arrived he was just so. He did not sit, but stood throughout this first encounter, probably to give his fist greater impact when he thumped the table, and he spoke only in Italian leaving Stefano to interpret and transmit the harsh words that were about to pass between us. Poor Stefano.  At one point he said to me ‘I cannot say that’ as I explained to Mr. L. that as his payment record was so appalling I would not release any more goods at that time. I never did find out what Stefano said by way of my reply! And Mr. L. demanded 120 day payment terms for his orders, and demanded rafts of samples that I wasn’t prepared to give. And to be honest after a near four hour wait, I was a bit hacked off and my tummy was rumbling. Yet after our lively encounter we parted friends with Mr. L. uttering his first words of English.

Anyway after that Stefano and I both needed a drink, and he drove me the half hour back to my lakeside hotel for a five minute wash and brush up before taking me to a restaurant a few miles around the lake. It was dark by that time, and for an Italian Stefano was not a great driver, weaving his way at high speed along roads that would only pass as back alleys in most other locations. But we arrived in one piece and shared a fabulous meal and a couple of bottles – yes bottles – of Grignolino before the white-knuckle ride back to the hotel. Actually I think his driving was better on the way back!

The restaurant location was idyllic, and Stefano always a perfect gentleman, was full of lively conversation, warmth and good humour. Neither of us smoked. I had recently given up and he had a bronchial condition, which presumably explains why the pair of us then shared a packet of twenty as we stood on the balcony over the lake watching the fish circle around in the calm waters below. I had done exactly the same at a different restaurant on my first visit to Como, but it was a welcome feeling of déjà vu.

Months went by, and lo and behold payment performance improved and the demands for rafts of samples eased. It was an ongoing battle to keep Mr.L. within our agreed terms of payment and his credit insurance limit, and I found that the secret to achieving that was regular communication and occasional threats to not release stock, but eventually we settled on a reasonable balance between the two. Every time I went to visit his offices in Milan I was made to wait the customary few hours, Stefano became piggy in the middle for a fraught half hour argument, and then the three of us – yes the three of us and sometimes four and five – would be driven to Mr. L’s favourite restaurant in an industrial part of Milan, a restaurant I doubt I would ever be able to find under my own steam. There he was happy to converse entirely in English and help Stefano and I with the Grignolino!

Friday, 11 October 2013


The Connaught Hotel in Bombay was a government run establishment, and it had an institutional feel about it, not so much in the lobby and reception area, but in the long, curving corridors that led eventually to my rather tatty room. I was tired after a long journey, but exhilarated by my arrival in this fascinating country and a little disorientated. I had finished the bottle of water that I had bought for my journey from Zurich, so I opened the minibar for refreshment. There was the usual array of extortionately priced beer, wine, whisky, crisp packets and chocolate bars, and two litre bottles of water. Picking one up I realised that that what I thought in the dim light was condensation on the outside of the bottle was actually cloudy water on the inside! So I checked the bottle top, and sure enough it was not sealed. Furious, I called reception and insisted that they replaced their refilled water bottles with new, properly sealed ones, which they did somewhat begrudgingly.

It took a while to wind down after that but in the end the safest place to be was under the bed covers because my room was already occupied, by a family of mosquitos. Their intimidating, high pitched whine seemed to penetrate my ears so I put the covers over my head and attempted to sleep. Trouble is, the room was suffocatingly hot and the inadequate air conditioning unit hummed with such resonance that the bed seemed to shake, so I was certainly not destined to have a good night’s sleep.

I think adrenalin took over the following day, because when my guide arrived the collect me I felt fresh and ready to go. Shanti Mansabdar had travelled to the UK a few months previously and saw an opportunity to sell our range of reconditioned woodworking machines into the Indian market. The purpose of my trip to Bombay was to follow up his interest and for him to introduce me to potential customers around the city. So we took a cab to an ‘industrial estate’ to meet a young, stylish man called Mr. Jain. The ‘industrial estate’ was more like a converted four story block of flats, and each of its rooms were occupied by businesses involved in a variety of activities from textiles to metalwork to furniture manufacture, which was Mr. Jain’s business. The cab could only take us so far and we walked the final few hundred yards through a crowded and vibrant market place, with telephone wires hanging loosely across the narrow street, connected between stalls in all kinds of ingenious, and largely unsafe ways!

