Specially woven cloths opened door to exports in the UAE

Worsted cloth manufacturer Harrisons (Burley) Ltd realised it had to break into overseas markets when the steady decline in the British clothing industry accelerated 40 years ago. 

The family business, founded in Bradford in 1920 and now based near Keighley, Bradford, West Yorkshire, started exporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1970. 

Now Harrisons (Burley) Ltd, which has six staff, exports 70 per cent of its £850,000 turnover with sales to the UAE representing about five per cent of its total export revenue. 

Managing director, John Harrison, who took over from his father, Arthur in 1965, says: “We did not do any particular research at that time. We had an agent who used to visit and sold another manufacture’s goods there so we relied on his experience.” 

In order to export successfully to the UAE, Harrisons (Burley) Ltd created special lightweight cloths for use in traditional Arabic dress as well as for business suits and trousers worn in the very high temperatures of the Middle East. 

The cloths are so specialised that they will sell only in the Middle East although the company also exports to several other countries including Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. 

John Harrison adds: “We selected Dubai and the UAE because it makes business and export sense to cover as many of the UAE markets as possible. Distances from country to country are small so flights are cheap while travelling between them. 

“We visit our customers annually. They trust us to deliver what they order correctly and on time. Also part of our success and longevity in this market is because we accept much smaller minimum quantities than China and India. 

“It is essential to try to get assistance from an agent but be careful that they are prepared to sell to all and not just to their own contacts and associates. Also, many agents are actually importers and sell only to themselves, hence limiting sales. 

“I’d also recommend businesses wanting to target the UAE to visit the market personally to explore the possibilities but be aware that the adjoining states of  Abu Dhabi and Sharjah may buy separately and need visiting independently.  English is  generally spoken so there is no problem communicating.”

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