Dan Munro is the owner and managing director at PJ Valves, a Hertford-based supplier of specialist project valves to the global oil and gas industry. The firm runs offices in the US and Singapore, with manufacturing facilities in Italy and India.
We asked him about the company's international expansion strategies, as well as the challenges of selling an existing product overseas.
We’d always been focused on the UK, supplying valves entirely to the North Sea. Then in 2008 we began looking to the US. An American customer found out we provided valves with a specialist grade of stainless steel, so we ended up supplying a large oil and gas project in Houston, Texas.
Growing internationally is about being able to provide customers in new markets with something they don’t already have, or a better version of what currently exists.
We continued supplying to that particular customer and the longer we did, the more demand we realised the US market had for our products. We grew quickly there and continued to invest in our product range and manufacturing capability, enhancing our proposition for other new markets.
We then entered Singapore, which is a challenging market in lots of ways, not least commercially. We built strong partnerships and developed our customer service quality and are now a major supplier.
I wouldn’t say we tailor our products, but we do tailor the services that support our products. Often our customers are in the middle of building complicated projects. Some need technical support, some commercial, and some need plenty of both.
It’s about shaping our whole range of products and services so that a customer sees the advantage in using us rather than someone else. Growing internationally is about being able to provide customers in new markets with something they don’t already have, or a better version of what currently exists.
As we’ve grown, our strategy has been to keep investing in our manufacturing capability and developing our supply partnerships. This involves strategically partnering with the makers of other products our customers need to bring them a more packaged offering. Our plan to grow internationally has been part of a broader range of activities to help shape the organisation to be more efficient in this way.
We enter new markets already knowing what our proposition will be, so the key is really understanding the needs of customers. Valves are only a small capital spend for people building complex oil and gas projects, but they become a larger issue if not delivered on time. We serve customers much earlier in the life cycle of a project to help overcome any challenges they have around supply. If we find lots of appetite for that offering in a market, we know we’re likely to be able to do more business.
Getting around cultural barriers is all about conversation.
Because we shape our offering around particular customers, developing a template for growth is tricky. But our customers tend to face similar challenges across all markets, with a few nuances. In new markets, we look for those customers we can really help. If we see lots we can help, and there’s an appetite for it, then we go full steam ahead.
We’ve come up against a few barriers to entry in the Middle East. Some companies in that region aren’t as progressive, which can make explaining how we can help them difficult.
In any new business environment, you could struggle if potential customers can't adopt similar approaches to you. But getting around cultural barriers is all about conversation. I’ll typically travel to new markets to make contact with people and businesses there, and to build a picture of how that market really operates.
It’s then about identifying what that market needs and being honest about whether we can actually help.