The decision whether to enter a market or not depends primarily on whether we can find local partnerships and what network we can rely on. S-GE helped us a lot with both.
Claude Balsiger, Owner, Senior Project Lead, Allegra
What inspires you to take a closer look at a new market?
Claude Balsiger: When we look at a new market, it's tourism, where we have our roots, that is often the gateway from which the first inquiries come in. Tourism is about developing a vision, and that is a strength of ours. But we also want to grow more in urban areas, where we have to solve problems such as user conflicts. We handle initial inquiries and projects in a new market from one of the existing perspectives. In a second step, we have to weigh up the potential of the markets against each other. To do this, we carry out a market analysis,for example looking at whether there is potential for tourism and what the competitive situation looks like.
Mike Maurer: We have found that it is often not easy to promote our services. With the modular pump tracks, we now also have a specific product that is more tangible for the customers and helps us to establish contacts that then also have potential for the consulting and construction side.
You have primarily expanded in Europe. Why Japan?
Claude Balsiger: The starting point was a sister city project between St. Moritz and Kutchan. The authorities of the Japanese city came here for the sister-city anniversary. They saw the mountain biking offers and wanted to get to know us. Today, we have major orders there.
How did S-GE support you on your path to international markets?
Mike Maurer: We took advantage of various services, depending on how familiar we were with the market ourselves. In Germany, for example, we don’t have our own company, but we have a license to sell pump tracks. We wanted to offer something that other companies don’t have and thus generate attention and interest. This gave rise to the idea of generating leads by providing information about funding. We integrated a form for this into our website, and the Swiss Business Hub Germany identified leads and proactively contacted them by phone. This dual combination of funding and product – website and telephone campaign – has proven successful. In the other countries, S-GE has primarily supported us in getting settled.
What challenges have you encountered abroad?
Claude Balsiger: As a Swiss company, we are usually used to lean and efficient structures not only on the governmental side but also in companies. A lot of things work differently abroad. The situation in a market, whether in legal or economic terms, is not easy to understand. S-GE is a first point of contact with contacts and expertise that we could trust.
Are there differences in the arguments you use to appeal to customers in the different countries?
Mike Maurer: For pump tracks, for example, you need a basic knowledge of the benefits, as well as a certain budget and available space. The starting situation is similar everywhere, but understanding of it varies, which is why we adapt our communication accordingly. There are also regional peculiarities. While in Switzerland the pump track has become an everyday occurrence, where schoolchildren hit the track every day, Japan is event-driven – there it has to be a show. We have to understand these differences and respond to them.
What advice do you give to other companies that want to start exporting?
Claude Balsiger: A clear and realistic assessment of the market is very important. Local partners who speak the same language and with whom you can work on an equal footing are crucial. Our conclusion: It often takes more time and patience than expected to start a company abroad and get it up to an operational level.
It became clear from the very first conversation with Allegra that modular pump tracks could also become bestsellers in Germany. The promotion of physical activity for children and young people in Germany is supported by the federal government and local authorities, and pump tracks are ideal for this. We therefore suggested that Allegra carry out an analysis of the funding in order to better reach potential interested parties with this information. That has worked very well. We sensed a lot of interest in approaching potential customers, and the contact was accordingly positive.
Nadja Kolb, Nadja Kolb, Consultant Germany/UK + Ireland, Switzerland Global Enterprise