Export angel makes Olivia Burton global success


Olivia Burton has seen overseas sale jump by £440,000 since it began working with UK Trade & Industry (UKTI) on developing export markets.

Brand co-founder Lesa Bennett contacted UKTI in 2012 following a recommendation from a colleague and began working with the government organisation’s trade advisor Martin Senior.

She explained: “Our products have universal appeal but only a very small percentage of our sales were coming from overseas. Neither of us had any export experience and we realised we needed some help if we were to grow our business internationally.”


Senior recommended that the company sign up to Passport to Export, a twelve-month programme which provides new or inexperienced exporters with support to grow their business overseas.

Olivia Burton, which retails in the UK through Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and John Lewis among others, has since developed into a global brand, exporting to 11 countries with the help of UKTI.

Since making contact with UKTI export sales for the company have risen from £60,000 to £500,000 and overall revenue has increased from £707,000 to a 2014/15 forecast of £3.5m. In addition Jemma and Lesa recently won a NatWest everywoman Award, which recognises the achievements of exemplary UK women who have successfully set up their own businesses.

Senior explained: “Although they had a great product, which they could sell virtually anywhere, Lesa and Jemma [co-founder Jemma Fennings] lacked the know-how to take their business to the next level.

“The Passport to Export programme was really useful for them as it gave them the nuts and bolts that they needed to know in order to get started in international trade. For example, they learnt when they should charge VAT on overseas sales and how they could find and manage agents and distributors.”

Through the programme Bennett and Fennings were able to access a number of free local workshops run by expert trainers with hands-on experience in international business. The advice they received on researching export markets led them initially to focus their efforts on Western Europe, where there is strong demand for personal luxury goods.

Bennett said: “We found the workshops extremely useful, particularly the discussions on routes to market and distributors, as well the importance of forming a strategy for international expansion. It was also helpful to speak to other business owners in similar situations and share experiences.”

Following the workshops the company secured a UKTI Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) grant that enabled it to exhibit at the Who’s Next tradeshow (an international platform for the clothing and accessory trade) in Paris in January 2013 and 2014 .

Fennings added: “Through attending Who’s Next, not only were we able to cement an ongoing relationship with Anthropologie – a large US retailer with eight stores located throughout the Europe – but we also secured a large US online retailer. We had thought the US was temporarily out of reach for us but by attending the exhibition we were able to secure US clients without having to undertake any expensive trips to the States.

“The last couple of years have been amazing for Olivia Burton. We’ve been able to double our workforce and we’re now exploring additional foreign markets, including Taiwan and Japan through UKTI’s Export Marketing Research Scheme, which gives companies free independent advice on how to carry out marketing research.”

The company continues to work with UKTI and is currently considering undertaking an Export Communications Review, which helps companies improve their web and other communications for non-English speaking export markets.

WatchPro investigated the route to export markets for British companies with the UKTI in the April 2014 issue of WatchPro, the full feature can be viewed here.

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