Article

01.06.2018

Cover yourself before embarking on a quest for global markets

Any company that begins to trade abroad is buying into the idea that it can conquer brand new markets, but also that new risks are an inevitability. And although the risks are often worth taking, informed directors will evaluate the danger in order to be better prepared.

In love, as in business, distance makes things more complicated. However, in an increasingly globalised world, expanding your business activity into other countries remains essential – especially in an export-oriented country like Belgium. This strategic challenge demands an appropriate approach that will allow the company to move into new territory successfully. Whether internationalisation takes a physical or virtual form, a number of risks of a new type will join those you are already managing at local level, including hazards associated with transportation, exchange rate risks, poor knowledge of regional regulations, cultural or ethical "gaps", and difficulties arising from unpaid sums and recovering these abroad, etc. To minimise the impact on your business, take precautions and correctly signpost the pathway separating you from your international customers.

Where should you venture to?

If you have identified a particular continent or country of interest, you have presumably spotted obvious commercial benefits. You know your business and are convinced that this move can work well. But before you take the plunge, a step back is necessary so that you can analyse the country-related risks: from the geopolitical context (an embargo would be disastrous for your plans) to the political and socio-economic situation on the ground. It is not uncommon, for example, for elections to have a destabilising effect on the climate of a nation.

Do you have sufficient local knowledge?

This question may appear trivial at first, but culture and traditions have a major influence on the way trade is conducted – even in a globalised world. Beyond market expectations and the chances your product has of success, it is imperative to grasp the cultural differences that could have an impact on your business. A Japanese company does not take the same approach as its equivalent in Chile. Do not hesitate to recruit a trustworthy consultant who fully understands the region.

Have you planned for the worst?

This piece of advice is highly pertinent when the country in question uses a currency other than the euro because foreign exchange rates fluctuate continuously, with the result that you could be obliged to convert money according to less favourable terms than those initially expected. Adopt an effective foreign exchange policy (stabilise your profit margins, control your cash flow, mitigate potential adverse effects, etc.) and employ hedging techniques that best suit your situation.

How do you evaluate your international customers?

Once you have analysed the context, drop down a level to gauge the reliability of your customer in terms of their financial situation and history (e.g. of making payments), their degree of solvency, etc. While such research may not be simple, it is decisive in order to prevent payment defaults that can do enormous harm. If in doubt, take out an appropriate insurance policy to protect yourself. Paying for this could prevent you from becoming embroiled in perilous (not to mention costly) recovery action abroad. Should you end up in a crisis situation, you should ideally obtain local support in the country. Finally, be aware that in the EU, debt recovery is simplified by the European Payment Order procedure.

Have you adequately adapted the tools you use?

One of the greatest risks of international trade is transportation (loss, theft, accidents, seizures, contamination, etc.) in addition to customs formalities. Once dispatched, the goods are no longer within your control, and so you must ensure your carriers accept adequate liability. This means, for example, having suitable insurance cover, but also anticipating the multitude of procedures to be launched in any dispute. More generally, you will need to review and adapt the contracts you have with transport companies, as well as your international customers. Ensure you clearly set out the terms and conditions that apply (payment deadlines, exchange rates, compensation, etc.) and include realistic clauses that safeguard your own interests.

Article

30.09.2021

Leeuw van de export anniversary edition presents three awards

Competition was very strong during the 20th edition of the Leeuw van de Export Awards. Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) rewarded three rather than two companies for their strong export results this year. Congratulations to Molecubes, Sylva and Locinox!

This edition of Leeuw van de Export was once again streamed live and was also special not least as it was the 20th anniversary of the award. For the first time, two companies took home the prestigious award in the category of companies with up to 49 employees: Molecubes and Sylva. Locinox won the award in the category of companies with more than 50 employees.

Molecubes' scanners off to a flying start

Molecubes is based in Ghent and develops and builds compact scanners for molecular imaging. Molecubes is a Ghent University spin-off and got off to a flying start in 2015. The company immediately attracted a lot of attention abroad. Molecubes scanners are currently being used in 14 countries already. The Ghent-based company also supplies renowned academic institutions and companies in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries all over the world. And international demand is still high. “The Middle East is still wide open to us”, co-founder Ewout Vansteenkiste says. "Together with our partners, we look at how we can further differentiate our product range and explore many other areas of application. This award is a wonderful recognition of our young team and partners."

Sylva family business sends plants around the world

Plant grower Sylva also received a Lion award. The Lievegem-based company has an impressive family tree that goes back seven generations. Its internationalisation strategy took shape when the current generation took over the company's management in 2003. Today, the company ships 25 million plants yearly to 40 different countries, including several distant markets. "Our strong focus on technological innovation puts an end to the traditional reputation of horticulture and ornamentals”, general manager Tim Van Hulle says. “Winning this award is an incredible boost for us and for the entire Flemish horticulture and ornamental sector.”

