Cumbria Crack

Business booming for Morecambe Bay research company with a global catch

Paul Hudson says a market research product they began developing 10 years ago is now attracting worldwide interest

[A] Sandside business near Milnthorpe, Cumbria says a market research product they began developing 10 years ago is reviving their fortunes and attracting worldwide interest.

This month’s figures are set to be the best in the company’s 30 year history. They have recorded an 80% increase in revenue over the first half of the year – January to June (2017) compared with January to June (2016). They are also forecasting a 50-60% increase in revenue for 2017, versus 2016.

FlexMR say interest continues to grow in the product they have developed, the world’s first fully integrated online research platform. Built by researchers for researchers, it offers businesses 16 different tools to help them with anything from product development and testing to customer insights, through their own branded portal.

This year the company launched an office in Madrid, using a local partnership with a research company, in response to winning a two year market research contract with one of Spain’s largest utility companies. This partnership also supports US clients who need research into their Hispanic customers and also those in Latin America.

Last month, FlexMR set up a subsidiary company in America, a sales office in South Carolina, to grow their business in the United States and to support the company’s existing US client base.

This year (2017) 40% of revenue will be generated from clients based overseas, an increase from 10% in 2016. Half of this will be North American clients, 30% Spanish and 20% European.

To meet the growing demand, the company has taken on new staff, an increase of 30% from 20 to 26. Of those 18 are based in Cumbria, one in Germany, one in the USA and six work remotely across the UK. The team operates in 17 languages including full time expertise in Spanish, Polish, German and Romanian. The company secures additional language support using part time native language researchers working from a satellite office at Lancaster University’s ‘InfoLab’. This language expertise has meant the company has worked in countries including Japan, Indonesia, Russia, Sweden, Norway, France, Italy, Germany and Spain.

Paul Hudson, CEO since 2007, explained the journey he and his team have been on, he said:

“The Internet changed the nature of our industry forever. Our clients now had the tools to do their own customer research, using online cloud-based software (SaaS), and we were becoming obsolete. There was no longer a demand for our traditional call-centre and face to face services and large, well-funded American competitors were entering the market at speed. It was a situation of David verses Goliath, or rather the Lake District verses Silicon Valley.

“So we changed our business model to focus on a new ‘SaaS-based’ product that would deliver client led flexible service levels. With the support of a very talented team of researchers, project managers, consultants, developers and administrators we focused in on this online product. We re-positioned our offer in the market with a rebrand from Intersperience to FlexMR and we invested in digital marketing (SEO, SEM) and a dedicated sales team” added Paul.

The company says they face a number of challenges including recruiting software developers. Paul says there is a skills shortage in the UK, and particularly outside of London and in the North of England. The company has responded by using remote workers based around the UK. The other challenge is Brexit as many companies are able to make up the short fall in native software skills by bringing talent in from Eastern Europe. With that option removed, Paul says that already some businesses are looking to locate development offices in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Russia.

As for the future, the company is exploring sponsoring of a PhD into Artificial Intelligence at Lancaster University, with the support of EU funding initiative delivered through a Cumbria Innovations Platform.

“We were and are very careful to stay true to our customer first values as we innovate; it put us in a unique space, and it’s the reason for our success” said Paul.

“We have created a truly digital company that takes advantage of all of the trends in 21st century.

“We have embraced remote working to over-come talent pool challenges and place ourselves for global opportunities. We have a brilliant, accomplished team, we value them and we demonstrate this consistently. Our staff turnover is low. Our brand values are bought into. Employees are happy, hard-working and dedicated. The Lake District creates a unique and inspiring location.”

The view from Paul Hudson’s office at Sandside, across the shifting sands of Morecambe Bay to the Lake District fells, now a World Heritage Site is a good business analogy as they navigate the ever changing business environment whilst growing a digital research company with a global reach.

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