Success stories

Infrastructure: Tips for the international business of Geobrugg

“The strengths of Swiss SMEs include agility and innovativeness”

Since 1951, the company Geobrugg has been manufacturing solutions that provide protection against the effects of natural forces such as rockfalls, landslides, avalanches and coastal erosion, ensuring safety in mining and tunneling, on racing tracks as well as in industry and test facilities. Gabriel von Rickenbach, General Manager Americas at Geobrugg AG, on personal contacts, fast service and invitations from partners.

Safety fences from Geobrugg are intended to increase safety at Formula 1 and Moto GP races, for example.
Safety fences from Geobrugg are intended to increase safety at Formula 1 and Moto GP races, for example.

Geobrugg, which is based in Romanshorn, is present on all continents and in over 50 countries. What criteria should suppliers use to select their target markets in the infrastructure sector?

Target markets should be selected according to their potential, their maturity, the competitive situation and political stability within the country. Furthermore, it is extremely helpful to exchange ideas with other companies that are already active in a similar field in the same market, in order to learn from them and avoid any beginner’s mistakes.

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

We succeeded in this by keeping the quality of the products high at all times, but above all through personal contacts, visits, fast service and inviting potential business partners to Switzerland so that they could get to know us as a partner. In most markets, it’s a matter of establishing contacts, cultivating them and only talking about a possible partnership, i.e. business, during a second step.

How do you deal with public sector clients?

Dealing with all customers, no matter where they are in the world, is based on respect and reliability. These are virtues that we can draw on to the full. In particular, our reliable way of working gives us a decisive competitive advantage.

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

In the area of financing, we have little experience as a product supplier of solutions in the natural hazards sector. 95% of our work is as a mere supplier; only very rarely do we act as an overall contractor for a mine. However, this is something we want to prevent to the greatest extent possible for risk-related reasons. In general, however, the best solution is to insure all contracts via Swiss Export Risk Insurance SERV or with a letter of credit from a bank.

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

A very successful strategy that comes into play in markets with the corresponding potential is the local production of our products. In the “Americas” region, we produce directly on site in our two main markets, Chile and the USA. In general, our products have to be better than those of our competitors in the overall cost calculation. Proving and demonstrating this is the biggest challenge we face in terms of competitiveness.

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

I see a lot of strength in the area of niche products, which are not offered by large industrial groups. The strengths of Swiss SMEs include agility and innovativeness. These two qualities, combined with our Swiss DNA (reliability, the highest quality standards, cultural openness, hard work and empathy), give us a promising starting point for success in many target markets.

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

We have an internal standard and training courses to ensure that we do not violate any regulatory particularities as a company. As the regulatory situation is different in each country, we usually consult a lawyer and the chamber of commerce for support.

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

Treat everyone as you would like to be treated yourself, regardless of their cultural background. Geographically, we are active where there are mountains and hills, providing us with the opportunity to offer our solutions in the field of natural hazards. Fortunately, these geographical conditions exist in practically every country.

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

It is rare for market entry to succeed within a day or so. I would therefore advise other Swiss SMEs to be patient and to take the necessary actions in small steps without losing sight of their guiding star. There will be setbacks, which ideally can be used to learn lessons. Furthermore in our opinion, a five-year horizon should be aimed for in order to avoid a “stop and go” situation.

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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