Locinox builds gates in all corners of the world

Locinox develops and manufactures mechanical, electromechanical and access control products and components for fences and gates. In such a specific industry, the Waregem family business felt that internationalisation was obvious from the outset. Today, they are the European market leader and 90% of its turnover comes from exports. North America is also an important market. Locinox's complex, state-of-the-art components require continuous innovation. Every innovation also must pass a sustainability test.

Locinox experiences significant growth of 10 to 15% annually. There was no dip due to the coronavirus. The company grew by 35% in the first half of this year. In order to sustain this pace, Locinox intends to double its workforce over the next decade. A new 40,000 m2 plant is in the pipeline to achieve this. “Our ambition is to make sure every quality gate worldwide has at least one Locinox component”, CEO Mik Emmerechts says. “We are proud and pleased that this award gives us the opportunity to show who we are and what we have to offer potential employees.”

A partner who supports your international ambitions

BNP Paribas Fortis sponsored the Leeuw van de Export Awards for the second time. Didier Beauvois, Head of Corporate Banking: "We are very proud of the three winners. Exporting companies are a driving force behind the economy. All the nominees showed a great international track record. They all prove that our knowledge, innovation and craftsmanship can conquer the world. Our bank is committed to helping companies with their export plans from the first steps to expanding into new markets."

Are you inspired by the winners of these three Lion Awards? We offer you the peace of mind you need, with a wide range of solutions to optimise, secure and finance your import and export activities.

Source: Wereldwijs 2021

Article

17.09.2021

Which company will cash in on its nomination for the Leeuw van de Export Award?

On the evening of Wednesday 29 September, FIT will be presenting its Leeuw van de Export Award for the 20th time: the highest award for Flemish companies achieving outstanding export results. Will it be Camco Technologies, Container Technics, Locinox, Molecubes, OTN Systems or Sylva?

Every year, Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) awards a Leeuw van de Export to two companies that have recorded notable achievements in the field of exports in the past year. We briefly introduce the six nominees below. Be inspired by their stories of expansion abroad and find out which companies are voted the strongest exporters on 29 September at 6pm via a livestream at www.leeuwvandeexport.be.

Nominees in the category 'Companies with up to 49 employees'

Container Technics from Wijnegem

Container Technics has been a specialist in cargo securing technology for nearly four decades. The company sells materials to secure cargo on ships and has established a strong reputation in the shipping world. Since there are hardly any Belgian shipping companies, Container Technics has always been an international SME. Today, they are an all-round partner to shipowners around the world.

CEO Wim Ledegen: "For now, we're managing our central stock from our home base, but we're also considering decentralisation. Italy, the USA or Dubai are suitable candidates. The closer we are to the large ports and shipyards with our materials, the greater our response speed and flexibility."

www.containertechnics.com

Molecubes from Ghent

Molecubes develops and builds compact scanners for molecular imaging. All hardware, software and technology are from Flemish soil. The devices visualise organs, tumours or the actions of drugs. During research on COVID-19, the company supplied the only type of scanner that can be used in highly secure virology lab environments. Molecubes scanners are already used in 14 countries, with the United States at the very top of the list.

Co-founder Ewout Vansteenkiste: "Far-away destinations are definitely something we're aiming for, with China and South Korea being the 'icing on the cake'. We're a young company, and there's still so much untapped potential. Together with our partners, we'll look at how we can further differentiate our product range and explore many other areas of application for our devices."

www.molecubes.com

Sylva from Lievegem

Sylva is a plant grower and has been a family business for seven generations. Today, 25 million plants are shipped annually to 40 different countries, including a number of overseas markets. Over the years, the company has steadily developed into an established player in the field of forest plants and hedge plants, and has also been servicing the international market since 2003. Today, Sylva has six local representatives and is in the process of tapping into promising, far-away export countries such as Russia and China.

General Manager Tim Van Hulle: "North America is beckoning. However, given the phytosanitary legislation in place there, it's currently not possible to import plants from our country into the US and Canada. But we're now ready to exploit this huge potential as soon as the market opens up for plants from Belgium."

www.sylva.be

Nominees in the category 'Companies with 50 or more employees'

Camco Technologies from Heverlee

Camco Technologies is a pioneer in terminal automation. The company specialises in container identification and tracking solutions. After the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Finland, they managed to gain a foothold in the United States. Process automation, the latest camera technologies, micro-location, artificial intelligence... Technological innovation is a must for Camco Technologies.