It was clear from the meeting with Mr. Jain that selling our machines to him would be quite a task. Shanti was extremely deferential and clearly of little influence. Mr. Jain was polite, professional, but already used machinery that had kept his business going for many years, albeit in Heath Robinson fashion. Investing in better equipment is something that was not in the forefront of his mind. So we had tea and Shanti walked me back through the market to a railway platform. We boarded a train for just a few stops, and as we stood in the crowded carriage my fellow passengers decided they should practise their English on me and so a very enjoyable half hour passed, until we reached the grandeur of Bombay’s main railway station. I had asked Shanti if we could pick up some more bottled water as my supplies were disappearing fast in the 35 degree heat, and he seemed very happy then to take me into the ‘best supermarket in the city’, which was actually a mid-sized corner shop on three levels with narrow aisles, congested with others who seemed equally overawed at its splendour!

Our next appointment was with a company who made laminated furniture, and who had expressed interest in reconditioned presses, finger-jointers, and stitching machines. We arrived in that part of town an hour early so it was nice to get away from the fast pace of the city’s life for a while to have a real conversation over lunch under a big fan. Shanti was taking seeds out of a bowl on the table, as we would eat Bombay mix and I assumed it was something similar so went to try some. He stopped me and pointed out that it would not be good for me, and as I looked more closely I noticed that there were insects moving within the seeds.

It was clear after our second meeting that the price expectation of Shanti’s customers was significantly below what I was prepared to sell them for. Therefore I quickly came to regard the Bombay leg of my trip as an educational opportunity, and for making connections for the future. As we left that meeting for others in an industrial area a little farther out of town, I noticed that the streets were stained with red blotches, just as the staircase had been at Mr. Jain’s industrial estate so I asked why, and it was because the locals chewed on a form of rice leaf that made their spittle red, and which they habitually disgorged as they went about their daily business. 

As with part 1 of this Tale, I was struck at every corner by the gulf between the haves and the have-nots, between the men and women who owned the businesses, factories and shops, and the poor scraping a living from waste, or by begging on behalf of the street mafia whose exploitative trade will feature in part 3.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Around the world in...219 days pt 3 - Train adventures around the Black Sea countries

My official arrival into Bulgaria was marked by being rudely awakened and questioned by border security in what seemed like a fairly intense encounter at 4am! I think most likely, it was more the shock of being woken for the 6th time on a fairly horrendous train journey across the Turkish border, than any kind of malice from the border guards but it definitely made me think again about the country I had just arrived in.

The city of Plovdiv was my first experience of a country that had grown up behind the iron curtain and despite the fall of the Berlin wall, I found the atmosphere veered from cold and suspicious to incredibly warm. A chance encounter in one bar led to a full night out... Bulgarian style! It was great to see this side of Bulgarian life, especially as the couple we met, brought some friends along to make sure we stayed safe in a notorious (but fun) part of town.

The first major difference that struck me was the use of Cyrillic script. In most countries I had visited previously, despite any language barrier, there was a degree of understanding from the familiar lettering and as we were relying on trains for this section, I had a feeling of foreboding about the days ahead! Another shock to the system was to see the use of horse and carts in everyday life, including one entrepreneur who was giving city tours on a settee strapped to the back of his cart! It is clearly a country that is developing fast however, and the capital Sofia was as good a city as I have visited in Europe with its own unique style of architecture leaning more towards the Ottoman empire than to that of the Russian communist which were often based more on scale and functionality than design.

Typical architecture in Sofia with a heavy Ottoman influence but showing Cyrillic script

Travelling around Europe with an Interrail ticket made things easier, as I only needed one ticket for the whole trip. However, the challenge is in reserving a seat, which is vital for sleeper trains in areas where there may be only one train per day! To add to the confusion, we were told that it is not possible to reserve train tickets directly from the station. Instead, you have to find the offices of the train reservation company and book with them instead. Booking was in itself a challenge due to the lack of common oral or written language, so a combination of mimes, drawings and extreme patience on both sides were required to accomplish our goal. On the whole, we were quite relaxed about time with the only constraint being that I had to be in Stuttgart in 18 days for my next flight and thankfully, our second long train journey passed in far more comfort than the first!

One of the issues with long distance trains however, is that you tend to arrive late at night or very early in the morning. We concluded that arriving places at night is far more fun than early in the morning when there is nothing open and nobody on the streets to ask for directions. Also the trains tend to get really cold towards the end of the night, so it can be a miserable experience trying to find your way around a new city! However, there are downsides of arriving late at night. For example, our arrival in Bucharest was one of the more hairy moments on the trip, as the walk from the train station was on unlit roads, half of which seemed to be under construction. It is one of the few times that I have felt unsafe whilst travelling and I was relieved to get to the hostel.

