Germany is a neighbour worth doing business with
It is one of the world's largest economies and its citizens are among our most frequent visitors.
Despite our differences, Ireland and Germany enjoy a cultural affinity, a mutual respect that is the foundation for business partnerships that benefit us both.
In a globalised market, Germany's position as the world's fourth-largest economy presents huge opportunities for Irish SMEs.
At Enterprise Ireland's Ambition Germany event in Athlone, attendees heard how the market has been one of the most resilient for Irish exporters and was one of the fastest to recover from the last financial crisis.
Long before Brexit made market diversification essential, Irish firms have prospered by expanding into Europe's largest economy. Bilateral trade between the countries is worth around €39bn annually. 2017 saw exports to Germany from Enterprise Ireland-supported companies increase by 14pc to more than €1.1bn, with the industrial, life sciences and construction sectors seeing a 19pc rise, while software and services exports grew by 22pc. There are now more than 600 Irish companies exporting to the market.
With a GDP growth rate of 1.6pc in 2018, the German economy has experienced nine years of continuous expansion. Eurozone membership brings advantages, offering continued access to a frictionless market for goods, services and people.
Enterprise Ireland helps to connect companies with potential customers and partners using supports including the Market Discovery Fund, which offers up to €150,000 to assist entry into new markets.
Getting boots on the ground and meeting customers has never been more crucial and Enterprise Ireland can also advise on which trade shows are most beneficial to attend. Recently, 34 companies were supported to showcase solutions at the world-renowned Medica and EuroTier trade fairs, where the theme was "digital animal farming", attracting more than 160,000 visitors to see innovative Irish offerings in productivity and animal welfare, information management and the sustainable use of natural resources.
At Ambition Germany, Western Automation described how its expansion was boosted by attending one such event. "We bit the bullet and did a trade fair in Hannover. It showed we were a company of substance. Before we went to Hannover, we had one German customer. After Hannover, we had five," said Pat Ward, the company's managing director.
There are also nuances in business culture to consider. Deal-making must be taken seriously and you should allow adequate time for negotiation. After-sales, support and clear future planning are key to successful sustained expansion here.
Cold calling is frowned upon and privacy is highly valued, and regulated, so do not squander a meeting or bombard with marketing material.
Since receiving advice from Enterprise Ireland on exploring a new market, Paul O'Sullivan, managing director of Ireland's Eye Knitwear, said exports now comprise 55pc of all sales, with Germany its biggest overseas market.
"We were encouraged to get into Germany by Enterprise Ireland but we found customers very loyal to their supply base. It's hard to get a meeting but if you do, you're halfway there. They will do a lot of research on you before agreeing to meet, so to get to that point is a very good sign."
Growth in exports of medtech and agritech products and services to Germany is central to Enterprise Ireland's strategy to support clients to deliver 60,000 new jobs, increase exports to the eurozone by 50pc and add an additional €5bn in exports from 2017 to 2020. If Irish firms are to scale beyond these shores, they must give serious consideration to Germany, one of the largest markets we have unfettered access to.
- Register for our Eurozone Summit, a half-day event, open to all, which will highlight how Irish companies can and are winning business in the eurozone. Learn more: https://bit.ly/2GbZQTV. Eddie Goodwin is Enterprise Ireland manager for Germany, Switzerland & Austria.
Sunday Indo Business