CEO Jan Bossens: "In Europe, we're gradually approaching the ceiling in terms of terminal automation. But there are many large-scale projects on the table in Eastern Europe, Russia and China. And the African continent still offers a lot of potential."

www.camco.be

Locinox from Waregem

Locinox is a family-owned company that develops and manufactures mechanical, electro-mechanical and access control products for manufacturers and installers of fencing and gates such as locks, hinges, hydraulic pumps, electric motors and access-code keypads. Two-thirds of the added value is derived from the product range itself, while the rest is derived from services. The company is fully committed to technological innovation and sustainability.

CEO Mik Emmerechts: "Exporting is in Locinox' DNA. As a manufacturing company in such a specific industry, you simply have to expand your reach. Today, 90% of our revenue comes from exports, and we're the European market leader in our niche industry."

www.locinox.com

OTN Systems from Olen

This technology provider deliberately targets energy and transportation with its applications, two industrial sectors that are currently undergoing rapid transformation worldwide. Their technology makes it possible to migrate outdated telecom infrastructures and then efficiently manage new networks. OTN Systems is now active in more than 70 countries and on every continent.

Chief Product Officer Jurgen Michielsen: "Our technology isn't very different from that of the giant telecommunication providers, other than that we develop and implement fully customised solutions for our industrial customers. We continuously look to innovate and stand out from the major market players. We do this by coming up with clever ideas and through our human-centred approach."

www.otnsystems.com

Find out who will be crowned winners of the Leeuw van de Export Award 2021 during the livestream on 29 September at 6pm. Register in advance at www.leeuwvandeexport.be or visit the website on the day itself.

Are you ready for your first international adventure or do you want to expand your international activities? We offer you the peace of mind you need, with a wide range of solutions to optimise, secure and finance your import and export activities.

Source: Wereldwijs 2021

Article

10.09.2021

Leeuw van de Export Award still going strong after 20 years

Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) will be presenting its Leeuw van de Export Award for the 20th time on 29 September. As well as recognising strong export results, FIT also wants to use these success stories to inspire other companies to cross borders themselves. This is something that BNP Paribas Fortis, as a sponsor of this event, fully supports.

What do exporters need to look for to conquer the international market? We asked Frank Haak, Head of Sales Global Trade Solutions, and a jury member for the 20th edition of the Leeuw van de Export Award.

What can would-be exporters expect at the beginning of their export adventure?

"Exporting is an important step forward in a company's evolution. But suddenly operators come into contact with a completely different and usually unknown environment. Import market regulations are often different, as are tax and legal regulations. When making international payments, there are exchange risks. And then there are the specific documents and products required for foreign trade. There are lots of new things to consider."

How can companies prepare for this?

"By learning in advance as much as they can about the rules that apply to their new foreign market. Companies can turn to domestic institutions, such as FIT's foreign branches or their banker, to help them with this. They will help new exporters find their way around the very complex international world. I also recommend hiring a local agent or representative. This can help to resolve any bottlenecks that can't be resolved easily from home. At BNP Paribas Fortis, we have our Trade Development department that can help with this. Rob Van Veen offers companies guidance as they take their first steps in a new international market. This kind of external support may be expensive, but it's an investment that will save money in the long term."

How do companies that would like to start exporting learn about a new market? What advice can you give them?

"You learn about new markets simply by visiting as many foreign counterparties as possible. Don't bite off more than you can chew – take it one step at a time. I always say to new exporters: exports are great, but getting paid is even better. The risk of non-payment is still underestimated too often, even by companies that already have extensive international experience. We always recommend customers map out the worst-case scenarios in advance and incorporate the necessary mitigations. Prevention is better than cure!"

How can exporters better protect themselves against unforeseen circumstances?

"The COVID-19 pandemic showed how important diversification is, both in terms of supply or production of goods and in the choice of export countries. Economically, it may seem more advantageous to manufacture or import from a country far away with cheap labour, but always make sure you've got a back-up plan."

Which development would represent a significant added value for international trade?

"We need digitally-secured platforms for international trade transactions that all interested parties can use to securely view and exchange documents in digital format. This not only shortens the lead time of international transactions, but would also be a huge step forwards in terms of sustainability. Trade finance is difficult and cumbersome: it involves exchanging tonnes of data, a lot of which is still on paper, unfortunately. But I'm confident that we're gradually moving in the right direction. Many large international banks, including the BNP Paribas Group, are currently working on this."

Find out who will be crowned winners of Leeuw van de Export Award 2021 during the livestream on 29 September at 6pm. Register in advance at www.leeuwvandeexport.be or visit the website on the day itself.

Are you ready for your first international adventure or do you want to expand your international activities? We offer you the peace of mind you need, with a wide range of solutions to optimise, secure and finance your import and export activities.


