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You can’t wait for business to come to you, you have to look for it

11th Oct '17

Designer Kelly Hoppen MBE has nearly 40 years’ experience working with clients in China. Here she shares what she has learnt about successful trading

Company: Kelly Hoppen Trading in: China, Vietnam, Korea Sector: Interiors

“The Chinese market sees British heritage as a sign of luxury”

I set up my company when I was 16-and-a-half after designing a family friend’s kitchen. Since then we have designed everything from tower blocks to hotels and private residences, as far afield as Japan.

In 2014, I launched my online store Kelly Hoppen London with my own interiors accessories range. As well as the online store exporting our products, I also export entire homes.

Kelly Hoppen Interiors has a total of 40 staff and some of our technical department is based in China. Products for the online store are manufactured all over the world, lots in Britain but also in Portugal, India and Asia. I travel to China and other countries in the ASEAN organisation about 15 times a year.

Shimao 3

Opulence: Monochrome and gold interiors for an apartment for the Shimao Group in Hangzhou, China (above) and dramatic geometric designs for Lodha Estrella in Mumbai (below)

A lot of businesses fear the unknown when it comes to exporting, but doing the research and understanding the benefits of exporting can be incredibly beneficial.

There’s a huge market outside the UK for a whole range of businesses. And there are so many brilliant resources, such as the government’s UK Trade & Investment department (UKTI) to help with research and offer support.

This makes the thought of exporting seem less daunting. These days you can’t be laid back and wait for business to come to you, you have to look for opportunities. Exporting is not only financially rewarding, it’s exciting.

The heritage of British companies is so precious and the Chinese market really respects that. They see British heritage as a sign of luxury. In nearly 40 years of working with clients there, I have realised that a lot of them request a “Western” style because it’s seen as high-end. The market really buys into the history and the brand, so 100 per cent British brands do really well.

Footprints 3

The main challenge when exporting is to ensure you have face-to-face conversations, with translation. It is really important to be there with your clients and build relationships.

Nonetheless, it’s crucial to know your market inside out. Research your competitors and understand why you are going into those markets. Use expert international trade advisers (ITAs) to help you research target markets and potential customers. Get involved in overseas missions and events. This will help you test markets and find new customers, agents and distributors.

It can be tempting to pursue multiple markets, but focus on one or two to start with and get to know them inside out. Not knowing the market and culture can be costly and damaging to your reputation.

Consider things like the appropriate packaging and observing the correct protocol in your business dealings. You have to be prepared for every situation. Understand the currency you will be dealing with. Make early contact with a foreign exchange provider and talk through the potential risks. Establish your potential clients’ credit ratings early on and guard against non-payment.

It’s crucially important to stay true to the brand you have created, despite the challenges and even though you might have to adapt your product to fit. Keep in mind what makes your company and product great, as it will keep you going through the tough times.


Lodha Estrella Mumbai

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