Export Britain

How Westermans International Withstood the Test of Time

In 2009, Westermans increased their online advertising budget with the aim of widening their global reach. In the five years following, business grew 125% and today, exporting accounts for 50% of their total revenue. 

Traditional family-owned and run businesses may not sound like anything too unusual these days. There are many boutiques, small stores and even machine shops that operate on that very model – but what about multi-million pound welding machinery companies? Westermans International is an amazing example of how a small UK-based company can go global and become a major exporter, but, what makes the company so interesting is that their buyer and the ‘face’ of the company, is the owner, Peter Westerman, who bikes around Europe to meet clients, despite being 80 years of age.

Going Global

Westermans International is located in Groby, just off the A50. The company got its start in the machinery export business more than 20 years ago, in 1992. At the time it was based in a 1000 sq ft unit in Leicester. Five years later, the company redoubled its efforts in the export world, contacting companies in New Zealand and Greece to build its customer base, and setting up a website.Because it was one of the first companies of its type to develop a web presence, it had a huge competitive advantage. Between bespoke equipment and its range of used/refurbished welding, cutting and positioning tools, it was able to attract a lot of attention and quickly became an established name in emerging countries; a valuable marketplace for the construction equipment niche.


Family Friendly for SMEs

Despite their expansion, Westermans have not forgotten their family values. Peter, his daughter, Claire Spillane (the company’s finance & marketing director) and his son Craig (sales & operational director), maintain a flexible, friendly approach for SMEs. Their clients range from nuclear and aerospace companies purchasing new equipment for a retail value of £130,000 to smaller organisations in emerging economies that work with used machinery costing as little as £5,000. Westerman’s clients are based in Malta, Nigeria, Kenya, Australia, Cyprus and many other countries, and Peter Westerman attributes his success to both hard work, and the fact that he genuinely loves his job. He hopes to inspire others and show that you can be active, travel, and work – whatever your age - if you find the right job.

Growing Pains

The biggest challenge in the export business has been credit agreements. The company uses proforma invoices as standard, and they believe that they might have lost some custom because of this, however only a small amount. Peter Westerman says that he feels it was a good decision to not trade by Letter of Credit. The company is now an established name, and most businesses are willing to simply send payment immediately. When dealing with new companies abroad, and the kind of sums that Westermans International is handling, it is easy to understand why they are reluctant to operate on credit. 

Unlike many other exporters, the company deals directly with the buyer for 63% of their transactions, avoiding dealers and agencies. This makes it easy to build a relationship with buyers, but it presents its own challenges when dealing with customs and shipping, as well as country- specific requirements for electrical equipment. Over time, the company has built up an experienced team of people who understand these things, but the first few years presented many challenges.

Global Growth

In 2009, Westermans increased their online advertising budget with the aim of widening their global reach. In the five years following, business grew 125% and today, exporting accounts for 50% of their total revenue. 

Westermans cite changes in global markets; exchange rate fluctuations or political elections, for example; and the company’s ability to swiftly adapt and react, as fundamental to their overseas success. 

Although they’ve established strong relationships with a number of countries that they trade with frequently (including Ghana, Nigeria, Malta, India and Ireland), new opportunities materialise regularly. In particular, grant funding, allocated to emerging markets, has an indirect, positive effect on the company’s sales.

Looking to the future, Peter Westerman plans to expand his digital marketing even further and hire people who are fluent in French and Portuguese. He also plans to target Iran, and to increase his presence at industry exhibitions and events.

Westermans International is a member of East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leciestershire)  - Contact your local Chamber to find out how they can help you export.

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