How one Irish company engineered success in Germany
Good preparation and commitment have spelled longevity and growth for Burnside Autocyl – one of the many Enterprise Ireland supported companies in Germany
“The fact that we learned the language was a good symbol of our commitment and showed that we were prepared to make a monumental effort to make it easy to do business with us”
Co Carlow based engineering firm Burnside Autocyl was so serious about succeeding in the German market that members of its senior management team decided to learn the language.
When the company made the strategic decision to sell into Germany in 1990, chairman and founder Paddy Byrne, his brother Anthony Byrne and daughter Caroline Kelly went to night classes to acquire the language skills they needed to do business there.
After that, more of the team started to take classes and Burnside Autocyl recruited German-speaking sales, service and engineering personnel as it could find them. Today, there are five German speakers at its headquarters in Tullow, Co Carlow in addition to the team at its office in Geldern in Germany, which it opened in 1992.
“Although most business people in Germany speak English, they prefer to have the option of dealing with suppliers in their own language,” says Kelly, who is sales director at Burnside Autocyl.
“The fact that we learned the language was a good symbol of our commitment and showed that we were prepared to make a monumental effort to make it easy to do business with us.”
Burnside Autocyl designs and manufactures customised hydraulic cylinders for all types of mobile equipment and machinery, which it exports into 16 different countries. Applications include forklifts, excavators, access platforms, refuse trucks and demolition equipment.
From humble beginnings in converted livestock sheds in 1974, the group has expanded to six manufacturing locations – five in Co Carlow and one in the US – and employs a total of 750 people.
Making German language proficiency a priority from the early days is just one aspect of Burnside Autocyl’s well thought-out strategy, which has brought it to a point where Germany now accounts for 40% of total sales. It has combined careful targeting of potential customers with consistent and flexible after-sales support.
“As a company we primarily sell to original equipment manufacturers in the materials handling, environmental and construction sectors,” says Kelly.
“We learned a lot about the importance of being clear about identifying potential customers in Germany through training with Enterprise Ireland. We knew we had to be sure that our production capability and product offering matched their requirements.”
Heike John, market adviser at Enterprise Ireland’s Dusseldorf office, says the company’s emphasis on understanding customer needs and company culture – along with how it has embraced the German business culture generally – has been a key success factor for Burnside Autocyl in Germany.
“Burnside Autocyl is still working with companies that it first started selling to in 1990. There have been changes in these companies over this period, with many becoming more international, for example,” she notes. “It has accompanied its customers through these changes by working intensively with them and consistently showing a willingness to make itself relevant as a supplier.”
John adds that client relationships often involve working with many different people within each organisation, for example, from the engineering, purchasing and research and development divisions. This is necessary for the type of bespoke solution Burnside Autocyl provides. “It is not an off-the-shelf solution – it has to meet customer needs and that includes delivery times and unforeseen changes,” notes John.
“From the early days we recognised that we had to be credible and reliable to succeed in the German market,” says Kelly. “Flexibility is something that Irish companies are really good at. It has been our unique selling point and one of the main secrets of our success, which is still important today.”
Because of the bespoke nature of Burnside Autocyl’s offering, the company has found the direct approach to selling and after-sales support has worked best in Germany, according to Kelly. Trade fairs such as Bauma or CeMAT have often provided the first point of contact with prospective customers.
Rather than dealing through distributors, it uses its sales and marketing office in Geldern as a contact point for clients. Teams also travel regularly from the company’s Tullow base to work with German clients and Burnside Autocyl welcomes customers to its manufacturing facility in Co Carlow to allow them to see its capability, know-how and research and development (R&D) first hand.
“The high level of support Burnside Autocyl provides to its customers differentiates it from many competitors,” says John. “It has become highly regarded for its technical expertise and understanding of customer needs.”
In this regard, innovation has been very important to the company, which recognised the need to invest more in this area a number of years ago. This has been a driver of new business growth.
“You can’t just choose to be a company that simply makes a product. You need all the capability to identify client needs and design solutions to meet those needs. We need to invest in R&D to validate those solutions,” says Kelly.
“We now have a dedicated R&D team and facility within the organisation that focuses on both product and process R&D. Improving processes allows us to make products more efficiently. We are also developing products ourselves – looking at evolving our hydraulic cylinders for more sophisticated applications through the incorporation of sensor technology for example.”
Kelly says Burnside Autocyl aims to continue to grow its German market by looking after the business it has won to date as well as fighting to secure more by staying competitive. “We have built up a nice portfolio of high profile customers which has opened doors to smaller customers.”
Burnside Autocyl is one of many Irish companies which should be well placed to grow in Germany in the coming years. “The German economy is doing well at the moment -- GDP is expected to grow by 2.2% in 2017, according to economic forecasts,” says John.
“There is opportunity for Irish companies with innovative offerings which really understand the market and are happy to take time to develop it.”
Tips for success in Germany
Caroline Kelly, sales director at Burnside Autocyl, shares her top pieces of advice for Irish companies keen to tap into the German market
• Be confident about your product or service before going into the market. We have always been focused on the parameters of our product offering – we make hydraulic cylinders with a bore diameter of 32mm up to 200mm and up to eight metres in length. We offer a wide range of products, but it is still finite at the same time. Get feedback from market experts and existing players in Germany on your product – Enterprise Ireland can help to arrange this.
• You need to convince potential customers in Germany of the three C’s – i.e. that you are capable, competent and committed – and able to interface with them on all levels. Many companies are good at selling, but not so many are good at both selling and supporting clients on a technical level. After-sales service is hugely important as you are looking at a relationship that goes on for years – in our case for the lifespan of the machine incorporating our hydraulic cylinders.
• When you are lucky enough to win German customers, mind them like gemstones. They are hard to win so you don’t want to do anything to lose them. Bad news travels faster than good, so try to exceed what they might expect from suppliers on their own doorstep. Be as good, if not better, than local suppliers in terms of quality and consistency of service.
This article is part of a series being published as part of Enterprise Ireland’s Global Ambition campaign. To read more about Burnside Autocyl’s exporting strategy and other case studies go to https://ambition.enterprise-ireland.com/