Established as an alternative to multinational companies in 1981, Serchem Ltd has grown its range of premium chemical products after expanding into the medical decontamination sector. After enjoying domestic success, they begun to explore opportunities to grow overseas, engaging the Department for International Trade (DIT) for assistance.
A family-run business based in Telford, Serchem Ltd have been manufacturing premium chemical cleaning products for nearly 40 years. Since then, they have evolved to supply a wide range of sectors, including catering, laundry and healthcare.
Exporting wasn’t always high on the agenda for Serchem – it wasn’t until sons Andrew and Paul took over that it became a key focus for the business. Within the last decade, their export sales have gradually increased, with their medical cleaning supplies receiving especial international esteem.
Initial orders initiated from China, where a company that Serchem were already dealing with had a base. At this point, they admit they had no specialised export plan or target markets. It was new territory – literally.
Reinvigorated at the prospect of entering new markets overseas, they attended Arab Health for the first time in 2015. One of the largest healthcare conferences and trade shows in the world, Arab Health broadened their attitude toward export and brokered new leads for the business.
Having tested the waters, they then approached the Department for International Trade (DIT) for support. Receiving market selection advice enabled them to map out their strategy for international growth, evaluating which markets were optimal for them.
The Middle East seemed to hold the most potential. The opportunity arose, in 2018, to attend Arab Health again – this time with the Midlands Engine programme. Returning to the trade show with a thorough plan paid off the company, who have since won a £1 million contract with the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia.
“We’ve had a presence in the Middle East since 2015 but it developed significantly in 2018. Using our stand, marketing material and the Midlands Engine programme we were able to maximise the opportunities presented by Arab Health.”
With the assistance of their International Trade Adviser (ITA) at the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce, Shernel Stevenson of Serchem applied for an ERDF SME International Growth Project grant which they used to offset the cost of the trade show.
As a result, they’ve built up their network of distributors within the Middle East, where there is a real appreciation for British products and quality. An increased volume of exports has resulted in infrastructural changes within the company to manage the new orders. They now hire an Export Manager, alongside a part-time International Business Representative.
It hasn’t been without its challenges; they’ve had to tackle a multitude of new export considerations. Having a speciality product has meant they’ve had to scrutinise logistics, such as temperature controls for their chemicals and the length of transportation to distant markets.
None of it has been insurmountable – it’s been a learning curve. Being supported along the way by the Department of International Trade and their ITA, who has been a proactive force, has helped them hugely.
Ingrid, a member of the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce team, has been helpful for the company whenever they’ve been unsure of documentation. With each market having strict regulations around chemicals, getting documentation right has been instrumental in exporting successfully.
“She’s been a real help, always happy to provide us with expert advice. Whenever I’m uncertain regarding documentation, I give her a ring. It’s great to have that support so easily accessible.”
They’ve also benefitted from a session with a DIT Digital Advisor, who has highlighted areas in which the business could improve their online presence. They now plan to fully internationalise their website.
Plans for growth into further markets and across the UAE are a high priority for the company, who predict that exports will account for 25% of gross turnover over the next 5 years.
They advise other businesses looking to export and enter new global markets to reach out to the Department for International Trade for support.
“Getting the right advice is crucial if you want to grow your business internationally and tap into global markets. The DIT have opened up opportunities for us to expand our network through events and trade shows, which has been fundamental for our success in the Middle East.”
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