The old proverb says that necessity is the mother of invention, and this was certainly the case for Clevedon Fasteners. When a major contract ended suddenly, the company had to find new business quickly – and decided exporting was the way forward. It proved to be the right choice and has since become a core part of the business.
When Steve Hardeman and Charles Hopkin bought long-established Sutton Coldfield-based rivet manufacturer Clevedon Fasteners in 2000, it was a small but thriving business. However, just a year later, the business unexpectedly lost a contract that contributed about a third of its yearly turnover.
Hardeman knew they had to work fast to recover the turnover and looked internationally to do this. “Working on the basis that if you are going to be sunk you might as well go down fighting, we went to the first exhibition we had ever done – Automechanika in Germany,” he said.
“We were helped by the government through UK Trade & Investment [now the Department for International Trade], which upgraded our website and helped us with our German. We were on the UK stand at Automechanika and at that exhibition we recovered more than £300,000 worth of turnover from it. We were knocked over by how many people were pleased to see a UK rivet manufacturer.”
Karl Love, general manager at Clevedon Fasteners, added: “Having UK manufacturing knowledge and background does help us in the marketplace. The product we make you can buy anywhere but we have the ISO standards and accreditations. Quality does stand for something.”
From that initial success, Clevedon Fasteners has continued to grow the export side of the business and now sells to 38 countries around the world including Europe, the Middle East, Australia and North America. Exporting now accounts for about a third of the company’s £4.5 million turnover.
At the same time as growing the exporting side, Clevedon Fasteners also started to import more of its raw materials.
This is often due to cost, but Love emphasises the need to do careful due diligence on any overseas company they buy from.
“If we purchase anything from overseas, we go out there yearly and audit them, and we meet our raw materials suppliers yearly,” he said. “Full traceability for our products is key in our industry for automotive customers and others and we make sure of it.
“Even though we have been going since 1939 and have built up a good reputation throughout the industry, it can take one disastrous project to wipe out all your credibility, so you have to do things properly. You can’t take a chance, you have to put the time, effort and money in. It is the same as with exporting, you must do things correctly.
“There is lots of paperwork you have to do, and you need make sure you are paying the right tax and duty on it – importing or exporting.”
Whether importing or exporting, proper processes have to be put in place, especially for smaller businesses that may not have the resources to employ people to handle this specifically.
“If you want a reputable business, you have to do things properly,” said Love. “We only employ 40 people, so we don’t have an export guy, an import guy, a purchasing department – the accounts department look after the purchasing for us – so you have to put the processes in place for everything we do so it can be picked up and followed seamlessly.
“When exports picked up, we couldn’t go out and employ a couple of people to look after exports, we didn’t have that luxury. One of the reasons we’ve been going since 1939 is that we have always cut our cloth accordingly.”
Indeed, Clevedon Fasteners takes a pragmatic approach to exporting. Rather than rely on one or two large contracts, the company has spread its exporting over numerous countries and sectors, which means that if one market is having a lean time, another will likely not be.
Love added that when moving into exporting or importing it is important to seek advice from others. For instance, the Department for International Trade can advise on which legal documents are required in different countries.
“Then there are organisations you can join, such as Made in the Midlands, where you can meet up with others, chew the fat, share experiences and gain help and advice from other people,” Love added. “I would advise people to take as much advantage of those organisations as you can.”
It is all part of the philosophy of careful growth in international markets that has served Clevedon Fasteners well for the best part of two decades.
“Fail to prepare and prepare to fail,” Love said. “Go into exporting with your eyes open and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are organisations out there who will help and can go above and beyond.”Back