Andreas Wahsner: “Market entry is not successful without networks”.
High-quality upwards: Stairs from Salach
Metallart Treppen GmbH in Salach near Göppingen specializes in the construction of high-quality steel staircases. Managing director Andreas Wahsner and his 120 employees deliver up to 100 different objects per year – also to foreign markets.
Competence and local partnerships have enabled the Salach-based company Metallart to enter the foreign business.
Mr. Wahsner, when and how did international customers discover your expertise in staircase construction?
It was, as so often in life, a combination of “Well, let’s see…” and happy coincidences. The fact is that we have always been active in neighboring countries, i.e. Austria and Switzerland. We then received inquiries from architectural firms abroad and successively ventured into projects – in Spain, on Mallorca, which was already a bit of a challenge. At some point, a friendly company actually asked us if we would like to realize a project together in Nigeria. We mustered all our courage and started developing other projects together with partners. Later, we also received direct inquiries, which we implemented independently. We now make 30 percent of our sales on international markets – from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Currently, we are even delivering a staircase to New York.
A small company in sometimes difficult markets. How do you manage order processing?
Sophisticated project management is, of course, absolutely essential. Orders can only be processed successfully if you have specialists at the crucial points or the right foreign partner. We rely on Handwerk International or companies that are already active in the target markets. We do not want to enter the markets naively. In the meantime, we already have 10-15 years of experience in foreign business and know what to expect. You learn as you go along, but you also pay a certain amount of dues.
What are your unique selling points internationally and what role does the “Made in Germany” label play for you?
Our core competencies in the technical field are multidimensionally curved stair components. Not many companies in the world of stairs have this know-how. A strong unique selling point is our soffit cladding. No other manufacturer is capable of soffit cladding stairs to the quality that we can. We are finding that the “Made in Germany” seal continues to enjoy outstanding significance. This naturally benefits us, especially when it comes to foreign business.
“We mustered all our courage and started foreign business together with partners. Later, direct inquiries also came in. We now make 30 percent of our sales on international markets.”
How important are cooperations in the various markets for you?
Cooperations play a very important role, especially in acquisition, in project identification and in technical elaboration. In installation, on the other hand, we rely on our own personnel, as our customers often commission turnkey projects and want excellent workmanship. Experienced and qualified employees are indispensable for this.
What role do consulting engineers, planners and architects from Germany, who are active worldwide, play in this?
We work in marketing and sales with the top 100 architects who are active nationally and internationally. Because without an architect, who takes over the creative part, no staircase is created by us. Our only requirement is to implement the design, not to design it ourselves, otherwise we would be in a kind of competitive situation. Depending on the order, an internationally active structural engineering office may also be required in some cases, which is familiar with international rules and standards.
Do you have enough skilled workers to send on foreign assignments?
Unfortunately, there is a shortage of skilled workers in metal construction. We are not exempt from this either. But we are pursuing various approaches to become more visible and attractive as an employer. Unfortunately, it is no longer enough to rely solely on traditional job advertisements. That’s why, among other things, we tie our trainees to the company at an early stage and give them prospects so that we can keep them as employees until they retire, if possible. Another measure is to invest more in the training and development of our employees. All examples that we undertake to recruit skilled workers from our own ranks.
“When it comes to assembly, we rely on our own personnel.”
Is the internationalization of personnel a positive factor in the competitive market?
Absolutely, we have ten nations in the company: from employees from Hungary to Poland and Croatia to Turkey. We use this know-how, which is already in the company, especially in foreign markets.
If you could give some advice to smaller companies: What should you consider from the outset when doing business abroad?
I can only recommend that newcomers actually get in touch with partners, such as the chambers of trade, who have international expertise and are familiar with official, tax or customs requirements. It is also worth considering building up on-site expertise if necessary, such as freelancers working abroad as freelancers or construction managers. If you don’t know the cultural differences and the customs of the country, you can get a lot wrong. So my recommendation: When doing business abroad, take the first steps with experienced partners and learn the ropes together.
Do you have any dream markets where you still want to realize projects?
If I am to be quite frank: Central Europe would actually be enough for me, because we’ve mastered that. Of course, markets like the Arabian Peninsula, where we have already gained experience and where the purchasing power is there, are still attractive for us. But there are many challenges to overcome there, and in comparison, projects on the European market are much more manageable for us. That’s why we founded our own company in Aarau five years ago, because Switzerland is the foreign market par excellence for us.
“Recommendation therefore: when doing business abroad, take the first steps with experienced partners and learn to walk together.”
What do you consider to be effective foreign trade promotion measures?
We have benefited from delegation trips and presence at various joint stands of Handwerk International and bw-i. I can only warmly recommend such instruments and programs due to the minimized costs and risks while using diverse networks to get a picture on site.
Metallart relies on specialists from its own ranks and is increasingly investing in the training and further education of its international team.