Please provide a company background including when it was established, where it is located, how many staff you employ etc.
Gordon Ellis & Co traces its history back 150 years; in fact we have just had a book written on the company history. Originally in general construction the real growth came when industrial volume woodwork was introduced when the company became a leader in the manufacture of wooden window frame. In those days the company was located in Shardlow on the banks of the canal but then moved a mile or so to the industrial area of Castle Donington.
Currently the team is about 100 strong and it remains a family owned and managed company.
Please provide an overview of the products and services offered and areas of specialisation.
Being in general precision woodworking, the products and customers were very varied, but one successful contract bid, for small wooden therapy stools, took the company in the direction of rehabilitation products and what is now referred to as Daily Living Aids for disabled and older people. While making a number of wooden items for physiotherapists and occupational therapists, an opportunity was seen in bathroom safety equipment for this special user group. The company was amongst the first to design and make raised toilet seats for disabled people so that they sit correctly. The company is a worldwide leader in raised toilet seats and other equipment for the bathroom.
Many of these items are made in-house using thermoplastic rotational moulding techniques. For raised toilet seats for example, the company makes a clean one-piece hollow moulding with no joints or seams to trap dirt and germs. With its origins in manufacturing to healthcare standards, Gordon Ellis & Co now offers the highest quality rotational moulding product to a wide variety of industries from automotive to marine, from point-of-sale to military, from renewable energy to telecoms.
3.How did you find out about emita and what benefits do you find the most valuable?
We were introduced to EMITA through the East Midlands offices of UKTI and their export training programmes. The seminars and networking with other export responsible executives is invaluable. We learn from each other and hopefully find successful routes to market and avoid costly mistakes.
4.What made you decide to expand your business overseas?
When Bill Ellis developed the original Derby brand of raised toilet seat, he set about looking for markets anywhere where they had toilets similar to those in the UK. In the 1970s Bill and his wife Elaine, and sometimes with a very young version of the current MD, Fiona, set off for Europe and North America with a few samples in a suitcase and hit the major healthcare equipment exhibitions looking for distributors. We now have distributors throughout Europe, North America and the “Old Empire” where Britain had exported its healthcare professionals and who were demanding the same products that they could get back in Britain.
5.What has been your biggest exporting / importing challenge?
Bill had no hesitation in developing business wherever it could be found; which fitted well with his personal desire to travel and see new lands. Sometimes business and sometimes pleasure but never without a product catalogue in his luggage.
Finding European distributors was not too difficult. Most were, and still are, manufacturers or major distributors of other mobility equipment where the Gordon Ellis products fit well as add-ons for their customers. The USA has always been a difficult market to crack, probably because of the differences in business style and attitudes rather than a difference in customer needs. The company has had a number of business relationships and does enjoy national distribution, but volume sales are not at the levels achieved in other countries.
6.What’s the most helpful piece of international trade advice you have received?
For an SME often the best research is “suck and see”. What might be spent on formal market research, sometimes with agencies who do not really understand the company nor the brief, can be better invested in going to the right trade shows and setting up your stall. Some preliminary desk research to identify who you want to talk to based on known success routes is now easier with the worldwide web. Plus research those companies who do express interest can refine who and how you might work.
7.What does the future hold? Any particular markets you are looking to target next?
Gordon Ellis’s export success has been in its branded healthcare products. Its main production growth however is now in its contract rotational moulding business which has not had export development. There are already a few good sized export customers and some of the UK customers export their finished product. So there are markets, but offering a production service to a wide variety of market sectors rather than a finished product is proving challenge. The next steps will be refine the offer and target a selection of those market sectors in which we have success in the UK and can prove ourselves to overseas customers, as we have to those in the UK.