BP Project

This export module has been developed by the BFM with the aim of enhanciing the skills of the person in a company responsible for export in line with the project's aims of the development and tranfer of best practices in human resources.

On completion of this module the individual should:

  • Understand the importance of exporting
  • Know how to set up an internal infrastructure to enable exporting
  • Know how to identify new export markets
  • Know where to go to access the best advice and support
  • Have developed a draft export plan
  • Identified targets to measure your exporting success


As with most manufacturing industries, the furniture sector has experienced enormous import penetration in the last couple of decades.  The market for the budget, low and low-medium ends of the sector has been saturated.  At the same time export opportunities have opened up like never before, for example, in countries like Russia and China where British brands are valued and where the middle classes are becoming larger and more discerning in their purchases. In fact, across the world, British-made furniture is invariably considered to represent quality.  For UK furniture manufacturers therefore business strategies are changing to encompass export as well as sales at home.  

However, despite evidence that furniture export values are increasing for the industry as a whole, selling abroad is still a new market for many companies and their export share of sales remains fairly low.  BFM surveys show that  while some companies export more than half of their total production, the average share of sales turnover devoted to exports stands at only 5%.  There are therefore unparalleled opportunities for sales growth.

'Getting Started' seeks to increase the competence levels of managerial staff across the sector, make them aware of the support and help that is available, highlight potential barriers and offer best practice solutions to these potential problems. And, for those companies which are not selling their products abroad, to encourage them to at least put a tentative foot in the water and see if an export strategy would suit their businesses.  Businesses that get involved in international markets tend to become more dynamic and innovative which leads to a more successful business.  


Throughout 'Getting Started', other learning resources are used, for example:

However during 'Getting Started' many more resources will be identified.




          EXCERCISE 1


Current objections from companies to exporting include:

  • Product is not suitable
  • Currency fluctuations
  • No time
  • No dedicated resource
  • Lack of support

Exporting furniture, indeed international trade per se, has never been easier. Trading-wise the world has become a much smaller place and you are just as likely to have a customer several thousands of miles away as you are in your immediate locality.  There are opportunities in traditional markets such as Europe, Middle & Far East and the USA as well as the high growth economies like China, Russia (and devolved countries) and India.

As more and more British furniture manufacturers embrace the global marketplace, not to do so might mean being left behind, as your competitors increase their turnover in the many lucrative markets that exist around the world.

Indeed, feedback from overseas buyers’ confirms that there is significant interest in UK manufactured furniture in a variety of overseas markets. They suggest that UK companies should approach exporting in a more professional manner and have a clear strategy in place.  

Whilst exporting has never been easier, practically speaking, it is important to remember that two of the essential requirements are patience and trust. Your product, price and promotion may all be right but building relationships with your potential clients is crucial.

'Getting Started' will support you in allaying some of the concerns and provide solutions to barriers that are perceived to currently exist.

It hopefully too will give you the knowledge and confidence to implement a considered export strategy for your company and provide a network of contacts that can support you throughout the entire process.



According to the Furniture Industry Research Association's Export Guide, academic research confirms that exporting companies:

  • Are more productive & innovative than non-exporters
  • Are more resilient to an economic downturn
  • Achieve stronger financial performance
  • Have a higher profile and more credibility
  • Be more likely to stay in business


Video - Export challenges - 7 case studies



            EXCERCISE 2


Although your business may have an established UK market, there's often no reason why it couldn't successfully compete overseas too, growing your revenue and profit.  The EU alone for example has more than 500 million consumers; China 200 million (middle class and growing) and if we narrow our view to cities such as Moscow, there is a population of 12 million.   

But before you start exporting you need to have sound knowledge of your would-be markets. You also need to consider whether your products are right for each target market and whether you have the necessary resources.

The following sections seek to outline the primary steps that can be taken, in order to gain as much information, advice and support as possible to increase your confidence and make exporting as straightforward as possible.

There are a number of public bodies, associations and organisations that can provide significant information, advice and financial support to a UK furniture manufacturer wishing to export – these are outlined in sections below.


The BFM - offers help & support to its members and has developed an on-line advisory tool, The Export Portal.

