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, how and when did international customers become aware of your proficiency in staircase construction?
Like many instances in life, it was a fortuitous combination of open-mindedness and serendipity. The reality is that we have consistently engaged in activities within neighboring countries such as Austria and Switzerland. Subsequently, we began receiving requests from architectural firms abroad, which led us to gradually embark on projects, including a challenging endeavor in Spain, specifically on Mallorca. Along the way, a friendly company approached us with the proposition of collaborating on a project in Nigeria. Gathering our courage, we embraced the opportunity and started developing additional projects in partnership with various collaborators. As time went on, we also received direct inquiries, which we confidently executed independently. Presently, a significant portion, 30 percent, of our sales originate from international markets, spanning from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Notably, we are currently in the process of delivering a staircase to New York.
In challenging markets, as a small company, how do you effectively handle the process of order management?
Efficient project management is crucial for us. To ensure successful order processing, we rely on specialists and trusted foreign partners. We prioritize working with Handwerk International and established companies in our target markets. With 10-15 years of international experience, we have gained valuable knowledge and learned from our past endeavors. While we continue to learn and adapt, we understand the importance of paying our dues along the way.
What makes your brand stand out internationally, and how important is the “Made in Germany” label for you?
Our expertise lies in the production of multidimensionally curved stair components, setting us apart from many other companies in the stair industry. A key unique selling point is our exceptional ability to provide high-quality soffit cladding for stairs, a capability unmatched by any other manufacturer. The “Made in Germany” label holds significant value, and we continue to benefit from its reputation, particularly in foreign business endeavors.
“With great determination, we ventured into international business alongside our partners, summoning our courage. Subsequently, we began receiving direct inquiries. Presently, 30 percent of our sales originate from 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.
How significant is the involvement of consulting engineers, planners, and architects from Germany, who operate globally, in this context?
In our marketing and sales efforts, we collaborate with the top 100 architects who are engaged both domestically and internationally. Their involvement is crucial because, without their creative input, we would not have the opportunity to construct staircases. Our role primarily lies in executing their designs rather than competing with them in the design process. Additionally, depending on the project, there may be a need for an internationally experienced structural engineering firm that is well-versed in international regulations and standards.
Do you possess an adequate number of skilled workers available for international assignments?
Unfortunately, the metal construction industry is experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, and we are also affected by this situation. However, we are actively implementing various strategies to make ourselves more visible and attractive as an employer. Traditional job advertisements alone are no longer sufficient, so we are exploring alternative approaches. One such approach is to establish strong ties with our trainees early on and provide them with long-term prospects, aiming to retain them as employees until their retirement, if possible. Another measure is to invest more in the training and development of our existing employees, with the goal of recruiting skilled workers from within our own ranks. These are just a few examples of the steps we are taking to address the shortage of skilled workers in our industry.
Is the internationalization of personnel a positive factor in the competitive market?
Certainly, within our company, we have a diverse workforce representing ten different nationalities, including employees from Hungary, Poland, Croatia, and Turkey. We greatly value the existing expertise within our team, particularly when it comes to navigating foreign markets.
“When it comes to assembly, we rely on our own personnel.”
If you could provide guidance to smaller companies, what key factors should they consider right from the beginning when embarking on international business ventures?
I highly recommend that newcomers proactively engage with knowledgeable partners, such as trade chambers, who possess expertise in international affairs and are well-versed in official, tax, and customs requirements. Additionally, it is advisable to assess the need for on-site expertise, such as hiring freelancers or construction managers working abroad. Lack of familiarity with cultural differences and customs can lead to potential pitfalls. Therefore, my recommendation is to initiate international business ventures by partnering with experienced individuals or organizations and learning the ropes together.
Are there any specific markets that you consider as dream opportunities where you aspire to undertake projects in the future?
To be completely honest, Central Europe would suffice for us as we have already established a strong foothold in that region. Nonetheless, markets like the Arabian Peninsula, where we have previous experience and where the purchasing power is significant, still hold appeal. However, these markets present various challenges, and in comparison, projects within the European market are more within our grasp. This is precisely why we established our own company in Aarau five years ago, as Switzerland serves as the ideal foreign market for us.
“My recommendation is to initiate international business ventures by collaborating with experienced partners and embark on the journey of learning together”.
What, in your opinion, are effective measures to promote foreign trade?
We have experienced positive outcomes through delegation trips and participating in joint stands organized by Handwerk International and bw-i. I highly recommend these instruments and programs, as they offer cost-effective and low-risk opportunities to leverage diverse networks and gain firsthand insights on the ground.
Metallart places a strong emphasis on promoting expertise by relying on specialists from within the company and making substantial investments in the training and professional development of its international team.