Romania was fantastic to see from a train and I wished that I had more time to explore the smaller cities and especially the countryside. I was disappointed with Bucharest which seemed to me to be undergoing a lot of construction, and the number of stories of people being ripped off was a little concerning to say the least. One recurring story was of unlicensed taxis driving unsuspecting tourists to remote locations and forcing them to withdraw vast sums of money. In the worst case I heard, one German tourist had 200 euros taken (in the local currency, the leu). It’s a shame as the majority of Romanians go out of their way to help you but I always felt a little exposed as a tourist there. I would like to return to Bucharest when the current phase of building is complete.

The last few days also saw the start of train delays that we hadn’t suffered up to that point. For example, the train from Ruse on the Bulgarian border to Bucharest which should normally take about 2 hours was delayed by an extra hour and a half! During the wait we were offered a variety of lifts to Bucharest, some by taxi drivers and some by locals, all of which we gladly declined. It is possible that we were misjudging the intentions of the locals in Ruse, but from the stories passed on from other travellers, we both felt it would be better to be safe (and late) than sorry.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed my time around the Black Sea countries and feel privileged to have witnessed both Bulgaria and Romania at a time when they are still adjusting following their accession to the EU in 2007. They were both countries with a real edge and although the majority of people were friendly, crime rates are still quite high. As they both develop within the European Union, I look forward to seeing how these countries adapt and more importantly, how they keep their own unique identities as they progress.

Friday, 4 October 2013


I love the atmosphere of New York, and I love New Yorkers. They are straight and direct, and also incredibly hospitable and fun to be with. Back in the day, probably around 1993, I was visiting a machinery dealership whose offices were a stone’s throw from Shay Stadium. My journey to their office was a little fraught because the Yugoslavian yellow cab driver seemed not to have a clue where he was going, and had an insufficient command of English to be able to put right the wrong turnings I knew he was making, and he seemed happy that the bill was mounting up . I had driven before along those self-same, tyre-pitted roads that had been worn in grooves by countless articulated trucks, and my limited knowledge of how to get to my destination from there just about carried me through. No gratuity. He wasn’t very happy but that’s tough! In the end, with a little help from the people I was meeting, the cab driver was sent packing.

After a quick calm-down coffee (if there is such a thing), their President, Richard Bass, promptly took me to their ‘warehouse’, a ramshackled but large building somewhere on the New York dockside, ostensibly to look at their vast stock of second hand woodworking machines. None of them were in especially saleable condition and many were probably beyond any form of economic repair. However, there were some useful component parts and Richard was interested in selling our reconditioned British machinery because of their reputation for durability. Fascinatingly, in one corner of this huge space were 43 British phone boxes that he had acquired over the years for their antique and curiosity value. Even at that time he was making a very good living from them, and had sold them to customers across the USA to decorate their back yards, some converted to working order and others just there as a conversation piece around the barbecue grill.

We got on famously, both in business and on a personal level and spent a good number of hours together between warehouse and office putting together whatever deals we could. I met his father who had many years of experience in the woodworking machinery sector and there was little or nothing he did not know about the machines, their tooling, and their many applications. After my Yugoslavian cab driver experience, Richard kindly offered to drive me to Newark Airport via a late afternoon / early evening meal in ‘a special part of town’. “You’ll love it” he said, and how right he was. We talked more as we drove through horrendous traffic, eventually parking up on a smart street of large terraced houses with their entrances raised several steps above street level, from which I assumed he was taking me for dinner at his house, to meet his family, his friends, and maybe family pets. But no, not his family.

This was Little Italy and we walked into what felt like the front door of someone’s home into a most fabulously intimate, family run, New York Italian restaurant. It felt just like being on a film set. We were guided to our table by a young man in his late teens, who took our drinks orders. Then a thiry-something man took our starter order, and following that a man in his late fifties took our main course order. Finally we were joined for a brandy by the grandfather figure, a man who must have been in his eighties who smoked like a chimney and entertained us with his gravelly but wholly assured voice for a good half hour. Four generations of one family had attended to our table in one way or another. So there was family, good food, warmth and respect, but being where it was I could not help wondering how legitimately they had developed their restaurant business! “You don’t ask” was Richard’s view. And after that once-in-a-lifetime experience, Richard drove me to Newark Airport. Except that when I arrived and looked at my tickets, I was supposed to fly to Philadelphia from La Guardia!