The Furniture Industry Research Association's Export Guide points out, export is not confined to the realm of large companies, by making reference to research showing in general terms 2 in 5 of the smallest exporters in the UK (that is, with fewer than 10 employees) already do business in at least one high growth market.




UK Trade & Investment is the government organisation designed to help UK businesses export and grow overseas and therefore it should be the first organisation to contact. The organisation operates nationally, internationally and regionally through a network of advisers. UK Trade & Investment seeks to help UK companies in three main areas:

Advice and support

Preparing to Trade – Your local International Trade Adviser can help you to assess your firm’s needs and plan for sustainable success in your chosen market. You can also access advice on the linguistic and cultural challenges of operating overseas. International Trade Advisers can also provide impartial advice on all aspects of international trade as can a network of Regional Support Centres.

For those New to Export the UKTI has set up a variety of initiatives which will check your potential for export and take you through the mechanics.  UK Trade & Investment’ will provide planning and the ongoing support you need to begin an export operation. 

The Preparing to Export Programme takes you through 10 key steps to developing an export plan and is supported by Passport to Export designed to improve capabilities with support tailored to company need.  The whole programme is accompanied by numerous videos and case studies.

The UKTI also caters for those who are Experienced in Export wishing to enhance their capabilities and develop new markets as well as those who wish to concentrate resources to Exporting Online.  In respect on Exporting On-Line the UKTI again provide videos – for example on Localising international websites for foreign target markets and Effective social media marketing.

There is also a government Export Finance Scheme.  It helps UK exporters by ‘underwriting’ bank loans offered to overseas buyers of UK products and services. This means it takes on the risk of the loan from the bank, so that the bank is more likely to offer it.  It can also help exporters to raise tender and contract bonds, access working capital finance and secure confirmations of letters of credit.

Information and opportunities

As indicated above, UK Trade & Investment’s national and international network can help you gather intelligence on target markets and overseas business opportunities.

Opportunities – Sales leads are the lifeblood of any business.  You can register for opportunities to be sent to you by e-mail for your particular sector.  

The UKTI through the Export Market Research Scheme (EMRS) will provide free advice on how to carry out market research into new markets although the UKTI does not conduct the research itself.  However, Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) may be eligible for a grant of up to 50% if their research project is accepted by the UKTI and it could include the purchase of a pre-existing market report. There are a number of organisations providing country and sector specific advice and there are easily found through web search engines.

Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) — through this service the UKTI facilitates the use of the services of UK trade teams, located in British Embassies and High Commissions & Consulates across the world. Typically this will involve either a detailed written report into opportunities that exist or an actual visit to the overseas market that you are targeting and appointments will be made with potential clients. OMIS services are priced depending on the individual request.

A service package could include:

  • Market, sector advice
  • Analysis of market entry strategies
  • Support during overseas visits
  • Identification of possible business partners

To establish British involvement in a particular country including any specific business arrangements and the UK government provide such a Country Resource.

In addition, an Export Communications Review is avialable which will enable you to find out how your business can be helped.

Benefits of exporting

The UKTI has published an excellent guide based on researh to the benefits of exporting entitled Bringing home the benefits:- How to grow through exporting.

To quote the UKTI - 'Growth through export Perhaps the most compelling result of our research is the extent to which doing business overseas can not only lead directly to growth, but also to improvements in effi ciency levels and to fostering ideas for new products and services......

    • 85 per cent said exporting led to a ‘level of growth not otherwise possible’
    • 87 per cent said exporting had signifi cantly improved their profi le or credibility
    • 78 per cent said exporting had given them exposure to new ideas
    • 73 per cent said exporting had increased the commercial lifespan of products or services
    • 70 per cent said they had developed or modifi ed a product or service due to doing business abroad'

Making it happen

To be a successful exporter you need to spend time in your markets and build lasting commercial relationships with your clients and partners.

Market Entry - UK Trade & Investment helps groups of UK companies attend Major International Trade Shows and take part in British overseas trade missions.

Trade shows are an effective way to meet contacts and customers face to face.

UKTI through its Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) offer eligible companies funding towards stand space, stand construction and freight costs.

Intermediaries, mainly trade associations and chambers of commerce, support UK companies in these activities. These Accredited Trade Organisations (ATO’s) recruit companies to participate in UK groups at exhibitions all over the world. Grant support for exhibitors is available for SME’s and focused mainly on those who are new to exporting.   

