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John Rubidge of UK Trade & Industry

Swindon’s steam trains may hold secret to Britain’s economic future

Exports expert John Rubidge stood in front of a steam engine – the Caerphilly Castle – this week and asked seminar delegates to imagine a time when Britain straddled the globe like an industrial behemoth.

“Wouldn´t it be fantastic,” he asked, “to have this kind of innovation resurging throughout Britain?”

Mr Rubidge, from UK Trade & Industry, was at the Business Show Swindon – held at STEAM, a venue built to celebrate the town´s industrial heritage – to talk about Why Your Business Needs to Go Global.

He chose examples from around the South West to demonstrate how local businesses can become global players.

He explained how Clark´s shoes became as coveted as Jimmy Choo in China, where they sell for three times their British ticket price, and reminded delegates how the West´s aerospace industry still rules the air.

But there was hope for small businesses too, he said. Cuddledry – a hooded towel for drying bathed babies – was conceived by two West mums, who are now trading in 40 countries, while Green Gourmet invented the mechanism that allows airlines to serve French fries on a plane.

Mr Rubidge said British industry was too hung up on exporting to the USA and Europe, both of whom are experiencing slow economic growth.

“We export more to Ireland, with a population of 4.5 million people, than we do to the BRIC countries – Brazil, China, India and Russia,” he said. “But it is those BRIC countries, with a combined population of three billion, that are experiencing the economic growth.

“China´s economy is set to grow by nine percent between 2010 and 2015. Half a billion people there have access to the internet. Its middle class will grow from 178 million to 314 million within the next five years.

“The world is very rapidly changing.”

Charlie Wade of VodafoneBut the world isn´t just changing thousands of miles away – it´s happening on our doorstep too, according to Charlie Wade of Vodafone, who talked about the way his company had restructured to embrace the very technology it was selling to consumers.

Much of the content was familiar to delegates who attended the recent Swindon Technology and Innovation Forum (read about it here).

But Mr Wade was also keen to talk about the way in which customer patience was declining – and how the company had embraced social media to help them cope with the demand for attention and answers.

“We asked 700 businesses with an average of 98 employees, if you put an enquiry in to a business, how long would you expect to wait for a response?

“Two years ago it was seven hours. Now it´s two hours. And for Generation Y – the tech savvy customers born after 1982 – its 30 minutes.

“We couldn´t hire enough people to deal with queries on that basis,” said Mr Wade, “so we´ve embraced social media. Now, every week, 400,000 queries are solved by our own customers through our social media channels.”

Luan WiseWith an answer like that, it´s a good job marketing consultant Luan Wise had asked the question What´s The Point of Social Media? earlier in the day.

Luan insisted “We don´t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.

“It´s about targeting the right person with the right message at the right time in the right way,” she said.

Luan showed her audience some social media #fails before jogging through the secrets to a successful social media campaign, from getting more followers to talking to them at the right time of day (before breakfast and after dinner on Twitter, during the late evening for Facebook).  

  • The event was organised by Business West and sponsored by Excalibur.