Mark Lane talks to Solarglide founder Paul Pringle and finds out why the company’s range of window treatment products are in high demand across the maritime industry
Paul Pringle, founder and managing director at Solarglide, articulates perfectly the case for exporting as a means of taking your business to the next level. “Exporting opens up so much opportunity,” he says. “It takes a lot of commitment and can often be challenging but once you learn the processes, it can take your business to new heights.
“We have been exporting for over 12 years. When I started the business, my goal was to supply our products to the world’s five largest cruise companies. Flash forward to 2019 and we have achieved this, and more.”
It’s been a remarkable few years for Solarglide, a North East exporter which supplies window treatments for ships, cruise- liners and the maritime industry, with a range of products which includes solar screens, blinds, curtains and window films.
As specialisms go, this is about as niche as they come, and it is this clearly defined market focus that has enabled Solarglide
to achieve solid and consistent growth in several global markets. Indeed, the company now exports all over the world, although Europe remains its key market. “Our largest markets include The Netherlands, Spain and Norway,” Paul says. “But we also supply into the USA, Canada, Singapore and China – generally anywhere a ship can travel. Our markets are shipbuilding, ship management companies, private owners and outfitting organisations.”
Paul established the company in 2008 and he is the fourth generation of his family to be working in the maritime sector. Based in Newcastle, Solarglide now employs 12 people and is currently in the process of relocating to its own premises, at the old Greggs site in Gosforth named ‘Bakers Yard’, which is being fully refurbished.
Asked about current work, Paul reveals Solarglide is now
working on several large cruise liner projects in France, Norway and Romania – including the refurbishment of Tui vessel Marella Explorer. He says: “We survey, manufacture, export and install our products within tight deadlines – which includes luxury curtains for suites and cabins as well as blinds for the bridge and passenger areas,”
He adds: “Some of our most prestigious projects include the supply of blinds to two of the largest cruise liners in the world, Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas. As well as the commercial market, we also work alongside UK builders of yachts, supplying luxury wooden, aluminium and faux leather blinds to the leisure markets.”
With more than 85 per cent of its products exported, I was interested to find out how Solarglide goes about the business of finding new markets. Paul says: “We research the market from afar to begin with, using LinkedIn and marine journals. Then we look for a local agent or distributor in that market to represent our products in that region. Other channels may include a ‘meet the buyers’ session, an OMIS report, a trade mission or a visit to the country of interest to seek out opportunities.
“We have a network of agents and distributors which works extremely well for us. Usually we find them by word of mouth or through recommendations.
We tend to find small to medium sized enterprises work better than large corporate companies. Companies that are similar to us in size, and with similar values and ambitions. A tip is to look for similar companies that are non-conflicting, and approach their
distributors for a possible synergy.”
Actually, as we interviewed Paul, Brexit was – as ever – high on the agenda, with talk even of a General Election to help the UK decide which way the country goes with regards to the EU. Of course, none of this uncertainty is helpful to local exporters but Paul suggests there is little choice but to adopt a ‘Que será, será’ mindset. He says: “Currently we are continuing to grow steadily and Brexit hasn’t affected us (yet). We have prepared the best we can but with so much indecision and uncertainty it’s difficult to predict how this will affect us until after a meaningful decision has been made. Our main markets are in Europe, so we are of course slightly worried about losing business to European competitors. Unfortunately, this is out of our control.”