If you are eligible, you could receive up to three grants (for separate exhibitions) to help you acquire knowledge and experience of exhibiting effectively overseas, as part of your longer-term export strategy.

Where an ATO is not supporting an event, eligible businesses may also apply for funding via the Solo Scheme. Funding is available, as a contribution towards eligible costs.

Training Events are a Regular Feature of UKTI Support Services and are charged at a nominal fee.

VIDEO - How UKTI helps UK companies export

VIDEO - UKTI – Selection of videos

VIDEO - UKTI - Localising international websites for foreign target markets

VIDEO - UKTI - Effective social media marketing

The type of information you will need to cover in a market research project includes:

  • Market size and segmentation
  • Regulations and legislation
  • Customer needs, usage and attitudes
  • Predicted demand
  • Distribution channels
  • Trends
  • Competitor activity, strategy and performance
  • Any modifications required to your product to better suit the market


Some trade associations within the furniture industry also offer sector-specific export services that can assist your planning, research and knowledge such as the British Furniture Manufacturers Association - BFM – which is also an ATO for certain shows.
These include:

  • Sector and Market Information provided through country specific contacts
  • Sales Leads and Business Enquiries
  • Inward and Outward Trade Missions
  • Overseas exhibitions
  • Marketing support
  • Knowledge and experience
  • Networking and contacts

Trade association membership can be a valuable resource to assist your exporting knowledge and support base.


Although not a particularly common occurrence in this country, a successful export tool used, in Italy for example, is mentoring.

A more experienced furniture manufacturer will advise, assist and support a company that is new to exporting with practical advice on how and where to export.

Clusters, again prevalent in parts of Italy, are groups of companies linked either by product, geographical location or common aims, who work closely together. When it comes to exporting, the companies may use the following options to achieve economies of scale, reduce risk and increase the chances of success:

  • Joint marketing
  • Sharing exhibition stands
  • Freight consignment
  • Knowledge sharing


Good markets for British furniture exist all over the world. The secret is to choose the best one for you based on your individual circumstances and requirements.  Outside of Europe, some of the most popular destinations for UK furniture include UAE, Hong Kong, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Japan.  

You'll need to understand the culture of your target markets to establish a successful relationship with your potential customers.

Below are listed several factors that will help you determine which markets will provide the best chances of export success:

1.    Knowledge Gathering – There are numerous sources available to gain general business information on individual countries across the world.  These are some of the main ones:

Knowledge will include the risk of doing business in a particular country and again there are free sources for this information:

When you investigating or have established a market overseas you are likely to spend some time there and it is also worth gathering basic information on the profile of the country such as from:

We have already referred to market research on your particular sector and products and often you will need specialist help on this to augment any data you are able to gather.  However, you will find that there is quite a lot of information available free on-line if you take the time to search the web.

2.    Currency fluctuations – a country with a weak currency against the British pound, or with a volatile, rapidly changing currency is not a particularly good option for a new exporter as this will provide difficulties when pricing.  Rates and trends can be found on the web – for example ECB.

3.    Language – Being able to speak the language of your potential customers can help to establish mutual confidence. Do you need a translator? Or to enrol on a language course?

4.    Culture – is the culture of your prospective market suitable for your product, marketing material, company name etc. Any changes that need to be made will have to be factored into your budget.  For example, if you are doing business in China, Etiquette is very important.
5.    Competition – what is the predicted demand for your product? What is the current competition and how will you fit into the marketplace? How will the competition react to a new company penetrating the market?  Again, this information can only come from good research work.

6.    Barriers – whilst a strategy or framework can be put in place for every overseas market, some countries will have Trade Barriers that, whilst not preventing international trade, make things that bit more difficult. Customs Paperwork, Import Duties, special export licenses etc are examples of this.

7.    Geography/Logistics – furniture is obviously not an easy product to transport. The easier the logistical pathway, the cheaper your freight costs should be. Information on this can again be obtained from the web including freight and other transportation companies.

8.    Current Affairs – keep abreast of current affairs. If a country is experiencing economic difficulties, war, high security alerts, or such circumstances, these may provide difficult trading conditions. For this an ideal source is the BBC.and FCO.