I had a meeting in Philadelphia scheduled for 7am, so I simply had to get there but by the time I could have arrived at La Guardia by cab (with my cab experience  earlier in the day having not left a good taste), the Philly flights would all have left. So I decided to drink a lot of coffee for a few hours, hire a car and drive the three hour journey, finally arriving at my hotel there around 1am. It wasn’t the greatest preparation for an important meeting with someone I had never met before, but the Little Italy experience will live long in my memory. And the Philadelphia meeting went well.

Friday, 27 September 2013


Back in the late 1990’s I attended a series of Export Club Breakfasts hosted by East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce (great bacon butties!), whose offices were conveniently located opposite where I worked. A key northwest freight forwarder attended almost every event, and I had used their freight forwarding services in a previous life shipping machines to North America. Although this time around their business profile did not match what I was then looking for, I remember thinking that some logistics companies are good at some things, experienced in shipping to specific regions of the world, but none of them can do everything. And so it set in motion a train of thought and action to find the right companies to ship our floorcovering products across the length and breadth of Europe. And I have since recommended that particular forwarder to a number of my clients.

During the process, I contacted nearly 50 freight forwarders, all of whom offered a range of services into Ireland and mainland Europe, which was my key focus. I was very clear about what I wanted to achieve: competitive rates both DDP and FCA, based on an up to date weights and dimensions chart and quantity breaks; genuine quick service, both in terms of collection and delivery times and in response times to our frequent needs; minimal transhipment between the forwarders and their overseas partners; and a list of where they offered direct services and where they relied on partner companies. I received 23 replies, and shortlisted 12 to go and visit so that I could fully understand the services they could provide for us.

It was an enlightening and productive exercise that resulted in the selection of five freight forwarders: a prime forwarder to carry product throughout Germanic Europe, to transport goods to Turkey via Trieste, and specifically to ship  to the growing number of EU outlets of a global car rental company; a second to handle all shipments to France; a third for Spain; a fourth to service the market in the Republic of Ireland; and finally a specialist forwarder based in the east of Germany whose experience was critical to for shipping goods efficiently into Russia. In learning about the strengths and weaknesses of each company, we were able to achieve almost all of our objectives, and to be sure of the cost of the transport element to each shipment. Our forwarders became longstanding partners, and everybody won from the arrangement.

The company that we worked with to ship goods to Turkey partnered a Turkish freight forwarder who owned a share in the Trieste to Istanbul ferry. This mean that our goods were shipped straight to Italy to meet the sailings to Istanbul, which at the time cut the journey time by three days from the standard ten day overland journey time via Romania. Both parties were very active in trying to ensure that they handled our shipments efficiently and two of their key Manchester staff had long experience in dealing with shipments to and from Turkey. We met in Manchester and Istanbul for annual reviews, and we rarely had any issues in shipping goods to what was then our most important export market.

The arrangement between us, and the price points that we agreed, enabled us to provide to the global car hire company with an annually reviewed fixed euro price for the supply and shipment of our products to their multiple sites across Germany, into France, and Switzerland, and also provided a platform on which we could help them to expand their business around Europe.

The company in eastern Germany had deep experience of the various border issues, and at that time this was vital in ensuring the swift and safe shipment of goods into Russia, and they also had a regular presence here in the UK. The delays that could occur at the Russian border for companies whose documents were not up to standard, with the correct certifications, and in the right format could be quite lengthy, so it was important to work with a ‘known’ forwarder who would cut through all that. The French, Spanish, and Irish forwarders were by comparison a breeze!

Looking back now, I realise that the whole selection process was probably too laborious and long-winded. However it was worth it and had a number of positive knock-on effects: our warehouse staff got to know schedules of the truck drivers, and orders were invariably ready for immediate loading; the documentary process was seamless, even when we were dealing with orders against Letters of Credit; transit times were as good as we could hope to achieve; information on local delivery conditions was advised to the drivers so that the right size of truck was used when access was difficult or restricted; we got a good deal, our shippers got a good deal and regular business, and our prices remained sharply competitive. 

So why not include as part of your market entry plan an appraisal of the costs and efficiencies of freight forwarders who service your selected markets?