Germany still going strong for Burnside Autocyl after 27 years.


Germany followed the UK and Scandinavia as a target market.
Senior management made a point of learning the German language.
Customised products delivered when promised adapting to client requirements.
Direct selling has worked best in Germany.
German clients encouraged to visit Co Carlow facility.

“If you expect a potential client to bypass a neighbouring company in favour of you, the least you can do is make it as easy as possible to do business with you.”

Caroline Kelly, sales director, Burnside Autocyl



Support goes much deeper than grant assistance since 1990.
Key lessons learned about products and potential customers.
Trade fairs hugely helpful when targeting prospects.
Training and marketing support more important in recent years.

To see how Enterprise Ireland has enabled Burnside Autocyl's success, click here.

Case Study: Burnside Autocyl

Flexibility and providing good after-sales support have been key success factors in Germany for Co Carlow engineering company Burnside Autocyl since it first entered the market in 1990, according to sales director Caroline Kelly.

“Being flexible has been our unique selling point above all. From the outset we have been focused on giving German customers what they want when they want and being prepared to change plans if an unforeseen situation arises,” she says.

“Sometimes our European competitors are not as comfortable in offering as much flexibility as we do in their own markets. We may have the edge on them in this respect, drawing on our 43 years of knowhow and experience.”

Based in Tullow, Co Carlow, Burnside Autocyl is a family-run business which designs and manufactures customised hydraulic cylinders for all types of mobile equipment and machinery. These include forklifts, mini excavators, refuse trucks and demolition equipment.

From humble beginnings in converted livestock sheds in 1974, the group has expanded to six manufacturing locations – five in Co Carlow and one in the US – and employs a total of 750 people.

Burnside Autocyl has grown eightfold in the past 20 years and currently exports into 16 different countries. Germany is now one of its most important markets, accounting for 40% of total sales.

In the first ten years, the company purely serviced the home market. When that became saturated, it began to look outside of Ireland. The UK was the most logical first market to target because of its proximity, common language, size and need for Burnside Autocyl’s products, Kelly explains.

“The UK was a very fertile market for us initially thanks to its healthy manufacturing industry back then. But we felt it was important to branch out further so we looked to Scandinavian countries next and then ventured into Germany.

“This opened up a whole range of opportunities for us, as Germany is the biggest exporter of mobile equipment in the world. Our feeling was that if we could do business with the Germans we could do business anywhere.”


Fast learners

Kelly had just started working for the company around that time and recalls that a lot of learning took place once the strategic decision to target Germany was made. She is a daughter of chairman and founder Paddy Byrne.

“When selling into Germany you have to learn fast or fail fast. The first priority was to learn the language, both on the commercial and technical levels, so that we could engage properly with our peers in Germany,” she says. Even Kelly and her father took up a German night-class to acquire the necessary language skills.

Having the language capability is not as big an issue today as most big German customers speak English – however they do like to have the option of speaking their own language when doing business, Kelly points out.

“The fact that we made the effort to learn the language ourselves has been a symbol of our commitment to the market. It showed that we were serious about doing business there.”

“If you expect a potential client to bypass a neighbouring company in favour of you, the least you can do is make it as easy as possible to do business with you. We always put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and try to identify what frustrates as well as excites potential buyers.”

Getting to grips with the German business culture went hand in hand with acquiring language skills and has been instrumental in driving growth for Burnside Autocyl. Its own company culture has become almost Germanic as it has become so steeped in the German way of doing things since 1990, Kelly notes.

“The German business culture is focused on absolute reliability and an aversion to risk or unpredictability. You have to be exquisite at preparation and giving information in advance about how everything will be done in terms of delivery of the product,” she says. “We have worked hard to infuse that type of culture throughout the entire team.”

The direct approach

As in other markets, Burnside Autocyl sells to original equipment manufacturers in the materials handling, construction and environmental sectors in Germany.

It has established a subsidiary company in Germany, Burnside Engineering GmbH, which is focused on sales and marketing and servicing clients. While it has done some work with distributors in the market, the group’s preference is the direct approach, notes Kelly.

Burnside Autocyl is very focused in terms of its product offering. It makes hydraulic cylinders with a bore diameter of 32mm up to 200m and up to eight metres in length.

“We have been prudent in qualifying out prospective customers, making sure that they suit our production capability and the limitations of our product offering,” says Kelly.

“Our strategy has been to identify exactly who we would like to do business with and aim to get their attention at trade fairs such as Bauma or CeMAT.”

Having a physical presence in Germany has been important, but a large number of Burnside Autocyl’s German customers still prefer to do business directly with the company’s Irish headquarters.

“More often than not we will send a team of two or three people from base camp to visit customers. This is important with such a bespoke product. Clients like to come to our facility as well – something which we encourage,” says Kelly.

“Once a German client has made the commercial decision to go with us, they often come to do a plant audit and validate that we are capable. They want to see our engineering capability, production knowhow, R&D facilities and quality supports.”

Reference selling has also been hugely important for Burnside Autocyl in Germany, adds Kelly. “Doing a really good job for one customer has been a reference point for the next target customer. Word of mouth does get out. We now have a nice portfolio of high profile customers in Germany which has helped to open doors to smaller clients.”


Tips for success in Germany

Be confident about your product or service before entering the market.
Focus on the three C’s – being capable, competent and committed.
Take very good care of customers once you secure business with them.

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