If you have a product based business, whether you have invented the product yourself or whether you are resellng for another company, eventually the time will come when you will have to consider goods crossing international boundaries. Whether you find that you need to import parts or whole pieces of your product offering, or you start to get sales from abroad and need to look at exporting, as soon as international trade comes into the picture it represents a step change in your business with a whole lot of rules and regulations you need to get familiar with.
I’ve been asked to write a post giving hints and tips when you are considering moving goods in and out of the country. I’m taking part in the Twill “Go Global Guide” Campaign.
Twill is the international logistics partner for companies that want to change the way business is done: forward-thinking organizations that embrace change to improve, grow, flourish and thrive. They are there to help small businesses with all the complexities of importing and exporting, from Customs Clearance to the other new and interesting things that have arisen due to Brexit.
Thankfully my own business is mainly service-based – I help small businesses with their marketing and social media efforts. So for the purposes of writing this article I thought I would draw on the infinitely superior knowledge and experience of one of my main social media and marketing clients.
Introducing Nigel Bromilow of WuduMate
WuduMate is the world’s leading supplier of ablution appliances, which are specialist sinks designed for the Muslim pre-prayer ritual of wudu.
Nigel Bromilow set up WuduMate 15 years ago, after realising that, particularly in non-Muslim countries, Muslims can struggle to find suitable places to carry out their wudu ritual, which entails washing the hands, arms, face, head and feet, at work or in public places. He set about designing a suitable appliance, and now sells them to mosques, offices, public buildings and also to private homes.
With a background in software, he did not know much about international logistics when he started WuduMate, but he has learned a huge amount, often through trial and error.
WuduMate now has four main products, which are manufactured in the Far East, and shipped throughout the world. The main markets are the UK and USA, but you can also find WuduMate units in Canada, South Africa, and increasingly throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Please click to watch my interview with Nigel on YouTube, or read the full transcript below.
Today I am talking with Nigel Bromilow, the managing director of WuduMate. Tell me a little bit about WuduMate and what the company does
WuduMate has been going 15 years now. We have developed a range of washing appliances for Muslims to wash their feet in before prayer, which is an obligatory ritual that they should be doing five times a day. And in the workplace or when they’re travelling, that’s very difficult because there are very rarely appropriate appliances for people to wash their feet in.
So the idea crossed my desk many years ago, and we started the development and production of the larger units we make. They’re quite bulky our units – they don’t go in a little box, they go into a box which is maybe three or four foot long and weighs up to 35 kilogrammes. So that can be a bit of a challenge when you’re shipping.
So we soon found out the logistics from the manufacturer to our office was key. And that was something I knew nothing about when I started, having got a software background where you could send millions of pounds of the product over the internet to no cost.
But suddenly, moving cartons as a logistics challenge was something completely new, and we started importing. We manufactured originally in England and the costs were just too high, so we transferred the manufacturing to the Far East, but that meant that we had to bring product in.
We soon learned that you can’t cost effectively bring product in on pallets – it has to be in a 20-foot or 40-foot container, otherwise the cost per unit is just too high. So then you have to get to a stage where you can justify the volume of the container. It’s very difficult to share containers from China.
It has to be a single source container to be effective and we learned that pretty quickly. If you get it wrong, you can waste a lot of money on your freight, and the duty is calculated on the product cost and the freight. So you lose two times, you lose on the freight cost itself and you lose on the duty.
Getting the product from the factory to our warehouse, there’s various legs. There’s the cost from the factory to the port, the port onto a boat or a ship, the ship all the way through, normally the Suez canal, to the UK, and then from the dock through to the warehouse, each one incurring costs. So by the time it’s got it here, it’s incurred a lot of cost on the product.
Then, to make matters worse, if we want to service some of our worldwide clients, and we do ship all over the world to either distributors or projects, so if we then on ship those products to Australia, they incur, more costs, more freight to ship to the other side of the world, to Sydney, say. From Sydney to the warehouse there – always picking up costs. So by the time you move this around, the cost and your products, most of it is logistics, the product cost is quite small at the end of the day.
Do you have problems with customs? Are there forms to fill in?
We outsource that. We do have to fill in various forms and we used to outsource the filling of the forms, but that wasn’t cost effective. So we do all that now and we know what to do. But there are a few forms and as long as you’ve got a freight forwarder who knows what he’s doing, that’s not too bad.
Likewise, Customs coming in, there can be quite a lot of forms and duty and so on, but your freight forwarder should be able to help and take the burden off you. Although currently with the recent changes with Brexit, we have got some ongoing nightmares with customs. Shipping to Northern Ireland sounds simple and that is just proving almost impossible at the moment. Shipping to Europe and Southern Ireland and Europe is also an absolute nightmare.
We’ve set up a company in Holland to try and expedite that. We’re still working on that, but it is difficult. Brexit has made it far more difficult, for sure, and expensive to the extent that in our home market, selling to homes in Europe, the cost of the freight becomes more than the cost of the product, and then people don’t want to buy it. So it’s really affecting us in our international market, certainly Europe.
So if somebody was setting up a business now, would you recommend that they outsource help and get specialists to do things like this for shipping?
Yes, we’ve come across the hurdles and we’ve gradually knocked them off one by one. I think the best thing is, you ask a lot of logistics companies, and they don’t actually know any more than you do. So we have had that experience. We’ve been a bit like the blind leading the blind, but we are getting there and we’re learning by our experience.
Ireland is not quite solved, but I think I know to solve it. Europe is not quite solved, but we think we know how to solve that. And then over the last 18 months, there’s been this massive hike in freight costs, so we are now paying six times what we used to pay from the Far East. How do we solve that? I don’t think anyone can solve that, but all these are challenges and you’ve also got the rest of the business to run.
Logistics is a really key part of a business, so it shouldn’t be ignored because that can be the make or break, no doubt about it. WuduMate is a small company and we’ve got a worldwide footprint, so we’ve learned basically the hard way.
Tell us some of the places that you supply the WuduMate units to
We’ve got warehouses in Australia and Canada and America. So we ship to those in bulk and then we instruct those warehouses to ship onwards. And then we have distributors in Africa, the Middle East, all the GCC countries. East, West, South Africa and New Zealand. And we’re now looking at Asia. So we really want to expand our footprint to Asia to become really global.
We also pop things on aeroplanes occasionally, which is another key logistics challenge, because things get broken. When you’re shipping, you have to have a logistics partner, who doesn’t break the product, because broken product is just money out of your pocket. The insurance is paid on a minimum, about 50p in the pound, so you get very little for the insurance. And then you’ve got to reship the product again, so you incur new costs.
So you want to make sure that the products are packaged really well, that they are put on appropriate pallets and shrink wrapped, but even then they can get dropped and things can go wrong. There are lots of challenges, but make sure you have a logistics partner who knows what they’re doing.
That sounds like very good advice. Thank you very much, Nigel.
It’s a pleasure.
If you would like some more information about WuduMate or its products , please send an email to email@example.com
Here are some more posts you may enjoy