Based in Co. Monaghan, materials handling manufacturer Combilift entered European markets a year after it was established, directly targeting customers at first and then appointing distributors. Here managing director Martin McVicar shares his key pieces of advice.
Dealing with different languages has been one of the challenges we have come up against in mainland Europe. Irish companies need to be aware that they require additional resources to achieve the same volume of business in a country with a different language, compared to an English speaking country. To overcome this challenge in Germany and France, Combilift appointed English-speaking distributors to speak to customers on its behalf as well as putting dedicated sales resources on the ground with local language fluency.
Once your product is innovative, we have found that the most effective strategy is to segment the market and carefully target customers directly, then appoint a distributor. When we had a number of users in different European markets, distributors then approached us. This meant they were 99% convinced about the product and more likely to sell well for us.
The unique selling point of your product may vary from market to market, so be prepared to adjust it accordingly. For example, in Combilift’s case, the fact that our forklift helps to save space has been most important for a lot of European clients, while timber companies in the US place more emphasis on the ability to handle long products safely.
When considering entering new markets I would advise against targeting the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries as they are so volatile. Russia used to be Combilift’s fifth largest market and this dropped to almost zero because of issues in the Ukraine and the devaluation of the ruble. Even though you will have to work harder to grow business in mainland Europe compared to English speaking markets, these countries provide consistent growth and are less volatile than the BRIC markets.