Mel Fairbourn-Varley: Designs on overseas success

17 March 2014

Thirty-six years after his first job with a Leeds-based furniture exporter, Mel Fairbourn-Varley has established himself as one of Yorkshire’s pre-eminent architectural practitioners designing projects overseas.

As international projects director at DWA Architects, York, Mel Fairbourn-Varley works across the European, Arabian Gulf, Egyptian and Chinese markets. 

For the last 16 years, he has focused on healthcare, particularly for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, within assisted living, specialist care and therapy environments. As part of this, he also developed architectural designs for assisted-living schemes and over-60s apart-hotels for tourist markets in the Middle East.  

He has researched the Arabian Gulf and North African markets and studied Chinese beliefs and culture to consider compliant architectural designs for elderly care and assisted living. More recently, his work has extended to Southern China after DWA Architects won an international design competition for a large elderly care village in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China, in 2013.

He says: “We plan to develop our exporting in this field by extending collaboration with international academia, professional consultancies, services providers, operators and real estate investors and developers.“  

What are his tips for novice exporters? “Make sure you understand the national culture and research your market. If possible, specialise your product or services and make them unique. Develop close collaborative partners locally which match you exporting ambitions. Also, engage with the market and culture with face-to-face meetings in the country involved. Lastly, be patient and hold your nerve.” 

He says that common misunderstandings among new exporters are that it is “too difficult” or that their business is too small to succeed. 

“As an ambassador, I can help businesses understand how to take the first steps in exporting their services and how to set themselves apart from the pack which is crucial to engage with an overseas market.”  

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