5 business lessons from Theo Paphitis, speaking at the BCC International Trade Conference

Posted on 19/11/2014 by DHL Express 0 comments

Theo Paphitis’ Twitter bio describes him simply as a ‘Shopkeeper’ – a rather modest way of saying he owns stationery chain Ryman and homeware store Robert Dyas in addition to several other ventures. Also well-known as a Dragons Den panellist, Paphitis further promotes and drives British SME growth through initiatives such as Small Business Sunday.

Joining handbag designer Anya Hindmarch and young entrepreneur chocolatier Louis Barnett, Paphitis gave an overview of top tips for UK businesspeople looking to go global at the British Chambers of Commerce International Trade Conference. His key points:

1) When going global, remember you’re on someone else’s turf!

Paphitis was clear about the advantages of going global: “We’ve got to look at the rest of the world, because it’s a tiny, tiny place now.”

However, he emphasised that exporters need to step back and think about what they’re doing. Domestic traders have several home advantages – most importantly, they know their market better than anyone else. Before entering a new market, Paphitis therefore recommends asking yourself the question: “If I go to their territory, can I be better?”

2) Do your homework!

Throughout his speech, Paphitis was adamant about one key point: “You can never do too much prep about the market you’re going into.” But he emphasised how straightforward the process is now: “You can now just sit in your living room and explore the world in your chosen subject.”

Researching your target markets will allow you to bridge the handicap of not having on-the-ground insights. This, in turn, will allow you to plan well whether you’re taking your business to the right place – for example, “If you’re not viable in a certain market, move away.”

3) Have a plan in place for going global

Part of doing your homework means that you need to develop a strategy for how you’re going to actually enter foreign markets – in Paphitis’ words, “You can’t just get on with [taking your business international].”

It doesn’t matter how simple your plan may seem – just ensure you have one in place. For example, Paphitis gave an overview of his original business model: 1: establish the business in the UK; 2: introduce e-commerce in the UK; 3: take the business international. “I prefer to do small steps and build platforms, and then go from there.”

4) Evaluate your supply chains

Paphitis has personal experience in managing global supply chains as his businesses source many products from Asia and the Middle East. However, to ensure you’re running your business efficiently, invest time in coordinating where your products are coming with where they’re going: “Exporting products back to where they came from doesn’t make sense, so think it through.”

5) Protect your intellectual property

When going global, make sure you protect your brand. Paphitis’ tip is simple: “Don’t underestimate how important it is [to protect your intellectual property] – you can’t go global without it.” Having the correct level of protection and knowing your rights means that in any market you enter, you can stop people imitating what your products do, what they look like and even what they’re called.


Theo Paphitis’ advice was highly practical and extremely well received at the conference: as his own business success shows, exporting can bring immense business benefits. If you have any questions about taking your business to new markets, just contact our Business Export Advisors.



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