International Growth Q&A - Signature Leather CEO Tim Penn in Conversation

Leather maker

Signature Leather is a specialist manufacturer of leather gloves, coats, bags and more with a key focus on quality, design and function, particularly in the equestrian sector.

There’s a lot that goes into creating this type of product - just take a look:

With all of this effort, it’s essential that the end product can find its way to customers and the company has a long history of marketing and selling internationally - particularly in the Nordics, DACH and Francophone countries.

In this Q&A, Signature Leather CEO Tim Penn shares his experience in working at international scale. We hope you enjoy it! 

  • What can you tell us about your experience with localisation?

Before the internet was invented when exhibiting at trade shows (SPOGA Köln, Germany was the key Equestrian show back then and still exists today) - my one and only treasured remaining price list from way back in 1981 was produced in A4 format that could be folded in the middle.

It was produced in 3 x currencies and 4 x Languages and we were then Penn Marketing International Limited - the key word being International so when visitors would enquire "Where are you from"? our response was always, "Where are you from"?

That’s the most important bit, not where we are from!

This has continued as our approach to international events in priority markets - if Scandinavian, a colleague with Swedish/Norwegian language skills would show them our products and if it was Austria, Switzerland, Benelux, Ivory Coast, Algeria etc etc.  I would put my French and German language skills to work.

As a result, potential customers walked away with a product guidance and a price list in a range of languages and currencies with which to consider our product range - how do you feel that made them feel? 

  • Have your views on the importance of translation and localisation changed over time or have you stuck to a core set of ideas?

A core set of ideas - understanding the German language for example and the ability to discuss products/product features in German with potential customers completely changes the conversation because they know that you understand their culture too, i.e. Sie & Du - not just You!

  • In the industries you work in/have worked in, what are customers looking for, generally speaking from international companies?

Respect and delivering what you say you are going to deliver.

In this regard, Germany, Austria and Switzerland expect accuracy and "Correctness" with a capital C (or K in German) in your dealings with them. 

Having worked as an agent for British, German, Swedish and Swiss companies my experience is that British attention to detail and correctness across a range of issues always finishes in fourth place. 

My approach to business has been informed more by the Germans and Swiss than the British.

In this regard, my one big tip to exporters is to have a policy of, under selling and over delivering.  

  • How do you take on customer feedback? Does this feature in your ongoing strategy?

A very big YES to this question - please see:

The brief introduction presented on this web page answers this question. 

  • As a Brand that outsources manufacturing can you tell us your approach to your style of collaboration with manufacturers together with your activity and communication up and down your supply chain?

Over my 45 year exporting career to date I have been an exponent of Working Up and Down the Supply Chain forging business relations with my suppliers suppliers and also visiting Equestrian events to meet and talk with our Retail customers customers. 

I call this Market Research by Walking Around and over the years it has paid big dividends in wider and broader industry understanding as well as working in a much more fulfilling business environment.     

  • What's next for you and your company?

Although a French/German speaker I have no words of Spanish so will be moving to Spain (Cadiz) for 3 months (September-December) this year to acquire the Spanish language from a standing start as a personal Case Study in language learning.

At the same time I will be travelling seeking out potential retail customers for our products in Spain for the very first time whilst living in Spain and also to practise what I preach to pre GCSE pupils here: 

This should provide some interesting stories for educational visits in 2025!