Source: Wereldwijs 2021

Article

25.11.2020

Not words, but actions: how can you realise your internationl project?

Gaining a foothold in a foreign country is no easy task, and some good advice alone will not suffice. Trade Development at BNP Paribas Fortis is the perfect partner to turn theory into practice!

Many companies want to try their luck outside our borders and gain a foothold in new markets. This is necessary not only to be able to continue to grow, but also to remain competitive. But if you don't know where to start, it's hard to put your money where your mouth is. How do you find the right market? How do you find prospects? How do you prepare the whole operation in all its aspects? What risks do you need to cover? And which partner can you trust? All important questions that can make or break your project. And this is how international ambitions are sometimes left on ice.... 

"We want to help companies achieve their international ambitions", says Rob van Veen, Head of Trade Development at BNP Paribas Fortis.

"We look at the local market into which the company wants to launch and make sure the underlying potential is sufficient." And so, the first step towards success is taken.

WHEN GOOD ADVICE IS NOT ENOUGH...

There's a deep gap between theory and practice that managers do not always dare to cross. It's essential to collect a lot of data and information, but this is certainly not enough. Talk must then be followed by action.  Your growth project's first stone must be laid... preferably with the greatest possible chance of success and as few risks as possible. In such an adventure, (good) guidance is not a superfluous luxury. Even more reason to call on the support of Trade Development: a partner who can assist you with a wide range of solutions and help you establish a long-term strategic vision. In Belgium and beyond. 

"In their project's first phase, companies often find a lot of information and support from the Belgian export promotion agencies", says Rob van Veen.  "But they don't get all the practical answers they need to roll out their activities in a given country."

CHOOSE WISELY!

Given that growth prospects in Belgium are rather limited, companies must therefore look for international growth. But where? This is where the Trade Development team comes in. Your choice of target market is certainly crucial. A vague, poorly thought-out decision can have dramatic consequences: examples of failure abound – partly because companies don't understand the local 'culture'. Companies sometimes gravitate towards exotic markets because others have gone before them. But every international project is unique: does the market fit into your overall strategy? Are you aware of all the challenges that lie ahead (regulatory, commercial, etc.)? 

"Let's take the example of a company that wants to set up in Brazil. Our first question is then: what activities have you already been carrying on in Europe? Might there be new, undiscovered opportunities there? For example, it's much easier for a company to set up in Poland than in Brazil, where taxes on imports are extremely high" , continues Rob van Veen.

HIGHLY NECESSARY 'LOCAL' CONTACT PERSONS 

Your project has taken shape and you've determined your target market. The time has then come for Trade Development to roll out one of its greatest assets: access to a global network of competent and reliable partners.

"We introduce the client to local specialists who can support their project abroad from start to finish. One deals with the roll-out of activities, another specialises in legal and tax issues, and a third takes care of the administrative side of things. We prefer to work with small, local agencies, most of whom are long-term BNPPF network partners", says Rob van Veen.

These contact persons have a perfect knowledge of the national rules and customs and know how to adhere to that specific framework. The company therefore has the great advantage that it can benefit from such a skilled team: a win-win situation. "In addition, our permanent contact persons are evaluated by the client after each project. This way, we can guarantee the quality of our services!" 

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS: Save TIME AND gain EFFICIENCY

Are you looking for an effective distributor or a reliable representative? An ideal on-site supplier? Do you want to determine these contacts' actual potential or get to know possible new partners? Not easy for a company… 

"Most of them are looking for a white knight. Our trade developers draw up realistic selection criteria in consultation with the client. They carry out a financial analysis of the commercial partners and check their technical baggage and their reputation", explains Rob van Veen.

First, a list of four or five serious and interested candidates is drawn up, and then the contact phase follows. "Our local contact introduces the candidates to the Belgian company to ensure that both parties are interested in a partnership. Once all these issues are clarified, the relationships can be rapidly explored in depth." 

SUCCESS IN THE FIELD

Every target market has its problems and risks: from the language to cultural and commercial differences. Very specific problems that are often difficult to solve from Belgium, especially in the post-COVID-19 era. Hence the importance of being surrounded by specialists who know the country like the back of their hand. Need an example? "To be able to supply retailers in the UK, you often need to be able to invoice at a local level", explains Rob van Veen. "Our trade developer can then act and take care of the local invoicing and accounting on the company's behalf at a fixed and transparent rate for each transaction. This is a simple initial structure that does not require major investments but is very interesting professionally." The client can naturally then seek its own local partner. "That too is a task they can leave to our contact person, who has the necessary experience to do so." Need another example? Russia, where everything takes a huge amount of time... Trade Development's network of experts can also speed things up considerably here and solve problems more quickly. 

 

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