David Brooks 12.01.2017
How trading has changed.
. The phrase that 'trade follows the flag' summed up the British attitude to exports in the days of the Empire. With the world's largest navy and control of the oceans, the union flag was planted at all corners of the earth for merchants and commerce to follow. Trading posts established and in due course along came the salesmen. Britain generally preferred to stay out of Europe apart from supporting a balance of power via changing alliances. As an island nation, the sea beckoned the British who were content to leave European governments occupied by problems on the continent and the expense of large armies while there was less likelihood of interference with British maritime trade.
It seemed to me that many large companies arranged their sales organisations to first of all address the UK, usually referred to as the 'home' market, which was well supported by a network of salesmen. Back in the 1950s and onwards a sales position was seen as a well rewarded job. At my father's firm moving from a clerical role to a salesman was seen as a great step forward and known as 'going on the road'. It seemed he was frequently reporting news of yet another example of a colleague who had 'gone on the road' during the course of our evening meal. Before the War (WW2) a great uncle of mine held a sales role for a Dundee based manufacturer of post cards. His role was selling to key accounts, particularly the major stores in London. As part of his renumeration he enjoyed the benefits of a chauffeur-driven car to make his sales calls. Other references to chauffeurs for important salesmen suggest this was not unusual. Post war, with more people trained to drive, the salesman became his own chauffeur and had full use of his own Austin motor car. A salesman was still a good job when I started work, until the government started taxing the use of a car and petrol. Fleet cars were operated by many firms and with the Ford Cortina becoming a stereo-type of the salesman.
The export market was treated very differently. Although it might not have been expressly stated, the home market was the core on which the business depended. Export effectively was a bit of a bonus. The management rationale was explained by a simple graphic model. The usual graph shows cost on the y axis and production volume on the x axis. A straight line covers all fixed costs and from this a rising line shows variable costs for producing more product. Export sales tended to fit into this marginal or opportunity costs which in turn effectively lowered unit costs for all production. Export salesmen were quite different to the home salesmen and some made occasional sales trips to the territories they were assigned, mainly to visit subsidiaries and dealers.
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