A Coventry company has successfully established itself in one of the world's fastest growing - but most difficult - markets for British exporters.
Oleo International, wholly owned subsidiary of Wagon and with just over 100 staff and turnover of £14 million, designs and manufactures energy absorption buffers for the rail, crane and elevator industries.
The firm has been selling its products to China for years via a distributor, and more recently, direct.
Seeking to expand this business with the help of UK Trade & Investment, company representatives visited China first in April 2001, and then on a trade mission led by the international trade team at Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce in June 2002.
Since then, there have been five further visits to China, two of which were trade missions, culminating in the setting up of an office in Shanghai in June 2004. This has enabled Oleo to establish a presence in the market, carry out research and make contacts.
Oleo has achieved sales of more than £1 million in its first year, across all its sectors including rail, crane and elevator, and visited Hong Kong, Beijing, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Outer Mongolia.
Managing director Chris Brown said: "China is a formidable place to start doing business. It has 1.3 billion people and is the size of the US. The difficulty of speaking or understanding Mandarin Chinese is made worse by the fact that the written language is even harder to interpret.
"A small or medium-sized company needs assistance to reach this market. We found the trade missions very useful as an introduction to China.
"We have achieved our first year's target and this is just the beginning - we are now looking at opportunities such as partnerships, co-operations, joint ventures and a wholly owned business to enable us to benefit further from this market."
International trade adviser Mark Eaton is director of UK Trade & Investment's specialist China Trade Liaison Office, based at Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce. It helps small and medium-sized companies in the West Midlands to enter the Chinese markets for bilateral trade, investment and joint ventures.
The office has been active for over ten years, originally to build on the relationship between Shandong province and the West Midlands. In that time the CTLO has led over 20 trade delegations to China.
Mr Eaton said: "China is one of the fastest growing markets in the world for British companies but its sheer size, business culture and trading system can make it a confusing place.
"Oleo International is an excellent example of approaching new markets in the correct way. It conducted detailed research and then utilised the wide range of support available from UK Trade & Investment both in the UK and overseas.
"This structured approach is essential in a market like China, where the rewards are big, but so are the risks."
West Midlands businesses, new to trading with the Far East, will have the opportunity to interrogate experts on getting into China.
Medium sized companies are being invited to a lunchtime seminar advising on issues including contracts and cash flow and the best approach to avoiding the red tape.
Dr Wei-xin Huang, head of Fortis Bank North Asia, who has operated within the Far East market for over 30 years, will be identifying the risks and pitfalls involved.
He said: "China is fast opening up as a new market for many mediumsized UK businesses. Doing business with China is challenging and exciting and equally rewarding, as long as businesses are prepared for the differences they may find and understand the risks involved."
According to UK Trade & Investment, our exports to China are valued in the region of £2.1 billion but we are behind our main competitors, Germany, France, and Italy.
China is maintaining reasonably strong growth rates and is committed to an accelerated pace of reform.
The seminar, hosted by the bank, will take place at Opus Restaurant on October 20.