This is why Hastings factory Focus SB is seeing enquiries from Asia surge

A Hastings manufacturing business, which employs more than 60 people, has seen website enquiries from Asia more than double in the past year.

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 10:58 am
Updated Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 11:50 am

Focus SB, which makes high-end light switches and electrical fittings, said the surge in interest is down to its ‘Made in Britain’ USP, which is proving hugely successful in China

Website visits from Asia have gone up more than 70 per cent on average, which the company said was thanks to its international expansion strategy that has been largely unaffected by Brexit or the Covid-19 pandemic.

Plans to enter the Chinese market first began following a visit to the country in 2014.

Nick Howe, engineering manager at Focus SB, training apprentice Ryan Edwards SUS-210713-104354001

Uncertainty around the UK’s future in the EU saw the firm choose to concentrate its foreign growth plans on expanding its established presence in the Middle East while developing its international business focusing on Asia.

In 2017, the company landed its first order from MGM Cotai, an upmarket hotel in Macau, China.

The team had to quickly ramp up production, hiring six more workers to keep up with the demand for the hand-finished designs.

The firm said it invested heavily into designing a Chinese range from scratch, which had to meet the strict industry standards, becoming the first and only European factory to sell wiring accessories directly to the Chinese luxury construction market.

As well as bringing on board a Chinese distributor, Kursel Ltd, Focus SB works closely with the Department for International Trade and the China Britain Business Council to navigate the trade process.

The team set up WeChat, the most commonly used social networking platform in China, and is now a regular presence at key global design events such as Design Shanghai.

By 2019, Chinese sales represented 15 per cent of its turnover and, once international travel resumes, the company said it is hoping to step up growth plans in the greater Asia region even more.

The South East’s economic ties with China through trade, tourism and universities support up to 9,500 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs according to research by Cambridge Econometrics.

Duncan Ray, head of strategic partnerships, said: “There is real opportunity for UK companies to explore the Chinese market. For us it’s opened doors not just in Asia but in the US and even the UK.

“Building trust and co-operation has to be priority number one for any company hoping to do business in China. We put a lot of effort into understanding Chinese culture and building relationships through face-to-face meetings.

“It’s paid off massively. We wouldn’t be able to compete with Chinese brands on price but British goods have a real cachet – people see our products as extremely high-quality and well-made.

“It’s funny as some people have a perception that manufacturing has disappeared from the UK in recent decades – when in reality, there is huge Chinese demand for British brands.”

Avi Nagel, China market business adviser at the China-Britain Business Council, said: “The sheer scale of the Chinese market means there are vast opportunities for UK businesses of all sizes.

“Thousands of British companies across a wide range of sectors, including Focus SB, have already discovered the potential to build trade links over there and we expect this number to grow as businesses adjust to the post-Covid, post-Brexit landscape.

“China’s impact on our economy is worth billions and supports more than 9,500 British jobs in the South East alone.”

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