Why buy British?

When it comes to business, the world has shrunk.  No market is now too far away and no country too inaccessible. So why should buying British still count for anything? Richard Shaw, Managing Director of Ellis gives his opinion.

There can be very little doubt that in today’s global market being British no longer carries the weight it once did, but if you narrow things down and look solely at the spending and specification decisions of British businesses, should more pressure be placed on them to buy British?

As a company we design and manufacture all of our products in North Yorkshire and, as far as possible, source all materials in the UK. This though is something we do for business reasons as opposed to any patriotic commitment.

In fact, we have looked seriously into offshore options and every time have come to the same conclusion – retaining our British manufacturer status enables us to retain complete control over every aspect of product development, and this control is priceless.

When dealing with other British businesses it enables us to deliver a product that is competitively priced, offer significantly shorter lead times and respond rapidly to any problems. Additionally, there is no language barrier to overcome, shipping distances are reduced, which in turn has a positive impact on required stock levels, and all contracts are agreed under UK law.

It also means we have absolute confidence in our product, and it is this quality aspect, as opposed to the British one, that we focus on when selling ourselves – and rightly so. As a manufacturer if you don’t have total confidence that your product is the best possible solution is there really any point trying to sell it?

Perceived benefits

But in a competitive marketplace you need to look at every possible perceived benefit when seeking to persuade a buyer or specifier to choose you, so why shouldn’t being British count? Especially when selling to UK companies.

If you look to other countries, buying home produced products is actively encouraged. Australia in particular is keen to draw attention to the economic and social benefits of buying locally. The Australian Made campaign even goes as far as putting figures on the jobs created and the tax revenue generated per $1million(AUD) of new or retained manufacturing business staying in the country.

In the UK, there just doesn’t appear to be the same drive to follow suit. Yes, there are similar campaigns, but they all seem to be pet projects without the heavyweight support enjoyed by Australian Made. And this is reflected in the number of major UK projects that slip out of the hands of UK business.

Wembley Stadium was famously rebuilt by an Australian company, while our largest ever single order, for National Grid’s London Power Tunnels Project, was an export project due to a German cable manufacturer securing the multi-million pound specification.

I’m sure that the specification decisions for these projects, and other ones with similar outcomes, were made with quality and similar project experience ranking far more highly than the location of the business. And, of course, there are times when a British company will place a contract with an overseas supplier simply because local resources are inadequate or labour costs too high to make it economically viable.

I, for one, am certain that put in a similar position I would reach the same specification decision. Business after all is business and the decision making process has to be ruled by the head not the heart.

Boost the economy

So why buy British? The answer is clearly to support British business and boost the British economy, but it is imperative this shouldn’t be done to the detriment of the specifier, the end user or Britain. Quality must come first and if this means buying from a foreign business as opposed to a British one, then so be it.

But if a Buy British campaign can be developed that encourages excellence in design, manufacture and subsequently product quality then businesses that reach these standards should quickly reap the benefits. Because if there are several options of the same quality, at a similar price, and the only difference is that one of them is British made, then that really should become a deciding factor in the purchasing decision.

In the cases where a British company does place a contract with an overseas supplier then we should actively encourage them to build a proviso into the contract that stipulates British components must be given due consideration. After all, they should boast the same quality and control benefits I feel being a British manufacturer brings Ellis, meaning they will easily compete in terms of quality and value.

Great Britain carries in its name an adjective that hints at what it can achieve, and with the right forethought and planning a Buy British campaign could be established that encourages businesses to better themselves and to be rewarded by Britain for their endeavours.

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