Growing year on year 

Case Study - The Stephenson Group


Speciality chemicals producer Stephenson Group Limited is still enjoying a healthy ten per cent year-on-year growth after more than a decade’s solid selling in China, and fully expects sales to continue increasing in the years ahead.

The firm, which is a past double winner of the Queens Award for Enterprise, sells chemical products used in the textile industry and regards China as one of its key markets; it is currently sending out a 20 foot (33m3) container every two to three weeks. Stephenson Group believes that maintaining personal relationships with their distributor and other customers in China is vital – as are determination and staying power.

Goods are shipped from its Yorkshire base to its warehouse in Shanghai where a distributor sells them on to textile manufacturers. Stephenson Group Limited, which was established in the middle of the nineteenth century, also directly services a number of other Chinese customers and currently exports to more than 50 countries.

“We’ve been in the industry for over 160 years with a lot of contacts and people know us as a quality company with a world-wide reputation,” says Robin Richardson (pictured above), general manager of the company’s textile division. “The way we found our current agent was through word of mouth, following the retirement of our previous agent about 15 years ago. Our current agent / distributor is extremely competent and speaks fluent English, which makes a significant difference to us. For would-be exporters the important thing is to make sure you get an agent with the right contacts in the right sectors, and with detailed knowledge of your specific markets.”

Mr Richardson, who visits China at least once a year, believes face-to-face contact with distributors and customers is vital in maintaining confidence. And he believes that for companies serious about doing business with China, spending time in the country is crucial.

Mr Richardson also says that ‘If you are able to identify a suitable and reputable trade show or conference where you are able to exhibit, even on a small scale as a minor sponsor, this can be a big help, as you can meet a number of customers in a concentrated area, and socialising with the customers is a very important part of the Chinese culture’.

           Robin from Stephenson Group sponsoring Nanjing Wool Fair

                      Robin from Stephenson Group sponsoring Nanjing Wool Fair

He also advises businesses that success does not come overnight.

“It takes years to develop,” he adds. “We’ve been growing there for ten years but before that we spent another ten years with much lower levels of business, just a container here and a container there. As soon as we obtained our new agent that all changed.”


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Stephenson Group with partner in China