Let's talk... selling to the UAE

We caught up with Joe Hepworth, who started British Centres for Business (BCB) based in Dubai, about his top tips for doing business in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

1. What is your role and how did you become involved in the UAE?

Firstly, I think it’s important to note that I’m a proud Yorkshireman myself! Ilkely is still ‘home’, even after all these years away. I’ve been in Dubai for 9 years and started the BCB almost 4 years ago in response to a UK government need to provide British SMEs with further resources & advice for getting underway in key markets like the UAE. In that time, we’ve had 30 companies through the BCB’s Incubator and supported 170 others with commercial advice & horsepower to help them grow exports in the UAE.

2. What do you think people should know about selling to the UAE they may not realise?

Patience isn’t a virtue, it’s essential in the UAE! You need to be prepared to invest time and play a long game. Related to that is the fact that, in most cases, they’ll want to get to know you as much as your product or service, so you need to be here, on the ground building the relationships. That’s one of the reasons we set up our market-entry incubator: to give UK SMEs a soft-landing and the ability to develop business locally in a low cost & low risk environment.

3. What kind of products/services are in demand in the UAE?

This is a thriving retail hub, but that also means that competition is very sharp too, but products that have an interesting provenance or backstory are increasingly popular. Whatever the industry, there’s undoubtedly a focus on quality. That’s not to say that price isn’t important, but Yorkshire companies should compete on value and quality, rather than cost…there’ll always be someone cheaper than you.

4. What cultural top tips do you have for doing business in the UAE?

Don’t assume that because it’s largely modern and new, that the way of doing business is also like the West. This is an old Arabian trading nation, and those historical attributes are still prevalent, even if you’re communicating on Whatsapp. There is no substitute for having a local presence to understand this and build your profile and business. The days of fly-in / fly-out are over.

5. What Yorkshire success stories are there for doing business in the UAE?

We’ve helped quite a few, not least through the Northern Powerhouse trade missions to Gulfood over the last couple of years. Seabrooks Crisps came on the first of those and we subsequently helped them with a number of the local supermarket chains Now, every time I see them on the shelves, I take a picture & tweet it! On the B2B side, Vital Certificates, from Batley has really thrived here; they graduated from our incubator in the spring and are a great example of a company who has done their research, invested in the market and is starting to see the fruits of that. For obvious reasons, I don’t think I’ll ever play a hand in Black Sheep Breweries getting underway here, but you can dream…

If you'd like a conversation about selling more overseas, please call our team on 0113 348 1818, or email businessgrowth@the-LEP.com.