Ray Bird, Early Bird Ventures, Export Champion Interview

Ray Bird, Director

What are the biggest trade and export challenges you face?
One of the biggest challenges we face dealing virtually only online is credibility. Again, dealing with customers, who maybe on the other side of the world requires a great deal of trust. A benefit of our product is that a new customer can try our product for just a few pounds. In addition, our eBay shop has helped us to gain credibility further afield as the customer is covered by the ebay guarantees. Once the customer has tried our service & wants larger quantities or a more customised shopping experience, our office & our website serves them well, at their convenience.

How did the idea for your business come about?
20 years ago I helped a manufacturer of metal Sealing washers ‘break’ into the UK market, selling virtually exclusively to the larger wholesalers . However, times have changed: garages no longer focus on single make vehicles, car manufacturers have been bought and sold and many manufacturers install other manufacturers engines. The upshot of all these factors is that garages don’t know which parts they need, don’t necessarily need a large quantity of any one part as they now repair whatever comes through the doors that day, and finally don’t know how to get the parts quickly and efficiently. This is particularly true of our export markets, where even the main dealers don’t have the essential parts. This is where we help, offering an ecommerce solution, advice, guidance and delivery worldwide.

What difficulties have you encountered setting up your business?
As our business is very niche, agile & innovative, many organisations we come across don’t understand our business. However, our success & continued growth is our reward.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow and develop your business?
Never stop developing innovative products , never stop looking for new ideas.

How did you hear about the CWF programme and what made you apply?
We first heard about the CWF programme from the Royal mail Click & drop Website and as we have been successful exporting so far, decided that this would be a great opportunity to learn from the programme and build on our success.

What are you hoping to get out of the CWF programme?
We are hoping to gain insights how we can serve customers in Commonwealth countries better and develop wholesale customers in various Commonwealth countries to allow the end customer to receive our products sooner .

What is a typical working day for you?
A typical day always starts with packing & sending the orders that have come in overnight. Just because we are sleeping, doesn’t mean that our customers are doing likewise.
Once, the orders have been sent out, then the day may continue with a little bit of product development, building listings, social media planning & answering questions from our customers. We then make sure that we have sent out all orders that came in before our cutoff time, before doing more research, stock checking & new product pricing.

Where would you like your business to be in 5 years time?
In 5 years time, we would like SmartEarlyBird to be synonymous with innovative products, supplied cost effectively & reliably worldwide.

What challenges have you faced working with e-commerce platforms?
Selling on e-commerce platforms is never dull, as the platforms evolve on an almost daily basis as the internet evolves. This means that we are constantly learning and adapting to make sure that our products reach our customers attention, and our offer remains competitive.

What issues have occurred sending low value items across the globe?
Sending low value items, globally, has been one of the main challenges to allow us to compete globally. Luckily, we have learnt our partner, Royal Mail’s systems well and this has allowed us to provide excellent value and service to our customers.

What is your most purchased product and for what car? And why do you think this is?
Many of our oil sump washers are highly popular as vehicle manufacturers have converged and bought each other’s engines. This has the effect that one particular sump washer may fit thousands of cars from over 10 different manufacturers. A lot of confusion as to which parts are required abounds among the workshops, hence our Sump Washer Assortment Pack SWAP1, which contains 600 oil sump washers of 12 different types is very popular as it fits over 80% of vehicles on the road. This is exceptionally popular in countries where there is a glut of supply of consumables e.g. Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus & Malta, as well as the Channel Islands & the Isle of Man.

What advice would you give to anybody looking to set up an SME?
Think and evaluate your idea very carefully, before starting up. You can save many mistakes, by thinking your ideas through properly, before you start. Don’t be too precious with your ideas and be certain to find a mentor to help guide you on your startup journey, as their experience will save you wasting time & money unnecessarily.


View Early Bird Ventures CWF Profile

This interview was conducted as part of the CommonwealthFirst Export Champion interview series. Apply now to become an Export Champion.

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