Hydraulics Online

Hydraulics Online
Name

Helen Tonks

Job title

Co-founder

Business name

Hydraulic Engineering – Design Consultancy and Equipment Supply

Websites
Tell us about your business?

Hydraulics Online Export Champion 2019Since its formation in 2004, Hydraulics Online has grown from serving a predominantly UK customer base to operating as the global supplier that we are today – but our business has never been about bulk sales and exports of common goods.

We have embraced all that is good about the online world, but do not allow customers to self-serve online and ‘click and add to cart’. Hydraulic engineering is complicated, and a little knowledge can literally be a dangerous thing or lead to a less than ideal solution. Every enquiry is handled individually by a member of our technical team – whether it’s sourcing equipment or designing a complete hydraulic system.

To date, customers in 130 countries and 20 sectors worldwide have harnessed our knowledge and trusted our technical expertise. Our global footprint and customer base never cease to amaze us, but English is so widely spoken, and technology, communications and carrier networks really do make the world a small place. We literally see the time-zones changing throughout the day.

When and how did you first start trading with a Commonwealth country?

Our first international customers came on board not long after we founded the company – only a handful, but enough for us to start building our overseas credentials and send out the message that our appetite and capabilities went beyond the UK.

We went ‘.com’ in 2013 and that’s when we really saw international interest increase. In 2018 we overhauled our brand to further strengthen our global message and then later launched our new ‘internationalised’ website too.

Exports now make up about 50% of our turnover and that figure is growing. Within this we have traded with 26 other Commonwealth member countries to date: Australia, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Cyprus, Ghana, Grenada, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, St Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.

What impact/benefits has trading with Commonwealth had on your business?

Trading with the Commonwealth and exporting in general has helped our business in so many ways; it has:

  • strengthened our brand and credentials in the eyes of new and existing customers, suppliers and third parties;
  • enabled us to attract and retain a talented high-performing team;
  • improved our negotiation power with suppliers who now see us as the gateway to the rest of the world;
  • made us more resilient, financially and operationally. We’re not reliant on any sector or any number customers – and that’s priceless;
  • fuelled our ambition and plans; we’re hungry to do more. Because we know we can.
What difficulties have you had to overcome?

Building our credentials with overseas customers was crucial to gain their trust and ‘level the playing field’ so that we could compete with their more local suppliers – suppliers speaking their language, in the same time zone, maybe even just down the road. We don’t get to meet many of our overseas customers, so it is important that we create the right ‘first impression’ when they find us online and then reinforce this in all our dealings with them.

We secured ISO 9001 Quality Management accreditation in 2014 – choosing the British Standards Institution as a world authority on management systems. We genuinely wanted to identify any operational opportunities to improve as a business and reinforce the continuous improvement mindset within the business. I also loved the very ‘Britishness’ of the BSI brand and could see how they would work well for us overseas too.

Demonstrating a great track record and having ‘social proof’ has been important too. We have a growing library of customer testimonials and case studies on our website from Iceland in the north and New Zealand in the south, to Mexico in the west and Papua New Guinea in the east. Since 2017 we have also been recognised for more than a dozen business awards and in February 2019, the UK Department for International Trade recognised our achievements and appetite by accrediting Hydraulics Online with its ‘Export Champion’ status.

As for ongoing challenges, I don’t think that they are any different to here in the UK: it’s all about having the right customer proposition, demonstrating and delivering excellence, being responsive and offering good value – ensuring that customers are always glad that they have found us, wherever in the world they may be.

What would be your top tips to a business looking to trade in the Commonwealth?

Put your customers first. As I’ve said, every enquiry we receive is personally handled by a member of our technical team – and from there we start to build a relationship and trust. Even in a business-to-business market, it’s human-to-human relationships at play – whether your customer is an international PLC or business start-up, people buy from people.

Our growth has been demand-led and organic because we’ve got our proposition and communications right, because we’ve put customers at the heart of our business. Genuinely. We’re offering what our customers want and they come to us. We make it easy for them to deal with us and then capture their feedback at every opportunity to make sure we stay in tune with their needs. We’re always aware our customers have suppliers much closer to home and we never lose sight of that.