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Growth Hub helps violin experts add a new string to their bow
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Growth Hub helps violin experts add a new string to their bow

A Stone-based violin expert is looking east to new export markets for his business thanks to the help of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Hub service.

Tim Toft Violins was awarded Growth Hub funding to help the company attend an international music exhibition in China. And the visit has resulted in a range of export opportunities as well as contact with a new supplier.

Tim Toft is one of the largest sellers in the UK of old and modern instruments spanning the baroque, classical and modern periods. Customers can try out and purchase instruments, cases, bows and books from the Tim Toft retail shop in Stone town centre, where Tim and his team also restore instruments in a specialist workshop.

Having started in the violin business over 30 years ago, Tim has established himself internationally as a respected authority, advising on matters of instrument authenticity, valuation, provenance and investment to many professional bodies, auction houses and players.

As a respected international consultant, Tim was keen to expand the retail business into new overseas markets, and contacted UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) who advised him of the specialist Growth Hub funding available for help with developing international markets.

Tim commented: “We pride ourselves on the standard of our service, whether selling instruments or the repair and restoration service we provide. I’ve built my knowledge and expertise through research and experience gained by attending almost every major instrument auction in the past 30 years, and I felt it was time to focus on expanding our retail business overseas.”

An International Trade Advisor from UKTI pointed Tim towards the financial assistance available from the Growth Hub to help companies export. Tim Toft was keen to expand in China, and with assistance from UKTI, the firm applied for match funding from the Growth Hub to attend Music China, a large international exhibition jointly organised by China Musical Instruments Association (CMIA), INTEX Shanghai, and Messe Frankfurt (HK).

The Growth Hub Programme has been funded by the Government’s Regional Growth Fund through Lancaster University, which has led the creation of 15 new growth hubs across the UK. It is designed to enable local companies to realise their growth potential by offering grant funding for expansion, capital equipment purchases, support for training, and research and development.

After being awarded the funding, Tim Toft worked with UKTI to prepare for the exhibition. Colin Holdsworth from the Music Industries Association provided support, working with UKTI to organise the UK companies who would be exhibiting in China at the exhibition. Tim Toft received advice on visas, paperwork, shipping and the exhibition stand, and received a grant towards the costs of the exhibition and flights.

Held in Shanghai last autumn, Music China attracted 71,591 visitors and 1,775 exhibitors from China and around the world.

Tim Toft commented: “Going to Music China was a significant investment for us, and the match funding from the Growth Hub really made a difference; we couldn’t have gone without their support. The exhibition itself was an excellent opportunity to build relationships and we made some good contacts with dealers and retailers in China. We also met a new supplier, and we are now stocking a new range of bows. The exhibition is helping us to fulfil our long-term goals of building our trade in China, and we are hoping to continue to explore opportunities with agents there who are keen to represent us.”

David Frost, Chairman of the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) added: “There is a growing demand overseas for British products and services, and Chinese buyers will value Tim’s expertise, experience and commitment to authenticity. Many small businesses find the prospect of exporting daunting, and it’s thanks to the support of organisations like UKTI and the Growth Hub that British businesses can establish a global presence. It’s very encouraging to hear that Tim has already established some contacts who are interested in selling his products into China, and I look forward to seeing the company continue to grow.”


Lancaster University plays two distinct and innovative roles in the Wave 2 Growth Hub programme – as programme managers and as expert support to programme development. A first for universities in the UK, this programme demonstrates the dynamic roles that universities, and especially their business schools, can play in the UK’s Growth Agenda. Lancaster University, which was named as a top-ten university for SME engagement in the recent Witty Review and has received a Gold Small Business Charter Award, successfully bid to run this Regional Growth Fund programme. This is due to its Management School’s long-standing reputation for innovative support to business, and also because of the university’s experience and expertise in successfully managing European Funding programmes across the UK.