SDI Trade Mission
When you think of Italy, what do you think of… Art, Architecture, good food, red wine? Yes? Well, it is true; all these expectations are fully met with architecture and art that are incredible, food that is beyond delicious, and red wine that is truly delightful. But I was there for a very different reason – finding some European distributors for Recoil. You might not think the fashion capital of the world, Milan, is the place to be selling a trades and construction product, but with a central location to most of the Italian business world, Milan was the ideal location to embark on our Italian expansion.
The idea of expansion into Europe has been on our game plan for a while now, and last week I had the pleasure and opportunity to travel to Italy along with a delegation of other Scottish Businesses, as part of a trade mission organised by Scottish Development International (SDI). SDI is an arm of Scottish Enterprise that helps businesses across the world trade with Scottish businesses and invest in Scotland. I was part of a delegation of 8 businesses that along with a team from SDI based in Glasgow and in Milan headed out into the market for 3 days of visits, presentations, events and one-to-one meetings. Leaving on 1st Feb, I left our office and headed off to take Recoil to Italy.
Entrepreneurs may be envisaged as jet-setters – who jet-set from place to place, smashing deals and loving life and loving what they do. And the last part of that is very true, you must be loving what you do; if you are going to make it work. Because the reality of entrepreneurship is that it isn’t so much a jet-setting life and smashing deals, it’s a roller coaster of highs and lows; one minute winning a deal and being champion of the world, to two minutes later something falling through and suddenly questioning your existence and how on earth you’re going to resolve this one.
In the early days, you have to squeeze as much out of every opportunity (and most importantly, every penny) as possible. When unexpected opportunities come up, you have to be prepared to figure out a way to make it happen like your life depends on it. When the unexpected opportunity to take part in this mission came up, I grabbed it with both hands, because I know how much benefit our product can offer to customers at home and abroad; and how important it is that we continue to find ways to reach these customers. This mission was going to be a great way to build those connections and spread our message internationally; however as it was an unexpected opportunity and we are still a fairly new business, we were going to have to do it on a budget. Now for a funny story about the reality of entrepreneurship and this mission…after a smooth bus journey to Edinburgh airport, I was met with the challenge of the weight of my suitcase – which was mainly filled with kneepad samples and brochures for distributor’s. Having purchased only 15kg of allowance…I realised I may have just jammed in few sets of product too many as my case totalled in at 20.8kg…
As I stood to the side and tried to reduce the weight of my case, a kind check in desk operator queried why anyone would have a suitcase full of kneepads. Having told our Recoil entrepreneurial start-up story and our ambition to save the knees of millions worldwide to the check in desk operator, I was surprisingly met with optimism for the overweight case situation. Fast forward 10 minutes…and following some specialist advice on how I can get around this weight issue, there I am now wearing a jumper, two jackets, having swapped my shoes, and having jammed two sets of kneepads into my backpack, the suitcase now weighed in at an only slightly overweight 15.8kg. And so, it was, thanks to the help of a very kind check-in desk operator, who I’m hoping enjoyed our story and enjoyed the hilarity of the number of additional layers I was now wearing, I was on my way – with everything still in tow! Lesson learned in this situation; ask for help and focus on finding solutions rather than worrying about the problems. Entrepreneurship is about resilience, focus and dedication to what you want to achieve. People respect that, and you’d be surprised about the amount of people willing to help you achieve your goal.
Now, back to the story. The trade mission itself, was a massive success and something I am truly delighted to have had the opportunity to participate in. The team from SDI had put on a superb line up of speakers and events; covering everything from Patents/IP to the Italian law on Employing people directly in Italy and operating via agents. Case studies of other successful Scottish Businesses such as ‘Brewdog’ and ‘Todd and Duncan’ really helped to put the theory in perspective and having a Q&A with other Scottish Businesses now operating in the market really helped to answer any concerns and queries. Following on from the scheduled presentations and site visits, I had a busy agenda of 6 one-to-one meetings lined up with distributors and contacts who could help with spreading the message of our product offering across Europe. Each meeting I left feeling very positive about great potential for future business in Italy.
Scotland is so lucky to have organisations such as SDI, who are there to support and grow our businesses internationally. The other businesses on the mission were from a variety of sectors, and it was amazing how the collective group all come together to help each other out with recommendations, suggestions and experience. I love the world of entrepreneurship; I love the idea of a group of people coming together collectively to do good things that can ultimately improve the lives of others. This mission has left me feeling very optimistic about the future for our business, and the positive impact our product can continue to have to the lives of millions of trades and construction workers not only at home, but also abroad. Thank you SDI for a great mission, and for opening many new doors.
This is the beginning of our European adventure.