In this series of profiles on the 2020 winners of the Queen’s Awards, we ask about the impact the recognition has had on their businesses and how they’re coping with the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Revealed on 21 April, 128 companies were awarded in the international trade category this year, showing the importance of exporting to the UK economy.
Ruth Lee: The Welsh firm selling manikins on every continent
North Wales business Ruth Lee Ltd may only employ 30 ‘real’ people but it has put 'pretend' ones in countries all over the world.
Set up in the early 90s by Ruth and Ron Lee, the business initially focused on repairing prams from a premises in Merseyside.
Flash forward to today and the firm has become a world leader in the design and manufacture of manikins for training rescue workers. They are used by sectors such as emergency services, armed forces, lifeguards, maritime and health and social care.
Ruth Lee sells its products to the US, South America, Europe, Australasia and the Middle East. Sales into more than 50 countries are made through a network of 40 distributors.
Such global success resulted in Ruth Lee this year being rewarded with a Queen’s Award in recognition of its ‘outstanding shot-term growth in overseas markets’.
Exports now represent 70% of its total business.
The win has come at an important moment due to the “increased anxiety” being felt by businesses like Ruth Lee during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The prevailing health crisis has undermined confidence and increased anxiety for people and businesses alike,” managing director Paul McDonnell told the Daily Update (5 June).
“The future remains uncertain, but Ruth Lee staff, customers and suppliers know that we are a strong partner for them – a message endorsed with this prestigious award. It’s come at a perfect time for us,” he added.
He said winning the award “provided a much-needed boost to staff morale in these difficult times”.
McDonnell says that Ruth Lee’s export success been “built upon strong foundations of quality and customer service” and he hopes the “royal seal of approval” will help to win further international clients
Being a small team based in a remote part of the country, he also hopes the award will help the company attract new talent.
“As a business based in a small, rural community, attracting new talent to the team can be a real challenge,” he said.
“We expect that winning the Queen’s Award will add further weight to our employee value proposition, as we continue to build the team locally, nationally and internationally.”