9.    Future trends – by looking at the past and current trends it is possible to predict what may happen in the short, medium and long term futures. Do you want to invest significantly in a market that will only last 1-5 years?  This information will result from an amalgam of the research you have undertaken, however specialist market reports can be an important resource for gauging future trends.   

10.    Specific projects – a major sporting, diplomatic or cultural event will provide opportunities for UK furniture manufacturers with hotels, stadiums etc being constructed. Trade associations in the sector and UKTI trade officials will have information relating to these events.


An example: if your aim is to sell furniture to the domestic market in France, is your product right for the market and how could I advertise/sell it?  It is worth looking at furniture and retail associations, trade magazines and on-line directories that cover retail and furniture.  

Most search engines provide translation facilities.  Here are some examples of sites:

The major furniture trade show in France is Maison Objet.  You may wish to undertake a scouting trip to the show, talk to the organisers and establish which organisation is the designated funding organisation (ATO) in the UK for gaining financial help towards costs.  

This coupled with statistical data available from trade associations and government departments will show emerging, developing and declining markets:

For example on-line information can be found here:

Essentially, for each country that you are targeting as a potential market, free on-line information is generally available.  Doing your own research, perhaps alongside commissioned work can only help you to focus on the right market for your products.  

Rather than retail your target audience may be Architects and/or Designers – this is just one directory example that is available on-line to support your research.


VIDEO - COUNTRY EXAMPLE - Getting started in China

VIDEO - COUNTRY EXAMPLE -  Getting started in India

VIDEO - Case study: training company Steps Drama pass on their tips for meeting cultural and linguistic challenges


               EXCERCISE 3

               EXCERCISE 4







Before you commit to exporting you need to honestly assess your export potential - in terms of the readiness of your business, the suitability of your product or service and your aims and objectives.  This requires you to undertake an analysis of your company.  Much of this is addressed by the FIRST Diagnostic Tools (See link opposite), which while not dedicated to export, looks at developing and restructuring business for competitive gain.  The UKTI’s Preparing to Trade (See link opposite) with its 10 key steps to exporting is also a good resource to use.  Some of the fundamental questions to consider include:

Is your business ready?

Does your business currently have:

  • The necessary human resource(s)
  • The necessary financial resources
  • Adequate knowledge of what to expect
  • A marketing strategy specifically for international trade
  • The necessary support network

Is your product suitable?

Once you have ascertained that your company is geared up to export, the next criterion is whether or not your current product or service portfolio is suitable.

Consider the following:

  • Are your competitors exporting?
  • What would the costs of adapting your product or service be?
  • Will your products be competitively priced?
  • What is the current size of the market?
  • How do you fit into that market?
  • What are the product standards and regulations in the overseas market?

Aims and objectives

It is important that your aims and objectives are realistic and tangible and the targets SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Specific). An example would be:

  • Months 0 - 6 – put in place an internal infrastructure, produce an export plan, identify an overseas market, produce relevant marketing literature and visit the market.
  • Months 7 – 12 – follow up contacts made on initial visit, finalise marketing strategy, re-visit the market and commence selling.

Short (1 year) and medium (3-5 years) term aims and objectives should be marked out at this stage.

So the infrastructure to export is in place, your product or service is suitable, a strong market exists for your product that could provide a sound return on your investment and your aims and objectives are in place. The next crucial question is – how to enter the market?


            FIRST Diagnostic Tools


                 UKTI Preparing to Trade


                      EXCERCISE 5


There are a number of elements you need to consider in order to sell successfully overseas and how you organise your sales presence in export markets is one of the key decisions.  Depending on your product, you may be able to sell directly. For example, you might be able to sell over the Internet (see Exporting Online) or by exhibiting at Local Trade Shows.

Many businesses look for a partner who already understands the local market. For example:

  • You can sell to a distributor who then sells your products locally
  • You can use a sales agent who sells products on your behalf, or puts you into contact with potential customers on a commission basis – see Agency Associations and Finding an Agent
  • You can enter into a joint venture with a local business. This gives you a share of the management and profits of the joint venture, but is a more complicated and expensive option
  • If you want complete control over sales, you can set up your own local office. This is the most expensive option

In some countries such as Russia and China it generally accepted that you need a presence on the ground in those countries such as an agent or a partnership with local company.

