Carrying out business overseas has proved to be both a challenge and an opportunity over the last year; nevertheless there are a handful of commercial property businesses that are booming during the economic recovery.
In many cases, an increase in exports has helped fuel business development, for some companies this boost has been somewhat offset by concerns about the rise in the sterling exchange rate and uncertainty over the future of the eurozone.
Eat Natural, which makes health cereals and food bars in Halstead, Essex, has reached an 18 per cent rise in exports over the past year and began selling its products in Canada, Russia and China for the first time, taking the number of its export markets to a total of 20.
The rise in exports, which made up a quarter of sales, helped the company’s overall turnover to rise 12 per cent to £35m.
Co-founder of Eat Natural, Praveen Vijh, warned, however, that it was vital to tread carefully when trading in a foreign country.
He said: “Exporting is a very important part of our business and a key driver of our growth, but what we have learnt over the past year is that we must do our own independent research in order to understand better what our customers need in each country.
“We also spend a lot more time researching the companies we want to work with, and making sure that they are creditworthy and have enough money to pay their bills.”
Hadley Industries, which shapes steel to make parts for the energy, building and transport industries, also saw a strong demand for its products abroad, including providing parts for a new metro system in Dubai.
However, the commercial property, which is based in Smethwick in the West Midlands, was also confronted with the challenge of accommodating a vast shift in exchange rates, which saw sterling strengthen by 12 per cent against the euro over the year.
Chief executive of Hadley Industries, Stewart Towe, said: “A major escalation in the value of the pound can cause difficulties, because your customer in euroland wants the same price that you gave him 12 months ago. So you have to absorb most of that cost. It means we are at a disadvantage selling our products against our euro-based competition.”
Nevertheless, the company’s revenue rose from £93m to £99m, facilitated by demand from the solar industry, to which it provides metal frames for photovoltaic panels. The company also provided the steel frames for the athlete’s accommodation blocks at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The challenge of exporting is one of the main themes to be discussed at The Telegraph’s Festival of Business, which takes place in Manchester on Friday, October 19.
The Festival, which is aimed at companies with revenues between £5m and £250m and those with ambitions to join that group, will also focus on the challenges of raising finance to develop, using social media, selling online and steering employment legislation.
Speakers at the event, which aims to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in the UK to help drive the country out of the downturn, will include: Simon Milner, Facebook’s UK policy director, Sir Terry Leahy, the former chief executive of Tesco; co-founder of Lastminute.com and the Government’s digital adviser; Martha Lane Fox and leading global economist Jim O’Neill, chairman of Goldman Sach Asset Management.
There will also be a number of important figures from Britain’s mid-sized commercial property businesses, including Graeme Lee, of Springfield HealthCare Group and Richard North, of Wow! Stuff.
For some of the Telegraph’s 1, 000 businesses, the past year has been a chance to focus on investing to fuel future development. Think, a digital advertising agency founded in Newcastle that designs and builds mobile phone apps and websites, has spent the past year investing greatly in both technology and employees, taking on 40 new staff to give it a 120-strong team.
The company is now looking at opening its first offices overseas in New York and Europe. A highlight of the year for the company was winning the contract to build Pottermore.com – JK Rowling’s website about the world of Harry Potter.
Founder and chief executive of Think, Tarek Nseir, said: “Our customers are spending more carefully, but there is a lot of business out there as people turn to digital, so it is actually really very buoyant for us at the moment.”
As a result, Nseir expects gross revenue to increase from £14m this year to £19m in 2013.
Travel Counsellors, a travel firm in Bolton, Lancs, has also been busy investing in the expectation of future development. The company, which uses home-based agents equipped with laptops who work on a commission basis, took on more staff in the first eight months of 2012 than it did in the whole of 2011.
Managing director of Travel Counsellors, Stephen Byrne, said: “We have recruited 60 people so far this year and we are also investing £750,000 a year in technology. There is no doubt that the market is tough, but there is a part of it that appreciates great service and people they can trust – and that is what we do.”
In spite of the challenging economic climate, the commercial property company saw turnover increase by 10 per cent to £380m and profits up by the same amount.
Byrne added one of the biggest challenges for the travel industry, was the ongoing uncertainty in the eurozone. He added: “It is just going on too long. It is death by a thousand cuts and we need closure on it.”