Billingham’s Whitewash Laboratories, supplier of teeth whitening and oral care products, now exports to 40 countries despite only being established less than a decade ago. Mark Lane discusses the company’s strategy with managing director Tom Riley
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At a time when the UK is a huge net importer of Chinese-made products, it’s always good to find a find a North East company exporting goods in the opposite direction. Whitewash Laboratories is doing just that; this Billingham-based business, which makes teeth whitening and oral care products, exports around 40 per cent of what it makes to 40 countries globally, and China is very much a key market.
Tom Riley, managing director of the company explains: “It’s quite satisfying to be selling goods that we manufacture in our factory in Teesside to our distributor in China. It always seems to be UK companies buying from Chinese companies so to be selling UK made products to China is great.
“British-made products are hugely popular and held in very high regard in China. They can also command a higher price point and can therefore be more profitable than locally-made Chinese products.”
Tom’s business formed in 2010, and was exporting products within a few months. “Export has always been a key focus area for us since the very beginning,” he says.
Export was a natural early progression. The company’s products are developed and formulated by leading UK dentists and with British dentistry respected the world over, Tom and Whitewash Laboratories have found a receptive audience in global markets.
Initially, Tom was the face of the business internationally, but expansion has allowed him to take a backseat, with a growing sales team enabling the business to continue building its international portfolio of clients. Europe, the Middle East, Russia and Australia are important markets; but the company is now also about to launch in what Tom describes as “several new emerging markets”.
Research, of course, is critical in order to hit the ground running in new territories. Tom says: “Before we go into any overseas market we undertake a lot of market research. After we have done as much research as possible we then go to see potential distributors that we would use to sell our products in that particular country.”
Asked about the most satisfying aspect of exporting, Tom answers: “On a personal level my most interesting experience is visiting major cities in the countries that we export to such as Moscow and Tel Aviv. On a business level my most rewarding experience is seeing our products being sold on the shelves in international supermarkets and shops.”
But what about Brexit? We know many UK exporters are adopting a wait and see approach on this issue, given the huge uncertainty around it and what kind of deal – if any – the UK will end up with. Tom suggests the Brexit situation is quite nuanced, explaining: “When purchasing materials abroad we cannot buy as much due to the current exchange rate, on the other hand, our customers are ordering a lot more stock to take advantage of the weakening pound.
“Both of these points balance each other out, thus, our turnover has not been negatively affected. We are unsure how Brexit will affect us in the future, so we have invested in buying surplus raw materials in case imports are disrupted.” Asked about the lessons he has learnt along the way and any advice he might have for other would-be exporters,
Tom replies: “Get out and visit your international customers as much as possible – don’t just leave them to it – support them with training, marketing support, incentives, promotions etc. Also exhibit at international tradeshows too – there are always plenty of international customers who want to buy your products so it’s about getting your product or service out there as much as possible.”
He concludes with a further piece of advice: “We get a lot of enquiries through our website too so obviously make sure that your site is optimised so that you can be found online.”