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15 July, 2011 - 12:19 By News Desk

Essex firm sets sail for Russia

Chris Berry of Wilks

It takes at least 14 hours to fly to the Russian port city of Vladivostok, crossing ten time zones – but the support of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) made sure distance was no object for Essex businessman Chris Berry, who has now established his marine firm in Russia.

A grant from UKTI’s Export Marketing Research Scheme (EMRS) helped pay for Berry to make a five-day market research trip to meet clients and pursue business leads in Russia’s Far Eastern out-post, 5,300 miles (8,500km) from the UK.

It’s just the latest bid to put British business and the Maldon family firm, Wilks, on the map in every corner of the world – wherever boats sail.

Following his trip, Chris successfully secured a distributor in Vladivostok for his Dek King products (alternative to traditional wooden decking for boats) and has since received an order for almost £20,000 from Russian client, 1000 Size Company, forging the start of a new business partnership.

Wilks was established in 1973 by Berry’s parents and makes PVC buffers to protect everything from the hulls of boats to supermarket check-outs. Customers range from business magnates with private yachts to familiar UK retail names like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

Even in its earliest days, Wilks was an exporter – selling boat fendering to the Netherlands and Malta. But since 2000 it has also developed a low maintenance PVC decking product for use at sea, to replace the traditional teak decking. The business is a familiar face at boat shows and trade fairs in Europe and Asia – thanks to UKTI schemes like EMRS, Passport to Export and the Tradeshow Access Programme.

Chris Berry, Wilks’ joint managing director, says he’s a fan of these initiatives because they allow him to investigate overseas markets himself.

“The EMRS scheme is brilliant. The initial advice makes you focus on exactly why you want to visit the area, what information you are seeking, and who you are going to see. The way the application forms are structured helps in planning trips and writing a report at the end, making sure you don’t forget details that might matter in the future.

“Obviously the grant is an enormous factor too and without it, and support also from the British Marine Federation and the Chamber of Commerce in the Isle of Wight, we wouldn’t have taken the gamble of the marketing trips and attending some of the boat shows.

“Without doubt Wilks would have been worse off without the support of UKTI. My advice to any company is to make contact with UKTI and their relevant trade federation, to ensure doors do open to assistance of all kinds.”

• Photograph shows: Chris Berry of Wilks

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