Success stories

Infrastructure: Tips for the international business of Wyssen Avalanche Control

“Things considered ‘daily business’ in Switzerland are often relatively new abroad.” 

Walter Steinkogler, COO of Wyssen Avalanche Control AG and CEO of Wyssen Canada & USA, highlights the challenges for infrastructure companies in the US and Canada, from project set-up to financing and tool procurement.

Avalanche blasting tower from Wyssen
Avalanche blasting tower from Wyssen

Wyssen Avalanche Control AG, a Swiss family business, is regarded throughout the world as a technological leader in the field of temporary avalanche protection solutions. Wyssen sets international standards with innovative approaches such as avalanche detection systems and operating software. For example, Wyssen Avalanche Control had installed more than 550 avalanche blasting towers worldwide by 2020.

What criteria should suppliers use to select their target markets in the infrastructure sector?

In my opinion, it’s important to spend time on site yourself to develop a feel for the respective market. This so-called “sounding out” is ideal preparation for subsequent market entry. Traditional selection criteria include an assessment of market potential, the purchasing power in the country, and the work that has to be put in before the project is actually executed. Furthermore, possible risks should be identified, and linguistic and cultural differences should be taken into account. In all of this, however, you should always listen to your gut feeling.

How did you succeed in partnering with a consortium or EPC contractor?

As this step proved to be extremely challenging, and we were confronted with various difficulties, we decided to act as general contractor ourselves. This means we have full control over all of our projects. Although this step was associated with further hurdles, or rather an extremely steep learning curve, our decision has proven to be the right one.

How do you deal with public sector clients?

Administrative and planning work in this regard is significant – usually surprisingly significant: Tenders are often complicated and often refer to different technical standards. Good partnerships also help here in terms of cooperation and an exchange of experience; in this way, risks that are difficult to assess in advance can be reduced. Financing.

What needs to be considered and who is responsible for which areas?

As a new player in the Canadian market, it was not easy to obtain the necessary bonds and guarantees or to take out the required insurance policies quickly. Furthermore, we had to provide a high level of financial security in order to obtain the corresponding insurance.

As a Swiss SME, how are you or were you able to compete with foreign competitors or local companies?

Whether innovative technologies or work ethic: Things already generally considered “daily business” in Switzerland are often relatively new abroad. The fact that we work swiftly and always tend to take the “extra step” is not merely an image; it is also perceived directly abroad.

What are the strengths of Swiss SMEs? Which Swiss technologies, knowledge and offerings are particularly in demand in foreign target markets?

Great unique selling points are undoubtedly the quality of our products and the service we offer. The “Swiss made” image is certainly helpful, but you always have to prove yourself first. Once the customer has gained confidence in the products and is convinced by our service, they are definitely open to new joint projects.

What regulatory and logistical specifics need to be taken into consideration?

For us, the challenges in logistics are usually not the big things, such as transporting a 40-foot container to the project site in Canada. Instead, it’s the small things that are generally taken for granted in Switzerland or Europe: for example, the procurement of special work tools that are urgently needed on the construction site but are hard to find or difficult or impossible to supply.

What cultural or geographical specifics need to be taken into account?

Travel distances and delivery routes in the USA and Canada cannot be compared with those in Switzerland or Europe. However, the cultural challenges are even greater. In addition to technical skills, “soft” skills are also required in order to put oneself in the position of customers, suppliers and workers and to understand them.

What basic advice would you give other Swiss SMEs for a successful market entry?

Every market entry involves a big commitment – both from the company as a whole and on a personal level. I therefore consider it really important to provide the right people for such tasks, especially as far as the latter point is concerned. Entering a new market is undoubtedly a unique experience, but it is also marked by many challenges. The company should definitely plan enough resources in the background to ensure it can provide the best possible support, at least remotely, and it should prepare itself for surprises.

Stay tuned!

In our detailed dossier for Swiss companies that offer infrastructure products and services, we provide information on opportunities in international projects and how small and medium enterprises can realize them.

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