IPO Case Study - Stateside Skates

Recently featuring in the 2015 Sunday Times BT Business SME Export Track 100, Stateside Skates Ltd is a business which has grown from strength to strength. Founded in 1981, the business was set up to plug a gap in the market for roller skates.

Now, this one-time small Buckinghamshire trader is an internationally recognised company. Its product range includes skateboards, scooters and skates. They also own the Rio Roller fashion skate, as seen on the feet of many high-profile celebrities.

With wide-scale exposure and an expanding customer base, how do they keep their products desirable? The answer: by protecting their intellectual property (IP). Not only do they have 18 UK registered trade marks, but they have also protected each of these with European registrations. Further worldwide applications are also in the pipeline.

“The business owns ten different brands,” explains Operations Manager, Alistair Crichton. "Each has their own unique design and selling point.  Protecting our IP ensures we can produce, market and sell our brands safe in the knowledge that we are the owners. We can take action if anyone tries to copy or pass off their products as ours. Having our brands as registered trade marks assures customers that they are getting the original product.”

After UK success, the business entered the Spanish market. This was soon followed up across Europe. They have also now begun to open up markets further afield, in South Korea, Canada and Russia. For any business, breaking into new territories can be a hard task. Yet Stateside Skates appear to have done so with relative ease. So how did they do this? Luckily they were aware of the help available from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

“The company has always traded internationally. We realised in 2010 that the Internet was breaking down geographical barriers. So we then made a strategic decision to really attack the European market,” explains Alistair.

“UKTI have been a great support throughout our international sales growth,” said Alistair. “They have provided training, advice on languages and great contacts.”

The business has taken advantage of many UKTI schemes to help them build their international offering. One of these is Passport to Export. Aimed at SMEs with little exporting experience, it provides training and support. Working with a UKTI trade expert helped Alistair and the Stateside Skates team start the exporting process.

“Their support and advice has been invaluable in shaping our export sales strategy,” reveals Alistair. “They gave us an insight into how we should approach markets outside the UK. Before becoming involved with UKTI, our export sales accounted for around 5% of our total sales. Now that figure is around 50%.”

They have also undertaken an Export Communications Review (ECR). UKTI's ECR helps businesses overcome language or cultural barriers they face in foreign markets. It takes into account all aspects of a business from websites and brochures to sales and invoicing.

“We found the idea of ‘culture’ essential to understanding export markets. It’s essential to understand the product demands and way of working in each market before attempting to break into it.”

With all the hard work it takes to establish your business overseas, it’s vital that you protect your IP assets in those regions too. Without protection, IP infringers could end your international dream before you've begun.

“We put a lot of effort into product development and every product we make is unique to us," explained Alistair. “Seeing our product and IP copied is frustrating and counterproductive. We are always concerned about customers being misled and about possible damage to our reputation. Over time we have refined a very systematic approach to registering our brands.”

So what routes did the Stateside Skates team follow to protect themselves?

“Our in-house lawyer worked with a local firm of trade mark and patent attorneys to protect our brands in the UK and Europe. Before making our applications we checked that we wouldn’t be infringing other registered brands. We did this by searching both the Intellectual Property Office and the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market trade mark registers.

“We considered each case and applied as business needs required. This was either by UK registration first then Europe or immediately with a European registration. We sell our products to almost every country in Europe. It was much more efficient and cost-effective to apply for multiple countries at once and in one application.”

With a wealth of experience behind them, what advice would Alistair give to those thinking of exporting?

“We would urge SMEs to invest in IP early on, even if it seems like money that could be better invested elsewhere,” he encourages. “If you are a company which makes unique products, investment in IP is worth the investment in time and money. Otherwise you can leave yourself open to your products being copied or passed off by rival companies.”

Thanks to the help received, business is now booming worldwide for the company. They’ve even expanded their workforce, employing staff with language skills in local markets to help them cope with the increased business.

“UKTI has helped us enormously in our journey over the last few years,” Alistair stresses. “Their help to establish a clear strategy going into overseas markets has been the foundation of our success.”

But with the business already growing so quickly, where does Alistair see Stateside Skates going from here?

“We're continuing to design our products under our house brands and to make them more desirable in the European market. We also plan to take the brands across the world and sell into Asia, Australia and North America.”

Protect your ‘IP for Business’

‘IP for Business’ is the IPO's online range of tools, events and case studies to help you understand, protect and exploit your IP. No matter how much IP knowledge you have, you’ll find a tool to suit you:

  • IP Equip - A free, interactive learning tool to help you identify the IP assets your business owns
  • IP Equip app – Access free IP information at your fingertips, available for iOS and Android devices
  • IP Health Check - A free online assessment of your business to help you add value to your IP assets
  • IP Master Class – In-depth training for business professionals, available either face-to-face or online

Visit the ‘IP for Business’ webpage for more information and to access the tools.