Socks appeal

Now here’s a fascinating story: a company that in less than 30 years has been a manufacturer, a wholesaler and is now a thriving international online retailer – and through those transitions it has been run by different members of the same family.

Universal Textiles started in 1986 as a sock maker in Leicester. It expanded in the nineties by adding a factory shop, selling all types of hosiery products. As the new millennium arrived, the manufacturing business came under huge pressure from cheaper products made in Asia; Universal Textiles abandoned manufacturing to become an importer and wholesaler.

Even this change in strategy wasn’t enough; by 2005, the founder’s two sons who were then running the company decided to sell the site for redevelopment and close the company down.

But not so fast. Enter Ravi Karia, son of one of the two brothers. His vision was for Universal Textiles to be a pure-play online retailer. Starting from scratch (as the factory had been sold, the family garage had to be the warehouse), Karia grew the business rapidly.

His father joined him, and father and son have developed a high-growth company that sells winter clothing – socks, thermal underwear, hats, gloves and bedding – to customers in Germany, France and the USA – frequently through Amazon and eBay. Growth has been driven by international online sales, driven by bespoke software designed by Karia himself. Indeed, the success of his online strategy led Amazon to feature Karia on their home page this summer, leading to a 30 per cent uplift in sales.

“I would like to take the company to as many countries as possible,” says Karia in this recent case study. “We are currently looking at Japan, Spain, Canada and China. At the moment, our export sales are 40 per cent which we would like to increase to 80 per cent by 2016.”

He also describes the flourishing partnership that it has developed with footwear supplier Footsure as a result of the UKTI network.

UKTI has helped businesses such as Universal Textiles with advice and support in many aspects of exporting. Arrange a face-to-face meeting with a UKTI advisor today.