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Export Champion: Playdale Playgrounds

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing the stories of some of Cumbria’s Export Champions to inspire and showcase the benefits of expanding your business overseas to drive growth. In this series, we’ll look at some of the key considerations for any business looking to expand to trade internationally, and explain how the Department of International Trade (DIT) can support you and your business at every stage of the export process.

Playdale Playgrounds is the largest UK manufacturer of outdoor children’s playground equipment. Children around the world are having fun because of this award-winning South Cumbrian business. Playdale’s turnover is circa £11M; with 85 employees and they work with distributors in 50 countries.

Ten years ago, Playdale were the second largest playground equipment manufacturer in the UK in what was a very red ocean of 60 competitors. After many strategy sessions on how to diversify, they decided their blue ocean strategy was to go global!

Barry Leahey (MBE), Managing Director at Playdale quickly engaged with the Department of International Trade and enrolled on a training programme, attended the masterclasses and from there developed an action plan. The annual plan involved doing desk research to highlight six countries each year that they wanted to enter. In the early years they based this on market value, GDP and even how many children they had. This however was somewhat technical, and they learned quickly to look where the developed markets are by researching their competitors – why waste time to reinvent the methods of others that have been successful? They then spend up to a week in each market researching it, meeting architects, city councils, schools and even the competition; this step is vital, as you must without fail get eyes, ears and boots on the ground.

Today Playdale have a presence in 50 countries through 38 distributers spanning the globe and 50% of their manufactured product is going abroad. Exporting has grown the business in so many ways in a period when the UK market has contracted by circa 40%!

Barry Leahey says “Export is an opportunity for everyone; it has not only allowed us to grow, it has improved the product, our daily speed and customer service. All of this has combined to improve our margins, and by being worldly we are well and truly on the road to being world class.”

Playdale’s top tips for other businesses to prepare to export include:

  • Develop a ‘risk register’ to understand the key risks for your business, under the areas of taxation, supply chains and stock, Intellectual Property, contracts and cross border trade, operations and products; then develop plans to mitigate or tackle these risk
  • Ensure you have an EORI (Economic Operators Registration) number
  • Playdale have registered for Transitional Simplified Procedures to make it easier to import from the EU
  • Become an AEO (Authorised Economic Operator) approved business, which is a quality mark awarded to business trading internationally and awarded by HMRC in the UK
  • Playdale set up a VAT deferment account by providing a bond to their bank; this gives them a better cashflow with the additional VAT they will have to pay on imports
  • Ensure your Intellectual Property is protected

Playdale would recommend that any business wishing to sell their products overseas should contact DIT to learn more about the journey to exporting.


For information and assistance on trading internationally, please get in touch with our Export Manager, Sarah Peak, who joins our team on secondment from the DIT. She can help with any enquires you may have and enable your business to export and grow into global markets: sarah.peak@tradenw.org

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