Spreading the Wings

Opportunities for SMEs Abroad

Even for a small SME the first steps across the border can set things in motion that you could initially dismiss as nice dreams. Success here does not occur exactly as per the textbooks. No bold marketing strategies are devised. Maybe that’s reserved for the big boys. Contacts, drive (‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’), ideas and a good portion of luck are all part of the process, even if that sounds bourgeois and precocious. What follows describes our route from Bad Hersfeld-Asbach into the world beyond.

As a manufacturer and developer of systems for trenchless sewer rehabilitation, we found ourselves in the situation one day where potential in the German market was thoroughly exhausted. Everybody knew everyone else. If we didn’t want to tread water, we had to come up with a new idea. But you don’t just ring up some place or other in Madrid and ask if they couldn’t perhaps do with a robot. It’s nice to think that you could make contacts so directly. But on the telephone you’re often fended off. You don’t speak the customer’s language. And I’m not talking about English. Sometimes it’s also a case of different mentalities. We therefore found intermediaries via whom we were able to promote our products at trade shows abroad. We entered the French market, for example, in this way. There as elsewhere we work with a general agent, who also represents us at trade fairs.

At the same time we also have a presence at trade fairs in Germany, for instance at RO-KA-TECH and ENTSORGA. In this way you can also make contact with foreign clients here in Germany. The classic benefit of trade shows. Very practical, don’t you think? We take a long-term approach to our business. Capital expenditure items have an advantage over mass consumer products. You can’t be swapped so quickly for another supplier. But despite building up good relationships, a good deal of hard work is also required. There is a lot of competition. Having patent protection for new developments is hardly any use. And global patents are not affordable. People in the business take one look at a new product and often know in next to no time what it took you yourself months or years of meticulous development to work out. That’s something you live with. What else are you supposed to do? We can’t hide ourselves away.

German mechanical engineering traditionally enjoys a good reputation abroad. Not without good reason. And without wanting to sound arrogant, in technological terms manufacturers from Switzerland, Austria and Germany take a leading role in sewer rehabilitation. We notice that from the demand from other countries. From Turkey, Poland or Spain, for instance. The demand is high. Having an intact sewer system is increasingly being recognised as a necessity in order to protect people and the environment. An intact sewer system is also cheaper if you do your sums honestly and do not sweep general and follow-up economic costs under the carpet.

Via our agent we came into contact with executives responsible for the sewers in Singapore. The city-state is currently largely supplied with drinking water from Malaysia. In 2010 the tap is due to be turned off. They are now working intensively in Singapore on making the sewage pipeline system watertight in order to prevent leaks and contamination of the groundwater. Failing this, higher costs for drinking water preparation would be the unavoidable consequences. That opened up opportunities for us, even as a small company, to do some international business. It helps enormously if you can be found on the Internet. Companies without a website effectively do not exist. I don’t mean either that you get found via search engines like Google. A website has a business card function. Once clients have your name, they go and look for it specifically online. If you then cut a poor figure, you’ve got a problem. That may not necessarily be so, but for the first impression there is now no second chance.

That, naturally, all has a touch of globalisation about it. For us, however, it is primarily project work with clients that we are able to interest in our rehabilitation methods. And where that’s a long way away from Bad Hersfeld that naturally makes us a little bit proud. Needs and requirements tend to be same everywhere. And that’s what makes the global market just like our local market. It’s a market that has become smaller. Just like the world itself.

Martin Schwalm, “Der Gemeinderat”, Globalization

Schwalm Robotic GmbH Industriestraße 16 36251 Bad Hersfeld-Asbach Germany Telefon: +49 6621 79578-0 Telefax: +49 6621 79578-11