Thinking global, acting local; a business story from Switzerland
Once upon a time, on a very hot summer afternoon, I went to Switzerland to talk to HW-TEC, who look after the industrial market there, and spoke to their new MD, Patrick Nauer and area sales manager & engineer Beat Schwizer.
Please introduce yourselves.
We are a 30 year old family company, privately owned. We are involved in automation, packaging, machinery, medical, automotive, robotics and the automation industry.
How do you decide what companies to work with as partners and what products to sell? Why Accuride?
The companies would need to have the same passion, attitude and product quality as we do. We decided to work with Accuride as we already work with Rollon linear systems and Accuride filled the missing product gaps. You have an impressive and large Quick Ship programme with slides available from stock, which fits well into our quality range. Short delivery time is and will be more important and will be a key factor for business. And the people at your company make the difference as well; it would be hard to deal daily with people you don't get on with.
Any particular differences about the Swiss market compared with other EU countries? For example, culture, market sectors, laws?
Yes, we have some different laws in comparison with other EU countries. I would say, in very general terms, that the Swiss market is known for producing very special fine mechanical machinery in very high quality and precision. For example, everybody has heard about our famous Swiss watches, but we are also known for robotic handling systems for the medical market. I would also say that Switzerland has more engineering companies for the size of the country than anywhere else in Europe. But what is also different in comparison with England, for example, is that we have 26 cantons (member states of the Federal State) within Switzerland and each one of them has its own constitution, legislature, government and courts. So if you happen to have lots of money, you may consider in which canton to live depending on how much tax you want to pay...
Yes, a lot of people in Europe think you Swiss are all millionaires.
Well (laughing), it’s because we also work very hard and long hours - but people tend to see only the outside glamour, not all the hard work that goes on in the background. But unfortunately we are not all millionaires!
Has the global recession also impacted Swiss business?
Yes, definitely. We need to export - our own country and market are not that large. Some Swiss companies export 90-100% of their production, so when the collapse happened in the EU, we were affected by it. The EURO became too weak - or the CHF too strong. The result was that Swiss products became over 20% more expensive! The combination of a recession and having expensive products was an extreme situation. But I don’t think that the recession within Switzerland was too bad. Although I’d say that recovery has taken longer than in Germany. Having your own currency can be both a blessing and a curse.
Are there any opportunities that have come out of the recession?
Because the recession was not so bad within Switzerland, it didn't create so many new opportunities either. Some companies went into the solar and wind turbine industry as a new opportunity. Well, that applies to all trendy renewable energy industries. The food industry grew as people started cooking more at home and perhaps eating out rather than going on holidays abroad; but I think this happened in other countries as well. Unemployment is 3.55 percent at the moment, so being a small country can be beneficial. And we have amazing chocolates as you know, so if life is not looking very happy eating chocolate always helps! (laughing)
How has HW-TEC remained successful during these times?
Our turnover suffered a little as companies were not investing much into new machinery and other products where our goods are installed - but luckily we didn't have to make any redundancies. Everybody within our company can multitask, even the men! (laughing again!) Staff are capable of doing different jobs.
What are your future plans? Do you see any emerging opportunities?
Future plans? Holidays you mean? (even more laughing) We expanded our staff; we have a new MD and a sales manager for the French speaking side of the country, as that is where we want to grow. We also plan to increase our marketing activities via a new website - allow our clients to download product drawing files, do more mail shots, etc. It is important not to be satisfied, even if your business is doing well, but always look for new opportunities and find new customers.
What are the general growth opportunities in Switzerland?
The renewable energy industry perhaps? Sometimes new EU laws create new demands for the machinery industry and we are, of course, influenced by what is happening in the EU.
What is your strategy to protect good quality products like yours from the cheap competition from the Far East?
Luckily, a lot of Swiss companies prefer to deal with other local companies. A local market can offer good delivery times and, as Swiss products have a reputation for very high quality, you obviously need components within your final product to match that. Swiss companies also prefer flexibility. If you are dealing with the Far East you can’t always get the specifications you want or the delivery times you need.
How do you develop new relationships with clients in Switzerland and/or Europe - web advertising, exhibitions, mailings, knocking on doors?
We are going to lots of exhibitions to find new customers. If we have luck with one company in an industry, we simply Google to find out who else is in that same industry and might be interested in our products. Sounds simple, but there is no need to make life complicated! We also encourage our staff to read industry related technical magazines and web articles to get ideas.
Patrick, in your new role as MD, what are your aims and direction for HW-tec?
Definitely update our marketing activities. For example the website, newsletters, new server, better support for our staff with updated in-house programmes to allow them to work in a more efficient manner. I want them to be able to serve the clients faster and spend more time dealing with clients in general, rather than wasting time on paperwork.
Are there any successful case studies you would like to share?
Where do we start? Accuride products are sold daily into so many industries, we could write a different blog story just for that. But I think we are a distributor who not only sells your product but also invents new ones for you. We always pester you with new ideas! (big grin) We worked very closely with you in developing your linear system 0115RC slide which has opened new markets for everybody.
And finally - what is your motto for life?
Beat - Be happy! Patrick - agree! Positive thinking! Find opportunities in life.