Focus on exporters

Michèle Villiger: “Cultural differences are one of the major challenges in export”

The Villiger company from the Canton of Aargau uses various disposal systems to ensure that the right containers are available for a wide variety of household waste such as glass, food scraps, biowaste, PET bottles, batteries, textiles, etc. They have installed more than 500,000 systems in Switzerland and abroad. Michèle Villiger, Member of the Board and Head of Worldwide Sales, spoke in an interview about the successes they’ve had and the challenges they’ve faced.

Board members: Michèle Villiger, Edith Villiger, Paul Villiger
Board members: Michèle Villiger, Edith Villiger, Paul Villiger

Michèle Villiger, over the last 30 years, Villiger’s waste disposal systems have made a name for themselves both in Switzerland and a variety of other countries. When did the company begin to operate internationally?
The Dual System came into force in Germany in 1991, which required industry to recover and recycle certain packaging materials. This resulted in a huge demand for modular systems and collection containers, and we were able to supply large quantities to Germany. This was shortly after we founded our public limited company. The systems in Germany sent an important signal, and France followed shortly thereafter. In 1992, we worked with a partner company to build the first underground system in the Netherlands.

What challenges does Villiger Entsorgungssysteme AG face when exporting within Europe? 
In export markets like Germany, Austria, France, or Norway, the culture is fairly similar to ours. We can talk business with our partners and seal the deal with a handshake. In other countries, cultural differences and business conditions can become a challenge. In Lithuania, for example, we had to provide an extract from police records for our accountant, something we had previously never encountered.

What are some of the challenges you face outside of Europe?
Cultural differences are one of our primary concerns outside of Europe as well. Last year we started supplying to China. Chinese culture is totally foreign to us and the business conditions are completely different. For us, this means continuing to rely on Swiss precision, while also taking into account the characteristics of the local market. However, the Chinese are prepared to pay the right price for a good product. Our experience has taught us that speed varies from culture to culture and that a lot of things move much faster. But ultimately, export is always about clarifying as many details as possible in advance and getting them down in writing.

What role does Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) play in your export projects?
S-GE has been of particular help to us in very challenging countries. We have consulted with S-GE experts about the way that export works and what we have to consider when importing and exporting. We’ve received knowledgeable advice on a number of matters.

Villiger produces in Switzerland – how important is the production site in Oberrüti (AG) for your strategy?
All of the expertise as well as the engineering department are located here in Switzerland. We also produce small-scale series and prototypes in Switzerland. The Oberrüti location is the entire think tank for Villiger Entsorgungssysteme AG and it’s very important to us. We also have partner production in Eastern Europe, where we produce large series at lower costs. This allows us to expand capacities and remain competitive. In my view, we’ve achieved a good balance between Swiss expertise, Swiss quality and standards, and production abroad. This is above all thanks to good partners.

What markets do you focus on?
Our focus is on markets like Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, and Scandinavia. We already have a strong presence in these countries, the distances are shorter, and we have a good cultural understanding. Eastern Europe is becoming increasingly important as a market as the countries there become more and more aware of environmental issues and seek to upgrade their systems accordingly. In more distant markets, such as Asia, we are active in the markets where we can find good partners and build trust – we are present in China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, for example.  

What tips can you give Swiss companies that are active in the area of Cleantech and looking to expand internationally?  
In order to be successful abroad, you have to have an innovative product. As an entrepreneur, you always have to maintain this innovative edge. This requires patience, top quality, and precision – which is what we Swiss are known for. In our experience, finding the right partners is just as important. When selecting partners and setting up a location, exporters should give themselves sufficient time to ensure a good local presence.

About Villiger Entsorgungssysteme AG

Villiger Entsorgungssysteme AG has been an owner-managed family business since 1987 and currently employs around 70 qualified and motivated employees in Oberrüti. Entrepreneurship, pioneering spirit, and the joy of innovation characterize the present and future of the Villiger Group, which specializes in waste disposal solutions. With over 500,000 systems installed in Switzerland and abroad, Villiger is one of the leading companies in the industry.

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