How did the idea for your business come about?
Dura Composites was established in 1996 when the company first began selling fibreglass grating for use as anti-slip walkways in the Marine and Industrial sectors. Over the past 20 years the product range has expanded to include Glass Reinforced Plastic Trench Covers, Profiles, Handrail, Stair Treads and the market-leading Dura Deck and Dura Cladding made from low-maintenance Composite Timber. The company’s mission is to supply pioneering composite product solutions that inspire new ideas and promote safety, durability and longevity across a range of industries. All products offer customers a low life cycle cost thanks to their long life expectancy and also low maintenance requirements.
What difficulties have you encountered setting up your business?
The use of composites versus traditional materials does require a change of mindset for some customers and posed challenges for us in the early days of our business. We have worked hard to educate potential customers as to the core benefits – for example there is a perception from some clients that GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) is not as strong as concrete, whilst in reality it offers an incredible strength to weight ratio.
Another difficultly we have had to overcome is persuading customers globally that the initial outlay cost, (which can be higher for composites than for some traditional materials thanks to their highly engineered composition) is well worth it when you consider the overall lifecycle benefits. Our GRP and Composite Timber products compete very favourably on a performance/lifecycle cost basis versus traditional materials. This is particularly true when you consider the high initial cost of installation of things like concrete trench covers using cranes and lifting equipment and the cost of plant equipment needed for removal and ongoing access and inspection – versus composite alternatives such as our market-leading Dura Slab.
What are the biggest trade and export challenges you face?
Dura Composites has been selling composite materials both regionally and nationally in the UK for 20 years. But over the past 3 years, increased competition in the UK market has led us to focus on increasing our sales potential through exporting.
We have appointed a network of overseas experts to represent us in some markets, and our export programme helps us to take advantage of areas of weakness in our UK business – for example the garden decking marketing in the UK is very seasonal and relies on strong summer weather. In the Middle East by contrast the weather is fine all year round and therefore has very little adverse effect on decking sales.
Rising costs of production, freight and shipping due to BREXIT and the recent exchange rate fluctuations have also brought fresh challenges and we now feel that the time is right to explore new markets across the Commonwealth where there is a clear trade advantage being offered and the opportunity for sustainable growth.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow and develop your business?
Our Overseas strategy is to create, implement & support a strong worldwide network of representatives as part of a controlled expansion in line with Dura Composites long term global sales and marketing plan.
Our overseas sales strategy focuses on 3 areas:
1. Tier 1 – Distributors
Our distributors are categorised by their stockholding, the presence of a showroom or display facility, dedicated sales advisors, and a minimum of 5 container orders per year. Distributors have access to our lowest prices and this is guaranteed to them.
2. Tier 2 – Agents/Dealers
Our agents or dealers do not hold stock, but are guaranteed mid-tier pricing. They must have a dedicated sales representative and derive commission from sales of Dura Composites products.
3. Tier 3 – Direct Sales
Where there is no Distributor or Agent present in a certain location, we sell direct – using stock held centrally in the UK and at our regular standard prices.
All distributors receive regular visits from our HQ Overseas team and also ongoing marketing support in the form of literature, point of sale materials, product samples, advertising templates and language specific materials where appropriate. We also provide support for regional trade shows such as the METS marine trade show in Europe.
How did you hear about the CWF programme and what made you apply?
We first heard about the CommonwealthFirst programme through Kevan Reade, International Trade Adviser covering the East of England for the Department for International Trade who has been extremely supportive over the past few years. We’ve long been interested in furthering our trade relationships with Commonwealth countries, and the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union offers a strong opportunity to foster new relationships with our Commonwealth neighbours. We see some clear synergies between their emerging needs and the products we supply and look forward to developing this through the CWF programme.
What are you hoping to get out of the CWF programme?
Dura Composites’ selects its distributors on the basis of their local knowledge, size and market penetration as well as their ability to hold stock. However obtaining this information and identifying suitable candidates in the first place can prove extremely challenging so we are looking forward to gaining support with this through the CommonwealthFirst programme. It’s a superb opportunity to share our knowledge and experience with others as well as gain an insight from those who have already “been there, done that and got the t-shirt”.
What is a typical working day for you?
A typical working day starts with an all-important coffee! With so much overseas travel, no two days are every really the same. If I’m not aboard visiting customers, distributors and agents then I usually start my emails early to meet the time difference demands of the Middle East. I am also often on Skype meetings or telephone calls late into the evening to make sure I have quality time with our North American partners, so life can be hectic.
