The eureka moment for British designer and mechanical engineer Sam Pearce of Loopwheels came in 2007 when he saw a mother accidentally bump her child’s buggy hard against a low kerb. He thought the wheel should have suspension inside it to soften the impact from any direction. From this the concept of a wheel with a new type of suspension came about, replacing rigid spokes with loop-shaped springs.
Sam co-runs one of only two businesses in the world to successfully develop suspension inside a wheel. By adapting his product, the Loopwheel now gives life-changing benefits to wheelchair users around the world. Fast forward to today, Sam and his wife Gemma, MD of their business, Jellywheels, now make 100 wheels a month. Sales are growing year on year, even with the pandemic, and the business distributes to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brazil and North America.
For the Nottinghamshire-based duo, being prepared for the UK’s new free trade deal with Europe has been key in positioning their business for 2021. By accessing online advice through gov.uk/transition, Sam and Gemma are now confident for the year ahead.
Sam says: “The EU is our biggest market, so we’ve been very thorough to make sure we are able to continue exporting there.
“We have made sure we have EORI (Economic Operators Registration and Identification) numbers for all our EU business customers, and have confirmed with our freight forwarder that they are able to prepare customs documentation for us, as they do for our other international destinations.”
There have been other considerations too. Gemma explains: “We have made sure to check out the arrangements for CE marking to ensure our products comply with EU requirements. Some of our products are classed as medical devices, and we have kept abreast of changes happening at the same time around those regulations. I attended a very useful government webinar last year that helped me understand what action we needed to take, and we have watched the on-demand videos made available to businesses in January.”
Gemma adds: “We found the updates on gov.uk/transition, the checker tool and the on-demand videos to be the best source for vital information to keep our business moving. Some businesses might mistakenly think they are not affected by the new rules but it’s worth using the checker tool to find out.”
Customs declarations are now needed for all exports from the UK, so the government is urging businesses to adapt to the changes in customs processes and licensing when importing and exporting. New rules on marking requirements are required, as well as an understanding of who in the supply chain is responsible for declarations, VAT and duties.
When it comes to moving goods between GB and NI, businesses will need to check the latest Northern Ireland Protocol guidance.(available here)They should also register for the free to use Trader Support Service. It can guide them through new processes under the Northern Ireland Protocol and submit declarations on their behalf.
Gemma acknowledges some of this can appear daunting, and it has not all been plain sailing for Jellywheels. But she believes with the right help their business will cope with any bumps in the road.
She says: “We did the hard work to prepare last year for the new EU rules, and although there’s been a few teething problems, we were ready for a period of adjustment and a slower start to 2021. However, I do think many of us are very optimistic about the future. Any disruption will settle down and it’s important to stay positive. Even though these are tough times personally and professionally for many people, being positive is very important to instil confidence in employees, customers and partners.”
As well as seeing more sales from North America, the business completed its first delivery to Argentina just before Christmas and has been speaking with a company to distribute in Korea. Gemma believes the new trade arrangements will open up more opportunities in the future.
She says: “We are in a great position in that there is a real need for Loopwheels. We’ve got good distributors in important markets and we are looking to take our technology into other markets such as lightweight electric vehicles in our congested cities.”
Sam and Gemma remain firmly optimistic. With Britain’s world leading reputation for innovation and invention they believe it is important for businesses to get back on track, and put themselves in the best position possible to take advantage of opportunities in 2021 and beyond.