Q&A with DTG Finn: How to grow an international manufacturing business in LCRPublished on Business stage: Scaling, Unlocking
DTG Finn is a leading Liverpool City Region business with 50 years of experience in the design, manufacture and supply of confectionery equipment. As a niche company, DTG Finn understand that growing your business, identifying new industry requirements, and developing products can be challenging. DTG Finn accessed the Local Growth Hub’s support services and those of its partners. This support helped DTG Finn to develop a new product offering and improved their sales on an international scale.
In this blog, Lyn Pitt, Managing Director at DTG Finn, explains how she grew an international manufacturing business based on the Wirral, in the Liverpool City Region.
Tell me about DTG Finn…
DTG are a manufacturing company, operating in Wirral for over 50 years. Frank Finn was an accomplished engineer and 50 years ago was asked to design a chocolate coater and so the DTG Finn brand was created. Today, we export globally, providing innovative and industry leading design, manufacture, and supply with installation and training.
Can you tell me how the business has developed over time?
After the recession, we knew we had to increase sales, we were hardly building any new machines. Machines stay in operation for 30 years or more, so we needed to find a new way to grow.
We had established a great reputation over time, and we have a leading name in the market, but it was a challenge to keep it there. There were lots of innovations happening and standards that had to be met. We couldn’t sit back and say ‘oh, well we make good machines’ – they needed to be fit for purpose. Most of our clients do 24-hour production, downtime for cleaning and hygiene had to be minimal, so we looked at putting a new belt on the machine that would make the process more efficient– something our competitors weren’t doing.
The thing with developing a new product is that you have to spend a lot of time, as well as researching and making sure there’s a market for it. So, we sought support from local services, including the Local Growth Hub and its partners, to secure funding and to give us the tools and knowledge we needed to make it happen.
As DTG Finn developed, you’ve expanded into international markets – how did you achieve this?
There was an established global confectionary community, and I knew there was the demand for the improved machinery. However, I had never been further than Anglesey on holiday! I would have found it daunting to walk into a room halfway across the world to do business, so I decided to seek help.
We approached the Department of International Trade who said they could help us to export. In the first meeting, they laid out the key things we needed to do – essentially travel around the world, meet people, identify markets, see where you can sell machines, and tell them what you can do for them. My first thought was ‘I can’t pay someone to do that’, but they encouraged me to do it myself by giving me the tools and the confidence to get out there.
With their support, I made my first business trip abroad. Then the clients visited our site on the Wirral. The local support was fantastic – the Chamber arranged lunch and gave the clients a tour. This support gave me the confidence to negotiate a sale. It took a long time – almost two years from the first conversation to closing – but I couldn’t have done it without their help.
We sold our first new design machines in 2018, which were really well received. They went to New Zealand, India, and the West Coast of America. Since 2018 our sales have increased more than 100%– so we’re showing really positive growth so far!
What benefits are there to being based in the Liverpool City Region, and how does it help you grow as a business?
There are so many positives to being based in the Liverpool City Region. To start with, it costs less to be based here – especially on the Wirral – than some other places in the UK. We have a great landlord, which makes running a business so much easier. We’re also close to local suppliers and can easily move around to see people. Liverpool City Region is convenient for Manchester, the airports, trains, getting down to London… you name it. Plus, when we do travel around the world, everybody knows Liverpool!
There’s also a great manufacturing skillset here. We are pretty niche so there’s not many people who will have done what we’ve done, but all my staff are skilled at what they do. It’s also great for emerging talent – there’s lots of people who are looking for apprenticeships in this area, and the local universities have great engineering faculties.
What advice would you give to a growing LCR-based business looking to set their sights on international deals?
I can’t overestimate the value of networking to help you find reliable suppliers and supporters.
Always work with your intuition – know your product, your market. Learn as much as you can about your client base and market. Visit places, speak to people. But I wouldn’t necessarily advise people to set off on your own. Have a good network around you.
Get in touch with your local Chamber, the DIT, International Chambers the LEP, become a member of a trade group. You’ll get incredible support and meet businesses in the same position as you. Utilise these resources as much as possible. I contact them regularly to ask questions, especially about Brexit. It’s great to have someone you can call.
And whether it’s people you meet back home, or traveling abroad, be loyal to the people that do a good job of helping you. The kindness of strangers is a real thing – I’ve met some really kind, hardworking, amazing people who I will keep in touch with forever.
You can find out more about DTG Finn here.
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