The Political Is Personal For Businesses in Britain

  • Julia Gash, CEO BIDBI
  • 26th May 2014

"Export or Die” is a famous quote and mantra for British manufacturing businesses.  It’s also one that I took to heart a couple of years ago, when I realized that virtually all of my business was reliant on a depressed, home market, which had equally gloomy economic forecasts for years to come.

I sensed trouble ahead and so systematically developed and implemented a strategy that evolved around creating an ethically focused, fashion accessories label: Talented, which would be sold as a cool, British brand in stores and boutiques around the world.  Almost two years on, our new brand is now almost 25% of our total business, and growing fast.  I’ve lost count of the number of Talented stockists, which grow by the day.  We’ve found good partners to represent and sell our brand in 5 countries within the EU and 3 further afield.

Here's Talented and me on tour in Berlin

Over 70% of Talented sales are for the export market, pushing our company total export sales from less than 5% to over 25%.  This is a massive achievement in such a short space of time and one that my team and I are rightly proud of. We anticipate that exports will grow to around a third of our whole turnover over the next year and will be half our turnover by 2017.

By diversifying into a new product range, designed with cool British design and manufacturing appeal, we are introducing a new income stream, stabilizing our business and accessing a much bigger market.  It’s also created 6 new jobs, which puts food on the table for more families in Sheffield.

As I write this, there is a big debate surrounding Britain’s position as an economic force within Europe.  Politicians from all sides dominate the debate, relying on statistics, many of which are skewed, to put forward arguments that fit in with their own party political agenda. The voice of Britain’s business leaders in this incredibly important debate is conspicuous by its absence.

Over half of Britain’s exports are to countries within the EU.  The removal of trade barriers combined with internet and cheap air travel has made exporting to the EU so easy. Sending a parcel to Barcelona or Berlin is the same as sending it to Birmingham.  None of this is possible if we are not just part of the EU, but right in the thick of it, fighting for legislation that facilitates international trade.  When I first started my business in 1990 I remember how difficult it was to export to Europe with piles of form filling and lots of currencies to contend with. It will not be sensible for some businesses to stay in Britain if we withdraw from the EU as we will be isolated from our biggest export partner overnight.

Only one of my 25 employees is from a European country but we welcome his enthusiasm and productivity with open arms and he is a valued member of our team.  Our next employee at BIDBI is from an EU country, not Britain. An increasing number of British businesses, from all sectors including manufacturing, farming and service industries, rely on European immigrant labour.    Nobody has "taken" a job from my company or from anyone else.  Myself and my management team simply appoint the candidate that we deem to be the best available for any specific role.

To be competitive in an increasingly global market it’s vital that British businesses have access to a wider employee base, which the EU provides. Businesses up and down the country have worked incredibly hard to pull themselves out of recession in recent years, cutting back and trying to be more and more productive in whatever it is that we do. If we withdraw from Europe then our market shrinks and our human resource pool is dramatically reduced.  Simply put, it would spell economic disaster and many industries will face collapse or where possible, relocate to within the EU.

I believe that the old adage ”Export or Die” is no longer relevant.  If you're running a business in Britain the political is personal and as such “Speak Out or Die” is the way to go and will ensure that the route to export remains open.