Forty-two years ago, Alfred Wells started a small engineering business in Niton on the Isle of Wight. Today, the original workforce – father and two of his sons – has grown to 160 (with nine members of the family involved). And the main product of AJ Wells – wood-burning stoves made under the Charnwood brand – is sold around the world.
“When we started the business, we wanted to make a difference in what we did. That hasn’t changed,” says managing director John Wells. And he should know – he was there from the start. “We have the same passion as when we started.”
But the business has certainly changed. From ironwork and steelwork to making thousands of stoves every year, and more recently diversifying into vitreous enamel signage and cladding.
Growing through exporting
AJ Wells has grown through export, particularly in the last ten to 15 years. Today, France is the biggest single market for their stoves but they are also sold in countries such as South Africa and Japan. And the company is also looking to export its enamel signs – the first potential stop is the Paris Metro.
“Overseas markets not always easy to expand into. Export is not a quick fix. You have to build good relationships and be there for the long term. You have to be there for several years before you get good results. Eventually you will get the good break.”
One thing that Wells observes is that exporting has led the company to learn new things about its products. Features that may not yet be directly applicable for the home market have to be incorporated for export – and subsequently used back at home. It is, says Wells, a “really important” aspect in their product development.
Over the years the company has drawn on the assistance and resources of UKTI and the Manufacturing Advisory Service among others. “They have been helpful in supporting us,” says John Wells. “When agencies come in, they stimulate your thinking. It gets you going, gets you thinking and gets you to act.”
UKTI has helped businesses such as AJ Wells with advice and support in many aspects of exporting. Find export opportunities, events and practical guidance on the Exporting is GREAT site.
The Business Growth Service is now closed to new customers. Contractual commitments to existing customers will be honoured, as long as all support and related activity is completed by 31 March 2016. If you’re looking to find what business support is available in your area, your local Growth Hub may be able to help.