The Giftware Association caught up with Rex International to discuss their time in the industry as well as being a member for a massive 47 years.
Name: Nigel Biggs
Title: Sales Director
Name of company: Rex London
What does your company make/sell? Who is its target audience?
Rex London designs and manufactures original gifts and homeware for adults and children.
How long have you been trading and what is the history of the company?
Rex International (trading as Rex London) started in 1981 as a simple market stall on London’s Portobello Road. Originally selling jumpers, jeans, and candles, it went on to become an importer and wholesaler of goods from India and Southeast Asia. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the company expanded. In 2003, we recognised that global trade had made goods far more accessible and no longer unique. We decided that, as a wholesaler, we had to innovate and create our own products and designs rather than simply import off the shelf products. By 2005 UK high street independent shops were reducing in number with the increasing popularity of online retail. The high street had been a substantial part of our business, so to mitigate any future impact we launched our retail website in 2007 under the name dotcomgiftshop, since rebranded to Rex London in 2018.
Where are your products designed and produced?
All products are developed in conjunction with our design and buying departments in our London headquarters, and are mainly produced in China and the UK along with a few specific countries depending on the materials and manufacture required.
What three words best describe your business and its products?
Distinctive, versatile, successful
Which trade fairs do you exhibit at, and where can we see you on 2019?
Export has become an important part of our business. We will be exhibiting at Tendence in Frankfurt, Maison et Objet in Paris and, for the first time, at Intergift in Madrid.
Do you have a website? If so, do you sell directly from it? If not, why not?
Yes, www.rexlondontrade.com. As far as I am aware we were the first giftware wholesaler to have a live transactional website that was linked into our database, enabling fluid, live wholesale transactions in 2007. Now that trade fairs are more ‘showroom’ events, the website has become the fastest and easiest way to see and buy our range of products.
Do you use social media to promote your business? How has this landscape changed over the years within the gift industry?
We do have a presence on all the main social networks. While we use social media primarily to reach our final consumers, they are also excellent marketing channels to be discovered by prospective B2B customers, so we try to keep a tone of voice that doesn’t alienate one audience or another. Our dedicated Twitter trade account, Instagram and LinkedIn are our preferred channels to promote our business to a professional audience.
Do you do any advertising/PR?
Advertising and PR are key for raising brand awareness and acquiring new customers. We regularly attend trade fairs and we also advertise in trade publications to promote our new ranges of products.
What do you wish you’d known at the very beginning of starting in the giftware industry that you know now?
Predicting product longevity! Whether you’re a retailer or a wholesaler the difference between profit and loss is holding the right amount of stock at the right time. Experience and accumulated data means we now have a more scientific approach.
What top tip could you give to people thinking of starting out making/supplying gifts?
Trademark and copyright are really important, but so is understanding the limitations of that protection when Chinese suppliers are selling similar products directly on Amazon.
Do you feel the economic climate is improving or is it getting tougher to trade?
The economic climate is always going to be variable and trade tough. If a market is easy then new entrants come in until it becomes tough!
What do you see as being the biggest problem for gift producers?
Margins are eroding due to the ease of selling by anyone at any price on platform websites. A decrease in margins can eventually have the effect of reducing investment in developing new products. The giftware industry needs all producers to innovate and bring new products to market. Without this process the market stagnates.
What is your major gripe with the retailers that buy your products?
You should never gripe about customers! It is apparent that some eBay or Amazon resellers are not all necessarily full time businesses and are not competing on level terms with full time business costs. So we choose not to supply any resellers, which offers a degree of protection to our bricks and mortar shops that, quite rightly, do gripe about this kind of competition.
If we could help you with one aspect of your business, what would that be?
Negotiate higher discounts for members for trade show stands. It is clear that footfall has reduced over the years as customers now research online and attend trade shows less frequently. However this has not been reflected in the actual stand costs for exhibiting. This leads to a self-perpetuating decline of exhibitors which in turn exacerbates visitor decline.
What news do you have to share with us so we can celebrate your achievements in 2019?
We are delighted to have just won a highly coveted Queen’s Award for International Trade. Now in their 53rd year, the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are the most prestigious business award in the UK. We’ve been recognised with this award following six years of outstanding continuous growth in overseas sales; an increase of 250% since 2012.
Winning the Queen’s Award is a great achievement and gives a renewed sense of confidence at a time when British business faces uncertainty.
What are you looking to achieve in 2019?
We are continuing to focus on our brand Rex London and having a distinctive look. Developing as many products as possible and maintaining the balance of quality, price and design.
Congratulations on being a long-standing member, can you describe how being a member has helped rex London and also the industry.
It’s hugely important to have a body representing the giftware industry both in terms of promotion and in being vocal with governmental bodies. We are particularly pleased with the higher profile and upgrading of services that has taken place in the last few years.