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Back to Buying British

A growing wave of support for British manufacturing of merchandise is based on sound business sense.

The Prime Minister was in China recently banging the drum for British industry. For the merchandise sector, it’s a well-known path as so much of the merchandise that is used in this country, comes from that part of the world. Traditionally, this was down to the cost imperative –British manufacturers simply couldn’t produce products at such low prices, and that was what most end-user clients were interested in.

However, in recent years there has been something of a change as several factors have begun to interact. Firstly, emerging markets are, well, emerging, and their costs are rising too. Labour is not as cheap as it was, and that, as well as other costs, must be passed on.

There have also been concerns about compliance with issues such as modern slavery and basic product safety becoming more important to clients. In the age of calls for every company to be more agile, tighter lead times have meant that shipping product from the other side of the planet is not always viable – before environmental issues of such freighting are even considered.

All in all, these factors have led to a reappraisal of the benefits of buying British. While the phrase can summon up the campaigns of the Seventies, today’s approach is based on a more rational business sense, rather than a patriotic urge alone. Jamie Marshall, managing director of Premier Print & Promotions, says his company is a big supporter of UK manufacturing. “Five or ten years ago we were buying a lot more in China than we do now. We are definitely buying a lot more in the UK than we did, and we are a growing company.”

Customers don’t always ask for British products, he admits, but feels it is the right thing to do in many respects. “It cuts down on the carbon footprint, and customers increasingly want to know where you have sourced items,” says Marshall. “We are also finding that there are some products that can actually be bought cheaper in the UK, which has been surprising to us. We can deliver it cheaper and quicker to the client, so everyone wins.”

Marshall adds that UK innovation is admired in other markets, as a recent trip to PSI revealed. The UK presence was strong with British companies demonstrating innovative products and techniques, he says.

He is looking to organise an initiative that will turn the light on British manufacturing. It is still at the early stages, but could include an event, or series of regional events. More details will be revealed soon.“We have a lot to be proud of,” he says.

Other factors are giving British products a helping hand. David Long, CEO, Sourcing City, says that since the referendum to leave the EU, sterling exchange rates against both the dollar and euro have been weakened, and this can make British made products more competitive if they don’t have to import significant raw materials.

“British made products are also often of good quality, carriage costs are generally cheaper and local availability is convenient,” he adds. “Since the Briman Group was formed the collective activities of the members have promoted our home-based manufacturers and the advantages of doing business with them.”

Briman, which represents around 20 UK manufacturers of promotional items, continues to fly the flag for British products. It has a strong presence at industry exhibitions and recently launched a website, Britprods.co.uk, for distributors to highlight British made promotional products to their clients.

Growing demand

It comes at a time of increased optimism around, and appetite for, British made goods, says Annabel Apperley, director of badge company, B.Sanders. “We are finding a growing interest in British made products. This is mainly due to the quick lead times, and the safety certificate element that we are able to supply. There seems to be a growing trend in distributors asking if our products are made in the UK.”

UK Lanyard Makers has only been in business for three years but is already getting lots more requests for British made products, says director Kevin Kingham. This is despite the fact that the company’s USP is service and speed, making it more expensive than buying from overseas. Customers are developing a broader definition of value, says Kingham.

“Clients are starting to realise that buying an ‘eco-friendly’ product from China and then flying it in rather defeats the idea, whereas buying locally and saving air miles is actually a better option for the planet.”

With Chinese New Year, in February, industry is closed for three weeks or so, making a British option almost the only choice, he adds. “New clients who we supply during this time usually stay on and become new accounts once they see that total cost and easy service make good sense for all but the largest quantities.”

Trilogy Lasercraft director, Caroline Dyson says that most purchasing decisions seem to be made on cost and lead times, rather than the country of manufacture. “I’ve found a slight upturn in the fact that we manufacture solely in the UK. Among my fellow manufacturers I get the feeling that most companies have a
‘carry on regardless’ viewpoint.”

Prospects and investment

In terms of business prospects, the outlook is positive according to many British manufacturers. Martyn Wood, national sales executive, Foremost Magnets, says: “Business is definitely up. We had a clear downturn in the lead up to the Brexit vote, but now business is good. We are seeing increased turnover and profitability.”

Mark Alderson, operations director, First Editions, says the company hit targets for ten out of 12 months in 2017. Although exports into the EU were down due to instability, overall turnover was slightly up. “We have invested well over a £1 million over the last five years in new machinery. This has put us at the cutting edge of
technology within our industry.”

B.Sanders has also made investments in both people, in the form of apprentices, and machinery, in new moulding and printing machines. UK Lanyards’ Kingham says the business grew by more than 40% in 2017 and he expects another growth spurt in 2018.

“We employ more than ten people now and are members of the Living Wage Foundation. We have also invested in new automation to increase capacity.”

Trends and predictions

Apperley says that the message about British manufacturers, such as B.Sanders, seems to be getting through to distributors, who have started to request them in the past year. “I think many distributors are now understanding that UK-made items cannot only be made to a good quality and within a quick lead time, but are also beginning to be competitive on price,” she says.“I’m not sure if this is a prediction or more of a wish, but I think that things are changing in the promotional market and the need for British made products is growing. I also feel that there may be steady growth in this industry.”

Foremost Magnets’ Martyn Wood says that British products are regarded highly all over the world. “I think once the Brexit deal is done, British industry in general will see a boost,” he predicts.

First Editions’ Mark Alderson says a post-Brexit dividend will come but only if a plan is solidified. “Export business will recover once a firm plan is in place for Brexit. Until then exporting will remain difficult. I hope the UK trade business will continue to grow but am not overly confident.”

Like many manufacturers, UK Lanyard Makers’ Kingham admits that there is a price barrier but having made more than a million lanyards in 2017, the company is clearly appealing to a lot of British clients. Fast turn around is not possible with an imported product and the company ships its orders within four days of approval, often as quickly as next-day.

“We have an ambitious budget for 2018 with good growth expected. Clients are getting used to faster service levels generally – just look at Amazon Prime for example – which is a real bonus for us.”

Whatever the validity of predictions, one thing seems clear. British manufacturing has got the wind behind its sales.

Buying British – the benefits

  • Quick turnaround times
  • High quality products
  • Low minimum order quantities
  • Supporting UK companies and jobs
  • No language barriers
  • Great service
  • Flexibility
  • Credit accounts
  • Security of an ongoing supply chain
  • Lower carbon footprint
  • No nasty surprises from exchange rate changes
  • No customs issues or import duty

Source: Briman Group – brimangroup.co.uk

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