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Is export the answer?

So here we go again. As events in America with Lehman unfolded over the weekend most of us were probably wondering what this would mean for UK construction and us in particular. By Chris Ashworth

Over the summer there has been as much doom and gloom as rain. Plenty of reports threatening a difficult time for the industry, with Construction News deciding to call its economic forecast 'Construction Downturn'. Even going on holiday to escape it all is fraught with worry!

But there are stories of success and profit tucked away between the messages of doom. Plenty of construction companies have a broad customer base and a presence in a variety of sectors, some of which continue to offer opportunity. They are the ones that acted wisely in the good times and will survive during difficult times.

Take a close look at these, how did they do it? What can your business learn and how can you emulate them? It may not be too late to help you through the storm.

Chances are these companies have reviewed their customers regularly, making sure they have a good mix and that they understand customer issues and can anticipate problems early. They have probably monitored market sectors, and made sure they didn’t have too much work in just one, so as one goes down another goes up.

How about overseas? The headlines last week were telling us that ISG are looking to the Middle East and Asia for profit. But that’s not a new decision. They have been operating out there for years and you can be sure that there has been a lot of hard work behind the success.

So if it is too tough in the UK should you consider going international? Although it might be the solution to your problems, it could just open a whole new can of worms. It is expensive to enter and operate in export markets and easy to spend a lot of money unnecessarily. Before starting make sure you have fully researched the market. What are the opportunities, the legal requirements, the competition you will face and who in your organisation is going to deal with all of this?

Think about what you have got to offer and where you are going to offer it. Be certain about the medium to long term prospects in the markets you select. The problems we are suffering are global. For example, China, a strong market for construction for more than 20 years, is now being tipped to have reached its peak. Don’t spend a lot of time, effort and money for nothing.

Overseas markets could be the solution to your problems, but research the situation thoroughly, make sure you have a good service offering and a good local partner.

And finally let’s hope that this weekend sees a little sun shine down on the construction industry. We need it!

Chris Ashworth, founder of Competitive Advantage Consultancy, provides market research and training services to the construction industry. He is a CIMCIG committee member, for further details visit