As a turnkey provider of large format graphics installations, we routinely export bespoke display products – as well as providing project management and installation services – to various countries worldwide, including Nigeria, Russia, Europe and the Middle East. But what are the biggest challenges associated with having an international presence and how do we overcome them? Leach’s head of projects Tom Foster offers his thoughts…
In all honesty, doing business on a global scale is far from straightforward, certainly when it comes to our industry. This is largely because every project is bespoke. Probably the easiest bit is turning a complex vision into a reality – that’s our job irrespective of location! Then the challenges begin.
1. Everything we produce is made to order and usually extremely varied, from one assignment to the next. Attention to detail and meticulous organisation is therefore crucial. We’re often exporting hazardous chemicals too – tricky when it comes to customs officials! We therefore work hard to ensure our paperwork is flawless, and we acknowledge that sometimes delays are inevitable even when the documentation is perfect. Where possible we factor a contingency into our lead times, to help accommodate this.
2. Linked to customs rules, there are also occasionally different regulations to adhere to, ranging from legal bans on working outside when temperatures exceed 50°C, to more procedural expectations surrounding materials approval submittals for instance. Again, awareness of such laws and processes is crucial so we do what research we can in advance, aren’t afraid to ask questions when clarity is needed, and ensure we show respect for the local processes we need to abide by.
3. Respecting different cultures is something the team at Leach finds much less difficult. We’re all extremely customer-focused, so finding ways to build a rapport with clients – whatever the geography – is usually one of our first objectives. Therefore, before we start working in a new location we go to great lengths to learn about any cultural nuances, and we ensure that colleagues who haven’t visited that destination before, take their time to understand the etiquette that is expected of them.
Sometimes the smallest ignorance can have the most negative impact on a relationship. So, because our projects often last several months, we do everything we can to get them off to the strongest possible start.
4. Linked to the above, is a variance in traditional working practices. We’ve worked in a number of Islamic countries during Ramadan, for example. So, when supporting the National Museum of Oman, the locals didn’t work full days – and some of them were away from site completely during this period – yet there was still a job to be done. This wasn’t easy in 40° heat with no access to food and drink. But as a team we focused on establishing an agreement of mutual respect, by recognising each other’s beliefs and showing discretion when required.
Working weeks often differ too, with some countries taking their days off on Friday and Saturday. That said, this – plus time differences in general – is fairly easy to accommodate with upfront planning. We just make sure our UK teams factor this in from the outset, as we don’t ever want to be a disparate project component.
All of this can combine to feel like a constant learning curve, with seemingly endless different practices to uncover and follow. But so many elements of business are difficult, in truth, even when working in the UK alone. It’s how you tackle these challenges that matters!
We’re already treading into wider parts of Asia, as many heritage organisations in this part of the world have extremely high-quality expectations for their visitor environments. Demand is rising from clients in different sectors too, from high-end hotels to malls and airport lounges. There’s no way we don’t want to be involved in projects of this nature, so we work hard to be a truly international player so that clients can benefit from our specialist expertise, wherever they may be!