Export story: John Ross (Aberdeen) Jr
How overseas sales are helping to boost business
The winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2000 and Royal Warrant holder has seen consistent growth of its overseas sales, says chief executive Andrew Leigh.
Branching out in the export business was a no-brainer for Andrew Leigh. “I’ve been an exporter all my life really,” he says. “Before we make a business trip we will often contact the embassies to check details, but I have been doing it for so long that I know most of the kind of problems that could occur,” he adds, while explaining the cultural and logistical challenges of doing business overseas.
Launched 23 years ago, John Ross Jr was born out of the notion that Scottish smoked salmon is the best in the world. The company differentiates itself by smoking its salmon in a traditional brick kiln, which according to Leigh produces a much better product.
He explains: “We are probably the largest in the world that uses the traditional kiln as opposed to most of our competitors, which use machines to smoke them.” He adds: “All salmon we use is from the Shetland Islands and we have stuck to that quality for the overseas market.”
Leigh started doing business abroad from day one, using contacts from his 14 years’ experience exporting Angus beef. “I was exporting beef from Scotland all around the world when I saw an opportunity in the market to export traditional smoked salmon,” he says.
After purchasing a factory with a brick kiln, John Ross Jr started exporting immediately. “I think our very first customer was the Paris Hilton actually,” recalls Leigh.
The company, which turns over around £10m, has roughly 500 UK and international clients, with customers ranging from major supermarkets to small Michelin starred restaurants via airlines, hotel groups and fishmongers, and as a Royal Warrant holder, the royal kitchen.
Today the family-run business exports to 36 countries across Europe, the States, and the Far and Middle East, with 63% of the business’ revenue coming from the international market. “Begium is probably our largest market at the moment as there is one major high-end supermarket that we export to,” says Leigh.
John Ross Jr recently won a large contract with Waitrose, so Leigh also expects revenue to increase in the UK. Still, he prefers the export side of the company. “I found the market overseas was very respectful and a much easier market than the UK as it was always open and accessible,” he says. “I find doing business in the UK tough – just getting to see the buyers is much more challenging than overseas, which is strange. I don’t know whether it’s because business is done differently overseas or whether it is just a difference in cultural etiquette. In London it’s quite hard.”
One of the main lessons Leigh has learnt in exporting fresh produce is the importance of quality of delivery. He says: “Without the transport companies we don’t operate. It is hugely important to get good companies to look after your product because if it’s mucked around, despite all the good work you might be doing, it can ruin your business in seconds.”
With an eye on continuing growth in the overseas market John Ross Jr is in negotiations with a high-end American supermarket chain, a subsidiary of the Belgian chain the company already supplies.
“We have been in constant growth for years and we are always looking for new markets and at growing our existing markets,” Leigh says. “I would like to see a nice steady growth continue while also paying a lot of attention to our quality.”