How an entrepreneurial family business goes global

Martin Wadsworth

DiscreteHeat is a Manchester-based family business. Their product is an ingenious heating system, which hides radiators inside a skirting board.

Martin Wadsworth, DiscreteHeat Managing Director, first appeared on Dragons Den in 2006 with his heating product, which is aimed at people who want to avoid those ugly wall-hung radiators. Since then, Martin has grown his firm’s turnover, recruited more staff and set up new international franchises.

So, how did this small family firm go from being a product developed in a home-garage, to an international supplier of high-tech heating equipment?

Growing an international customer base

Martin knew that internationalisation would be crucial for his business success. From 2007 to 2014, the percentage of manufacturing Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the UK who are exporting has increased from 42% to 45%. Despite being a small family business, Martin wanted to be part of this trend.

He predicted that Australia, where there are many new build houses and where owners have never used wall-hung radiators, would be well-suited to his discreet new product. However, like many SME-owner/managers, Martin faced challenges in growing his market. His family firm could not afford to recruit a permanent marketer to promote his products. This is where the University of Salford helped his company to grow and internationalise.

Help from Salford Business School students

A student project was developed to help segment the customer market, identify the most appropriate channels and identify the best route to market. Marketing students were able to quickly design a promotional film, and pilot test the product on a small sample of Australian consumers.

Their feedback was incorporated into the final film, and Martin, his son and sister, who work alongside him, were able to sign off the final product. The promotional film proved to be the success factor for international expansion. Martin sees Salford’s role as being crucial to this growth:

“Without the help of Salford University, our product wouldn’t have made the next stage of development. We’ve expanded to Australia, Poland and the USA and are planning to move into Germany. Exports are going to be a huge part of our turnover in years to come.”

Working with Salford Business School students

Student live projects are a great way for family firms to introduce new skills and experience, without the cost and commitment of hiring a permanent member of staff. With postgraduate students specialising in digital marketing, event management, accounting and finance, international business and many other subject areas, Salford is a great source of expertise for firms small and large.

In addition, Salford Business School is a hub for researching family firms and SMEs. According to the latest SME data published in March 2015, 70% of all SME manufacturing firms were family businesses. These family firms form the backbone of manufacturers in Greater Manchester. Salford Business School is distinctive in our approach to understanding how local family firms can survive and thrive.

Can your family business benefit from a student project?

If you are a SME family firm looking for an injection of talent, please email or call the team on 0161 295 6171, to talk through exactly how the student project will work.