Within weeks of winning their second North East Export Team of the Year award in just three years, Ecco Finishing Supplies are celebrating another overseas success.
Increasingly frequent breakthroughs into the overseas market were rewarded when the Middlesbrough-based fire protection and safety experts regained a prestigious title they first won in 2013.
Now new sales in Russia, the Phillipines, Abu Dhabi and most recently Canada have been followed by enquiries from as far afield as China, Kazakstan, Nigeria and the United States.
The successes have helped to lift the export experts beyond a record £5m annual turnover, with overseas trade now accounting for almost 50% of sales – a five-fold increase in just four years.
Ecco are global suppliers of surface preparation and surface finishing products, exporting their own range of purpose-built hydra-cats for the application of polyurethanes and epoxies across the world.
However, the overseas success has been driven by the development of Ecco’s ES430 PFP machine, market-leading passive fire protection equipment that now represents 20% of the firm’s turnover.
All but one of the 22 hi-tech PFP machines sold by Ecco over the past 12 months have gone overseas, with Russia, the Phillipines, Abu Dhabi and Qatar among the far-flung destinations.
With ongoing documentation support from NECC, Ecco have just delivered a second PFP unit into Canada for a new customer over there, while they are looking to seal deals with companies in Nigeria, China, Kazakstan and Unites States.
Ecco staff are also celebrating a new customer in Kazakstan, with orders for PFP machines, fire-proofing, blasting and painting equipment set to top £500,000 before the end of the year.
Managing director Keith Miller, who plans to make managerial changes to Ecco after giving daughter Lucy a key role on exports, said: “To win such an important accolade once was special, but to win in twice is unbelievable.
“It’s massive recognition for our skilled staff, who work so hard, often at unsocial hours. When you’re providing products and services to businesses on the other side of the world, you have to be prepared to work 24-7 – and they often do.”
Miller spends less and less time at Ecco’s base on Letitia Industrial Estate, close to the iconic Newport Bridge, and increasingly more time on his travels, making new contacts and finding new customers in far-flung corners of the globe.
As a result, he is soon to make his 12th business trip to the United Arab Emirates in just 12 months, during which time he has also travelled to Kazakhstan and Holland twice, together with Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia and Canada, whilst he’s also due to visit the Philippines.
He explained: “For many years we dabbled with exports but it’s really taken off since I decided it was our best way to avoid a downturn during the financial struggles we all had five or six years ago. But you’ve got to get out there yourself and talk to people.”
While Keith spends much of his time travelling around the world, winning new deals and making new contacts with potential customers, he insists it is the team effort that has brought Ecco success abroad.
He said: “I’m the guy at the front, paddling the boat – but without the first class staff in the background I would never win anything. It’s all about the team – it’s got to be.”
Overseas clients include industry giants Cape, Pyeroy, Wood Group, Lamprell, Hertel and PSI Group.
All of this comes at a time when Miller has also set up a Dubai-based joint venture company, Ecco SPT Equipment, with the aim of supplying a range of products throughout the Middle East including Kuwait, Iran and Iraq.
After investing $150,000 in stock, Miller and business partner Sandeep K Lohia have taken on four members of staff over the past two months.
Meanwhile, Ecco continue to supply customers closer to home including Teesside-based Wilton Group, Hertel, Cape and Tees Valley Coatings.