Killarney-based manufacturing firm Tricel is one of many Enterprise Ireland supported companies that is reaping the rewards of true commitment to the market.
When manufacturing firm Tricel recognised in 2011 that its business in France was going to be substantial, it decided to set up a factory in Poitiers and employ French people on the ground. This has been a cornerstone of success for the company there, which up until 2008 was mainly focused on Ireland and the UK.
Now with 25 people based in France, Tricel is in the process of kitting out a second plant in Avignon. It has started recruiting for this new operation in the south-east of the country, which will play a pivotal role as a key assembly, logistics and distribution centre.
Established in Killarney, Co Kerry in 1973 by Ann and Con Stack, Tricel is a provider of high performance solutions for the water, environmental, construction and materials industries with 12 operating locations across Europe.
In 2008 the company developed a range of waste-water treatment solutions in tandem with its market diversification strategy. Sales of these products have doubled year-on-year over the past four years in France, which now accounts for around 15% of Tricel’s overall revenues, according to managing director Mike Stack.
Tricel currently employs a total of 350 people with 134 based at its headquarters in Killarney. “Since 2010 we have doubled our headcount and plan to employ 600 people across the group by 2020,” says Stack.
“In France, we are a French company with French people on the ground and a nationwide French distribution network. We have a managing director in France and the back-up of a lot of French-speaking staff both locally and in Killarney.
“It is hugely important to understand that French people like buying from people in their own country. There is great security in knowing that if they buy a product, especially if it is technical, there are engineers on hand and a factory to visit.”
The fact that Tricel chose to appoint a local man as managing director for France is a big lesson for other Irish companies to learn from, according to Sinead Lonergan, manager of Enterprise Ireland’s Paris office.
“If you want to grow in France you need to hire a local person who understands the complexities of doing business and managing teams there,” she says.
“The culture and labour laws are very different. Irish companies have managed the French market to a certain stage from home. It is preferable however to take on a French country manager or appoint someone of another nationality that has been based in France a long time. This can really help an Irish company to scale in France.”
Knowing the market
The first step to achieving success in France is to invest time and effort in market research – an approach which has also paid dividends for Tricel, Lonergan notes.
“The key reason why Tricel’s business took off in France is that it became aware of a market opportunity created by a regulatory change. This was its green flag to enter the market and it reacted very quickly.
“It was targeting a deeply French and local market – waste-water treatment systems for one-off properties in the smallest of towns – so there was a lot of legwork involved to build sales. Enterprise Ireland had a member of staff working closely with the company in the early days as it toured the country meeting people.”
The regulatory change Lonergan refers to was an announcement by the Ministry of the Environment, Energy and the Sea in 2009 that a Government licence would be required from then on for waste-water treatment systems for one-off houses.
Tricel happened to be at the trade fair in Evreux where the announcement was made and immediately went about getting the licence for its sewage treatment products. It was one of the first companies outside France to be granted the licence, in 2011.
Last May Tricel was granted an additional government licence, for its new Seta waste-water treatment tank. This innovative product is suitable for both constant and intermittent use, making it ideal for a range of functions including holiday homes as well as larger applications such as rural school developments. It has been very well received in the market so far, notes Stack.
There are currently 500 Irish companies selling into France and indigenous Irish exports to the market have been growing by around 5% over the past few years. Success has been achieved in a mixture of sectors including construction, lifesciences and retail, and in recent years there has been particular momentum in the ICT area, notes Lonergan.
“Around 60 Irish companies have a direct presence in France and the number setting up offices or employing people on the ground is growing,” she says.
“France is not a market for the fainthearted. It requires good resources and resilience. But I would always say it is there for the taking once you do your homework. If you do break the market you will really make it here.”
Market entry tips – France
Sinead Lonergan, manager of Enterprise Ireland’s Paris office, shares her key pieces of advice to companies keen to succeed in the French market:
* French companies are becoming more and more open to partnering with Irish companies, particularly if they have innovative technologies. This is an effective strategy for Irish companies struggling to internationalise as the French market can be quite complex. It can help them to strengthen or accelerate their market entry. Seven Irish companies – Combilift, Novareus, Transpoco, Ding, Vigitrust, Xintec and Gaelectric – signed contracts with French partners recently.
* If you plan to attend a trade fair in France, it is advisable to carry out research in advance to establish which distributors you want to target. Know everything about them before you get there so you are in a position of power, rather than just meeting distributors randomly. You could take on a French-speaking intern to do a few months of research or a full-time French speaker if you are really committed.
* All business has to be conducted in French and it is important to learn how things are done locally. Go to the market as much as possible to meet with people and become familiar with the environment. Don’t just focus on Paris as there is a lot of business activity in other cities and smaller towns.
* When looking to sell to large French companies it is important to note that the business culture involves lots of meetings and is very conservative. A PowerPoint presentation is very important if you’re going to be pitching to a complex group in a large organisation. The first slide needs to include figures or you will lose your audience. You will only get one shot so you have to impress them first time round.
* Irish companies need to properly resource their marketing teams and invest in digital marketing if they want to sell into France. It is no secret that if you optimise your website you will sell more. There is a big move towards digitalisation in France, which means that any sort of basic product will have to embrace digital marketing.
To read more about Tricel’s exporting strategy and other case studies, click here.