Where would you like your business to be in 5 years time?
The past 3 years have seen huge growth for Dura Composites overseas. We are now able to sell Dura Composites products to customers in 3 European countries and 7 territories in the Middle East. None of our other UK competitors have been able to achieve this level of overseas growth and we are proud of our accomplishments and of positioning Dura Composites as a premium UK brand that offers superb technical expertise, high quality products and excellence in customer service. However, we still feel that our success overseas is only in its infancy and as an ambitious brand we have lots more that we want to achieve. In 5 years times we would like to expand our distribution network to include India and at least 2 other Commonwealth markets, appointing distributors with a stock holding and fully trained staff who are able to truly champion the Dura Composites product range.
What advice would you give to anybody looking to set up an SME?
Plan and research your target market as much as possible and get as much help from those “in the know” as you can. If you can afford the time and cost, then book some test visits to attend in country trade shows and meet with potential distributors in person. Plan to tailor your material and products where possible to take into account local market requirements e.g. translated technical information, bespoke product ranges or colours etc to give new distributors a point of difference and added value.
Tell us more about your Queens Award
In April of this year, Dura Composites was awarded a prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the category of International Trade. The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are presented to UK businesses for outstanding achievement; and this award recognises the success of Dura Composites in growing, innovating and championing its export business. In winning the award, Dura Composites joins an impressive list of organisations who have previously been honoured in this way, including Dyson, JCB, Jaguar Land Rover and Siemens.
Each entry is judged by a specialist panel that makes a recommendation to the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee. Her Majesty the Queen then decides the winners, who each receive an official grant of appointment and an invitation to a celebratory reception at Buckingham Palace which took place in July 2017.
Commenting on winning the Queen’s Award, Dura Composites’ Managing Director Stuart Burns said: “This award recognises our talented and committed workforce and comes at a really exciting time as we look to the future and the continued growth of our product portfolio. Many of our innovations such as our Dura Slab trench covers and Dura Platform GRP station platforms have revolutionised the categories for which they were designed and help to solve the key design challenges facing everyday businesses. Everyone at Dura Composites is immensely proud and honoured to receive this award, which we are sure will be a springboard for further success both in the UK and Overseas.”
Do you have any exciting projects/products in the pipeline you would like to share?
Dura Composites has a proven track record in supplying innovative GRP and composite timber solutions for projects across the globe and has a reputation as an innovator. Our latest ground breaking product is the Dura Slab Structural Stair Tread. Pre-fabricated and lightweight, the treads and landing can easily be fixed into position, thanks to their single unit construction. Where previous composite treads on the market have been limited in span capabilities, Dura Slab Structural Stair Treads have the ability to span up to 2.1m clear open span, achieving the required 5kN/m2 at L/300 deflection and meaning that additional supports can be avoided in most scenarios. The design has built-in risers, speeding up the install process and a slight fall to assist in the prevention of water pooling which can lead to problems with ice in winter. The Dura Composites systems made from fibreglass are lightweight, high-strength, anti-slip, non-corrosive and non-conductive and so overcome all the problems normally associated with the use of traditional stair tread materials for footbridges and staircases such as wood, steel and concrete
In recent weeks and months we have also been investing in new technical resources to provide our customers with comprehensive, real world information about the products we supply in a consistent and highly useable format. Our extensive technical resources now include in-house CAD design and Structural Engineering support, Technical Manuals, Live Load Test Data, UV Testing and Anti-Slip Certification.
We now also offer data-rich BIM Objects free from the National Building Specification (NBS) National BIM Library. If you’re not familiar with BIM, these objects allow contractors and specifiers to see up-to-date, accurate data about Dura Composites products and to easily incorporate them into their overall designs. Authored to the trusted NBS standard, each BIM Object details the various surface finishes, profiles, sizes and colour options for each product, and provides specifiers and end clients with detailed information on how the products will perform during their expected lifecycle.
Are there any new trends in materials used that Dura Composites are seeing?
Dura Composites is currently investigating a number of new materials and technologies such as Carbon Composites due to the increased potential strength and cost efficiency. We are also exploring the use of hemp instead of glass due to its improved environmental impact, product strength and natural resin compounds. We never rest on our laurels and are always looking at the best and most efficient and cost effective ways to solve the everyday challenges faced by our customers.
View Dura Composites CWF Profile