Stiltz Lachlan headshotHaving recently been awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade 2020 and with its products now available in 37 countries after a decade in business, Stiltz Homelift is no stranger to exporting.

The West Midlands-headquartered homelift manufacturer turned 10 years old this year and over the last decade, it has enjoyed noteworthy international demand for its stylish through-floor-lift, with a trophy cabinet full of business awards recognising its global triumph.

Lachlan Faulkner, Founder and Chief Commercial Officer of Stiltz, caught up with THIIS to share some of his valuable export insights, as well as to discuss the impact of the pandemic on its operations across the world.

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THIIS: Was it always the goal of Stiltz to expand rapidly into overseas markets and how integral has the export success been to Stiltz’ growth?

Lachlan: “Absolutely. The objective was always to expand rapidly overseas. We moved from Australia to the UK in 2010 to start the company and that set the tone for our ambition and market expectations.

“We also moved manufacturing to China at the same time. Once those decisions were made, it was just logical to capitalise on them and concentrate on reaching all the key markets. We really believed in the market potential and could see a future where homelifts were ubiquitous.”

THIIS: What were some of the challenges Stiltz had to overcome in relation to exporting?

Lachlan: “Having to learn the correct entry routes to market in each country and finding the right partner through trial and error was a challenge and very time-consuming. As the product and category were more or less new, we received a wide range of reactions from potential partners.

“Some would laugh at you and others would hug you with excitement at the opportunity. The recurring theme, once we launched in a new market, was getting the partner through the first 12-24 months, as this was always slower than anyone would like. But that’s the reality of marketing a new, high ticket product with a slower sales cycle than most retailers were used to.”

“America has a complicated structure, with local, state and federal laws to appease, unique product certifications and market forces to deal with like price and customer service.” Lachlan Faulkner

THIIS: Which export markets did you find were most receptive to the Stiltz range and why?

Lachlan: “Australia is the obvious one as we already had an existing market to sell into. Australia has a quite developed homelift market. People don’t really buy stairlifts in the same way they do in the UK and people just understand the value proposition of owning a lift.

“Generally, every major market we have tried to enter, we have had very little push back on. The end consumers just get it, and they help pull through the interest even if the incumbent industry or retailers are more circumspect. We haven’t changed our tagline in ten years, I think that says it all. Why have a stairlift when you can have a real lift? Oh, and Mike Lord’s little black book of contacts didn’t hurt either.”

THIIS: Which markets did you find were tougher to introduce your products to?

Lachlan: “America, Japan, India and Brazil; but all for different reasons.

“America has a complicated structure, with local, state and federal laws to appease, unique product certifications and market forces to deal with like price and customer service. We are very fortunate to have entered the USA very early on in our company history and obviously found the right person in Mark Blomfield to lead the effort. So, whilst the USA was tough to enter, it’s currently a big part of our business and our future.

“Japan is its own beast due to unique business practices and product certifications whilst India and Brazil have enormous import tariffs, which more or less just price you out.”

THIIS: Having enjoyed such success exporting to new markets, what is your biggest tip for export success?

Lachlan: “Definitely finding the best model or route to market for your product or service and then finding the best in class company or person to partner with to execute that model.”

THIIS: Has the outbreak of coronavirus had an impact on demand globally or have any specific markets been disproportionately affected?

Lachlan: “The impact has been global. We are fortunate that our business is really spread out across the whole globe so each local market has been impacted but not all at the same time. Of our key export markets, the USA has been the hardest hit.”

THIIS: What’s next for Stiltz? What’s the next challenge?

Lachlan: “Getting through this period of uncertainty is number one for all businesses right now. After that, we still have a long way to go to achieve our goals. We are full steam ahead on R&D and new products, there are more markets we need to enter and we obviously need to grow significantly in our core markets. So much more of the same for hopefully many years to come!”

“Japan is its own beast due to unique business practices and product certifications whilst India and Brazil have enormous import tariffs, which more or less just price you out.” Lachlan Faulkner

THIIS: And finally, what about your domestic activity. How’s that going?

Lachlan: “We’re making some strong inroads into the Local Authority market and once the lockdown has eased, we will continue to accelerate this work with lunch and learns and CPD presentations.

“Gino and his team are also always on the hunt for more UK dealers who have the vision to work with us to secure those high value sales, whether on our Referral Scheme, or as an Affiliate or Premier Partner.”

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