Customs & Goods Classification

You'll need to familiarise yourself with the VAT & other rules administered by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and HMRC Rules.

In most cases, exports will be zero-rated for VAT although there are exceptions. It is essential to check with the HMRC to find out what applies to you.

Take exports within the EU for example you have to record details of any goods sold to EU countries on your VAT Return, fill in a  Sales List and If total dispatches are worth more than £250,000 you need to Submit Intrastat Returns

The UK Government provide a good central source of advice - Starting to Export – on what you need to do to comply with export rules including those to non-EU countries where CHIEF System applies.  You need to know classifications systems and product codes and there is help available for this. Other useful sources are:


As soon as your goods enter another country they become subject to that country's laws.  . See - Transportation of Goods.

Your responsibility for transport depends on your agreement with your customer or supplier. For example, you might be responsible for delivering the goods to a warehouse in the customer's country. Your obligations should be clearly set out in a written contract using Incoterms.

Incoterms are standard trade definitions most commonly used in international sales contracts. Devised and published by the International Chamber of Commerce, they are at the heart of world trade.

Among the best known Incoterms are EXW (Ex works), FOB (Free on Board), CIF (Cost, Insurance and Freight), DDU (Delivered Duty Unpaid), and CPT (Carriage Paid To).

The best mode of transport for your goods will depend on the type of goods and how quickly they need to be delivered. You may need more than one mode, for example, sending goods by lorry to a port in the UK and then by ship overseas. The goods will need suitable packaging and labelling for transportation.

Most companies use a specialist freight forwarder to handle transport. Confirm exactly what they will do and whether they can handle all documentation and other procedures. Look for a forwarder who exports regularly to that destination. They can "consolidate" your goods with other consignments in a single container to reduce costs.

Depending on the contract, you may need to arrange insurance.  Normally, you are responsible for UK customs procedures and your customer looks after customs in their country. In any case, you must ensure that you have the right paperwork.

By this stage you will have identified potential markets and be confident that there will be a demand for the product or service that you wish to export there. You will also have conducted an ‘audit’ and be satisfied that you have the internal infrastructure in place and you have now identified what sales presence you will have and have knowledge of logistics and customs necessities. The next stage will be consolidating the information that you have so far into a document that will become – the export plan.


VIDEO - Exporting from the EU - What you need to know

VIDEO - Market entry

VIDEO - International Internet Marketing: Localising your international website for foreign target markets

VIDEO - Social media marketing – using social media to develop and maintain business relationships

VIDEO - Agents and Distributors: Managing them effectively and resolving disputes    




                 EXCERCISE 6


It is important to have a strategy in place that embraces the export ethos; therefore an export plan is essential. Having a clearly defined plan or strategy will allow you to monitor the project’s success at every stage and ensure that you stay within both the human and financial resource budgets. There are various factors that you will need to include and procedures to be put in place.


This will include human resource and also time. Even if you do not create a new position, a number of existing job roles and possibly employment contracts will change.

Please consider:

  • Who will be responsible for sales, marketing, administration, production etc?
  • How will their existing job descriptions change?
  • Clear lines of communication between the relevant parties must be installed
  • How much time within their daily, weekly and monthly schedule is being committed to export? It is important to factor in overseas trips, exhibitions, seminars etc.

Method of entry:

This will be your initial method of contact with any prospective buyers and may include:

  • Inward or outward trade mission  
  • Individual research trip
  • Overseas exhibition
  • Mass marketing
  • Sales presence

Marketing strategy:

- See Marketing Strategy

A lack of quality marketing strategy has been identified by overseas buyers as a negative factor for UK furniture manufacturers.

The following questions will need to be answered to ensure that your marketing is positive and influential.

  • How do you plan to contact prospective clients?
  • Are you contacting the right people?
  • What is the most suitable currency for your price lists?
  • What is your pricing policy?
  • How are you going to brand the product>
  • Is your existing material suitable – will it satisfy any cultural differences that may exist?
  • Is emphasising the fact that you are British a good or bad idea?
  • Will you require your existing material to be translated?
  • Is your website ‘export friendly’?

Your marketing material will often be the initial introduction to your prospective customers. It is so very essential to do detailed research in order to produce a marketing strategy that sends the right message that you want to portray.


