Women in Business Trade Mission: Fiona Pool
Hampshire-based Hunton Powerboats has its sights set on the US – a base in America is key to its plans. Santander’s Women in Business New York Trade Mission gave MD Fiona Pool the opportunity to make contacts and accelerate her company’s expansion drive .
Hunton Powerboats is a leading manufacturer of high-performance powerboats that combine traditional craftsmanship with cutting-edge design and technology. Established in 1979 by professional powerboat racer Jeff Hunton, the company is based in the Hampshire town of Romsey – an area rich in boat-building tradition. The boats themselves are race-capable vessels manufactured entirely in the UK.
Having previously focused on the domestic market, Hunton underwent a management buy-out three years ago. The new management team is now looking to grow overseas sales and is particularly keen to establish the company in the US. “What we offer to the US is a great product that has the branding benefits of being made in Britain,” says Managing Director and co-owner Fiona Pool.
Ahead of the game
Fiona joined Santander’s all-female Women in Business Trade Mission to New York in October. With plans to establish a subsidiary in the US already in progress, the Trade Mission not only provided a timely opportunity to learn more about the US marketplace, but it also accelerated the timetable for establishing a base in America. “I would say it expedited our plans to open a US division by about six months,” says Fiona.
Breakthrough’s Trade Missions give ambitious SMEs the opportunity to visit and learn first-hand about key export markets and, from Fiona’s perspective, the timing of the Mission was perfect. “I was introduced to Santander through an entrepreneur’s networking group,” she says. “We had already decided that the US market was key and our goal was to set up Hunton America. The Trade Mission provided an ideal opportunity to learn about the market and make contacts.”
Great British branding
Launching a serious marketing drive in the US is not simply a matter of hiring agents or distributors or deploying a sales team on the ground. “We have to be incorporated in the US,” says Fiona. “For instance, in our business we have to have public liability insurance and to get that you have to be a US company. But equally important, customers feel much more comfortable buying from a locally based company.”
Exploring all options
For Fiona, a key objective was to learn about the technical aspects of setting up in the US. “I wasn’t going to win orders. I was going to get advice on setting up a business and advice on the structural image. I was also going to make contacts in high-end luxury media,” she says. “It was an exploratory research trip.”
Fiona’s goals were supported by the organisation of the Trade Mission: prior to setting off, Fiona and the other delegates spent time discussing their objectives with Santander. Once on the ground, delegates had a carefully planned schedule of meetings, including briefings with organisations such as UKTI, as well as meetings specific to their individual requirements.
“I would say it expedited our plans to open a US division by about six months.” Fiona Pool, Managing Director, Hunton Powerboats
“The Santander team was excellent,” says Fiona. “They made sure everything went according to plan and they came to a lot of the meetings, taking a real hands-on interest in what was going on and what was being achieved.”
For Fiona, one of the key meetings meant a trip to Delaware. “That’s where we want to establish Hunton America – it’s exactly the right place. So meeting with the governor of Delaware to discuss our plans was an important part of the Trade Mission.” Elsewhere on the trip, Fiona met with lawyers and advisers – to discuss the technical aspects of US incorporation – as well as various contacts with specific knowledge of the luxury brands market.
With a background in investment banking, Fiona is no stranger to international trade and is a regular visitor to the US, so she wasn’t necessarily seeking insights about market potential. What she did achieve was a much more comprehensive view of the incorporation options while also making useful contacts.
The Trade Mission has led directly to further practical action. “I’m returning to the US this month to speak to lawyers in New York and Florida. We can then decide who to appoint, as we press ahead with our plans.”
To date, Santander has organised Trade Missions to Brazil, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and the USA, with additional missions tailored for Women in Business.
Qualifying businesses can apply to take part by contacting their local Santander Relationship Director via the Breakthrough website.