Please provide a company background including when it was established, where it is located, how many staff you employ etc.
Smoke and Fire Curtains Ltd was founded by Arthur Calow in 2005, based in Leicester and manufacturing its own fire and smoke curtains with unique control panels. The company began with only eight employees distributing mainly within the UK but with plans to expand its export market. Over the years Smoke & Fire Curtains has grown to a company of 23 employees, supplying and installing fire curtains globally, with distributors in U.A.E, Norway, Ireland, Portugal, Latvia, Cyprus and New Zealand to name just a few. Smoke and Fire Curtains Ltd liaises with anyone that is responsible for the protection of people against the effects of smoke and fire in both public and private properties, ranging from main contractors, building control and fire officers to architects and individuals purchasing for their domestic properties.
The requirements are all specified in the BSI standards; for each product there is a range of specifications and limits. The smoke and fire curtains products are designed and manufactured in full compliance with the appropriate specifications (a copy of the list of the relevant standards our fire curtains have been tested to can be obtained via our head office). All manufacturing processes and quality control procedures are documented and controlled to our in-house standards and to our new ISO 9001 certification.
Please provide an overview of the products and services offered and areas of specialisation.
Smoke and Fire Curtains Ltd specialises in the manufacture, supply, installation and maintenance of automatic fire and smoke curtains; this system is similar to a roller shutter but has a curtain made of a woven fibre glass fire-resistant material and comes with an electronic control panel and battery backup system in case of a power failure.
The fire curtain provides both fire and smoke compartmentalisation, allowing for a safe passage of escape; this is ideal for servery hatches, lobbies and stairwells in schools, hospitals, museums, offices, retail outlets and as an alternative for fire doors in properties where there is limited space. The fire curtain can be recessed into the walls and ceilings in order to achieve an aesthetic look ideal for domestic properties.
The fire curtain comes in various standard fire tested ratings, 1 hour and 4 hour or as an insulated zone standard.
The brand names for our products are:
FireSafe 60 – provides 1 hour of fire integrity protection
FireSafe 240 – provides 4 hour of fire integrity protection
FireSafe Plus – this provides 150 minutes fire integrity and insulation (minimal heat transfer to the non-fire side of the curtain).
SmokeSafe – provides smoke only protection to be used in conjunction with ventilation systems
Smoke and Fire Curtains Ltd found out about emita through the UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) whilst seeking to gain further overseas distributors. The valuable benefits from emita for our company has been the opportunity for greater access to people working for companies in the relevant fire protection sector through excellent networking opportunities and in particular the OMIS reports, allowing further insight into countries which we have not yet targeted. By working with emita it gives Smoke and Fire Curtains Ltd more recognition with potential overseas clients and adds further to our credibility, which we see as an invaluable asset.
How long has your company been active in the export / import market and which countries do you currently trade with?
Smoke and Fire Curtains Ltd has been active in the export market since its creation in 2005 however the current growth in sales worldwide is achieved because of our long term program of developing new products and of improving our existing standards. Our distributors may continue to deal with us on a standard distribution arrangement but we are also looking to develop some foreign relationships through a joint venture. Where possible we will provide some of our products from our manufacturing units abroad, rather than from the UK, as this achieves a better price for our distributors but is still made to the same quality and standards. Some of the countries we currently trade with are France, Spain, Italy, U.A.E, Norway, Ireland, Portugal, Latvia, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and New Zealand
What made you decide to expand your business overseas?
The growing market for fire protection products, particularly active fire curtain barriers in the Middle East, has been a driving factor for our rapidly growing export market which now makes up 40% of our sales.
What has been your biggest exporting / importing challenge?
The biggest challenge in regards to exporting apart from the language, cultural and time barriers has been the documentation required, particularly shipping to countries the Middle East, which has in the past resulted in goods being delayed at customs. The documentation issues have now been overcome by providing the relevant training to our sales and marketing team, now ensuring that each time we sell to a country we have not traded with before, the fire curtains arrive rapidly for a quick overall turnaround time, ensuring we stay competitive.
What’s the most helpful piece of international trade advice you have received?
The most useful piece of international trade advice we have received is to do meticulous research before embarking on trade with a new country, as to avoid any mistakes with regards to language and cultural barriers; such mistakes can sometimes cause far more than embarrassment and can halt seemingly successful discussions. Once secured, meeting face-to-face with your distributors is crucial to ensuring the long-term success of the business relationship.
What does the future hold? Any particular markets you are looking to target next?
The future looks promising for Smoke & Fire Curtains Ltd; within the last 6 months we have opened up a manufacturing plant in India, enabling us to offer much more competitive prices, in particular for projects in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Obtaining further distributors worldwide alongside the new factory means that our export sales will be on par with sales within the UK in the next few years. The next countries we wish to target are Russia, with which we are already making good headway in discussions with our potential distributor and hope to finalise the business agreement within the next couple of months. The other countries that we are looking to target next are Denmark, Turkey, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and The Netherlands before moving on to target the U.S.A.