Another vital part of your export plan is to have an efficient freight network in place. You want your customer to receive what they ordered, on time and in perfect condition.

•    Produce a database of freight forwarders both in the UK and in the country you are exporting to. Seek references, establish contacts and define guidelines.
•    Are you familiar with the necessary customs procedures?

Financial budget:

As highlighted earlier, exporting should be a medium-long term project. Therefore a realistic financial budget should be in place and monitored at regular intervals. You will need to include such things as:

  • Any extra staff costs
  • Overseas travel
  • New marketing literature
  • Website updates
  • Exhibitions
  • Product or packaging changes
  • Expected sales
  • Cash floe implications – for example - Lloyds Bank

Customer Service:

It will take time to build up the necessary relationship with overseas buyers. The following will certainly go some way to assisting this:

  • Regular contact
  • Go out of your way
  • Monitor trading conditions
  • Invites to your premises

This is not a definitive list by any stretch of the imagination. The export plan should be unique and personal to your own requirements.

Review the export plan annually together with the business plan. Update or change it when and where necessary but always refer to it whenever you are making an export decision.

Not only will it provide the framework to your exporting success but it can be duplicated and rolled out when looking at new markets to enter.

Design Protection:

See the Intellectual Property Office. There are also independent organisations such as ACID (Anti Copying in Design) which offers practical advice and specialist support to help you understand and manage your intellectual property.


VIDEO - Exporting with confidence: trade finance and letters of credit

VIDEO - International finance: managing cash flow, receiving money and foreign exchange

VIDEO - Introduction to International Trade and Supply Chain Logistics

VIDEO - Protecting your rights outside the UK

VIDEO - Registrable intellectual property – patents, designs and trademarks

 Marketing Strategy



             EXCERCISE 7



By paying close attention and keeping to your export plan, marketing strategy and financial budgets you can export successfully to any market that you choose.

Surround yourself with a support network that you feel comfortable with and that can be with you for the entire project.

Have confidence that you have completed the correct procedures, asked and answered the correct questions and have a strategy in place that can bring you a good return on the investment that you have made.  For a number of UK companies exporting has allowed them to flourish and in some cases even continue trading.

The opportunities are there and perceived barriers can be overcome.


This section brings together in one place the vidoes featured above.

How UKTI helps UK companies export

UKTI – Selection of videos

International trade advice

Exporting from the EU - What you need to know

Export challenges - 7 case studies

Managing a global business

Agents and Distributors: Managing them effectively and resolving disputes

Market entry

International Internet Marketing: Localising your international website for foreign target markets

Social media marketing – using social media to develop and maintain business relationships

Online training: Selling goods in the EU - HMRC

Online training: Selling goods outside the EU - HMRC

Importing and exporting procedures– HMRC

The Export Process – HMRC

Tax and VAT issues when trading with countries outside the EU - HMRC

Tax and VAT issues when trading with countries in the European Union - HMRC

Tax and VAT issues when trading with other countries using the Internet - HMRC

Understanding and using Incoterms

Exporting outside the European Union: commodity codes and customs procedures

Export documentation: make sure you get the paperwork right

International Trade documentation

Exporting essentials: documentation webinar

Exporting with confidence: trade finance and letters of credit

International finance: managing cash flow, receiving money and foreign exchange

Getting started in China

Getting started in India

Introduction to International Trade and Supply Chain Logistics

Video case study: training company Steps Drama pass on their tips for meeting cultural and linguistic challenges

Protecting your rights outside the UK

Registrable intellectual property – patents, designs and trademarks


BP Project
Besides the Export Training Module which is one of the principle aspects of the project the following material was also used to show - Best practices transfer for the development of the Furniture sector in International Business Environment through Human Resources Development          

BFM Strategic & Operational Activities - Promotion, Competitiveness & Development of British Companies and HR practices Presentation (ppt)

BFM Export Training Module Presentation (ppt)

Best Practice Case Studies- Key Employee Development
Company Questionnaire on Key Employee Development (link)
1. Bed Sector (pdf)
2. Contract Sector (pdf)
3. Upholstery Sector (pdf)
4. Healthcare Sector (pdf)
5. Upholstery & Contract Sector (pdf)