Two of Northern Ireland’s leading exporters have revealed how a strategy of learning, growing and excelling has helped their companies achieve international success.
Nick Coburn, Managing Director of Ulster Carpets and Seamus Connolly, Managing Director of Fastank, were speaking at NI Chamber’s Learn Grow Excel conference at Belfast’s Hilton Hotel earlier today (Wednesday 23 May 2018).
More than 150 companies attended the annual event aimed at any business who aspires to grow at home or internationally, focussing on key themes including innovation, talent, technology and knowledge.
Sharing the export growth story of Portadown based Ulster Carpets, the manufacturer of custom designed Axminster carpets for overseas markets which account for 80% of the company’s business, Mr Coburn said:
“Businesses with great ideas and ambition sometimes lack confidence or know-how when it comes to growing their business and particularly in reaching new markets. The aspiration is there but turning that ambition into reality is much harder to master. Ulster Carpets began exporting in the early 1990’s initially to the US. It was tough but we learnt a lot. By the late 90’s we started to grow and we are now perceived by the market to be the number one manufacturer of Axminster carpet so we have excelled. We are still growing and will excel further.”
Meanwhile Seamus Connolly told guests about the phenomenal international success of Antrim based Fastank which he founded in 1980.
The company produces a patented liquid storage container that is currently exported to over 80 countries throughout the world and used in a wide range of emergency and humanitarian situations including oil and chemical spill clean-ups, firefighting and animal rescue.
“The product is simple to use, compact, portable and the design ethos has stayed the same for 38 years but at the same time it has moved on dramatically over the years in terms of its application across a range of industries” said Mr Connolly.
“Once you gain the confidence to export through learning and growing, a world of opportunities open up and we have grasped those.”
Commenting on the Learn Grow Excel initiative, Sandra Scannell, Head of Business Services at NI Chamber, said:
“During 2017 the Learn Grow Excel programme supported 18 events. Just under 1,300 participants took part in the initiative representing almost 700 local businesses.
“Indeed over 320 new qualified business opportunities were identified and we are encouraged to learn that an estimated £780,000 of new business tenders across a range of opportunities, from construction and fit out contracts to IT systems, security and printing were submitted.”
Alan Egner, Power NI Business Sales and Marketing Manager said the Learn Grow Excel initiative was a perfect fit for the electricity supplier.
“It is all about helping new businesses open up opportunities and navigate through export and trade opportunities.”
At the event, Graham Nolan, Business Design Director at Fjord Dublin, a multi-disciplinary research and incubation hub at Dublin’s Dock, also provided a thought provoking address looking at how businesses need to adapt to evolving customer expectations.
In addition a series of lively panel discussions and inspiring talks took place involving a range of entrepreneurs and a number of GB and international markets experts were on hand to meet with attendees, along with Invest NI’s global in-market team.
In an interactive online poll, 24% of guests said they were targeting GB for exports, the same figure for the RoI while 22% said they were looking at Europe.
The conference was supported by headline sponsor Ulster Carpets and NI Chamber’s SME Partner Power NI, with supporting sponsors Beyond Business Travel, EY and Invest NI.