Why does the state take over 200 companies to an international fair each year?

09.08.2019

Elar Allik, Sectoral Manager of International Sales in Enterprise Estonia, writes about participating in international business fairs and also provides tips on how to succeed at the fair.

Participation in business fairs is considered an international standard in numerous sectors. For instance, Milrem Robotics has participated in all major defence industry fairs since 2015. Thanks to their consistent presence, they have earned a level of trust and found great new partners. Today they say that if they were to skip a major fair, many people would start to wonder what could have happened to Milrem. Presence in key events is self-evident. 

Threod Systems, which manufactures unmanned aircrafts, has pointed out that participation in a fair together with fellow Estonians and partners also enables to introduce joint integrations in a logical manner. However, there are also examples of Estonian companies that have found one another during their participation in a fair abroad. The neighbouring company may have been perceived as competition before, however, in terms of export, they are a potential partner instead – thus joint forces are used to enter the external market. For instance, the air conditioning in the express trains travelling around Europe were completed as a result of the cooperation of three Estonian companies: AS Interconnect Product Assembly, Radius Machining and Saku Metall.

Yes, fairs are important, but what does the state have to do with this?

Business transactions are based on trust and the support of the state certainly contributes to this. Namely, various official delegations, ministers, counsellors, diplomats and consuls play a role in various joint stands. Local market experts, i.e. export advisors of Enterprise Estonia, provide support as well. The presence of the state acts as a guarantee in more remote markets in particular, thus opening new doors for our entrepreneurs. Other countries realise the significance of state support as well and competition is fierce. Estonia participates in nearly 20 fairs per year with a joint stand, whereas the Czech Republic participates in nearly 100 and Austria in 150 fairs a year. Even our neighbours Latvians take part in ca 40 fairs.

A joint stand is a great example how one plus one amounts to more than two. Collective participation under one flag creates a stronger and more comprehensive image of the relevant business sector and we have worked hard for years in order for the design of our stand to introduce the best of Estonia and be modern, aesthetic and functional. As an independent participant, a company must be willing to invest significantly more or to settle for a corner booth. It cannot be denied that in addition to a better standing, saving on costs is also an important aspect for companies.

In the experience of Enterprise Estonia, fairs can generally be divided into two. There are some fairs that are pushed on us, whereas with other fairs, the standard is high and ensuring a spot is very difficult. For instance, it is essentially impossible for a single company to ensure a stand at the world’s largest annual food fair Gulfood, which is held in Dubai. We had to work hard even at the state level to secure a stand at this event. Currently, we have been present at the Gulfood fair twice and have gained hundreds of thousands of euros in export revenue as a result thereof.

Active waiting does not increase sales

Nevertheless, a joint stand serves merely as a strong foundation, the companies themselves are still responsible for the tough task of sales. Life has shown that the shy “active waiting” inherent to Estonians is not the most effective strategy in the commotion of the fair. It is important to be active and well-prepared. To this end, Enterprise Estonia offers a training on fairs as well as a sales pitch training for participants in the joint stand.

Competition is fierce at the fair, the hall may be filled with similar products, but most importantly, all important persons are present. In the case of various business fairs, the proportion of participants who have the right of decision-making is specifically mentioned. For instance, in terms of the largest subcontracting fair in Northern Europe – ELMIA –, it is known that every other visitor is seeking new suppliers at the fair and 84% of visitors have the right to make decisions regarding new orders.

From Sweden to the United Arab Emirates, from small crafts to infant formula

Enterprise Estonia has organised national joint stands for years and the trend is positive. The number of international fairs attended was 14 in 2016, whereas the figure reached 22 last year. We are represented in a very broad range of areas from construction, electronics and machinery industry to the small crafts, food and IT sector. In geographical terms, we participate in fairs from Sweden to the United Arab Emirates and China.

Of course, Enterprise Estonia cannot make it to every single fair and we are glad to see that quite a few companies that started out at the joint stand now participate with a separate stand at the fairs of their respective field. It is an indication that the export activity of the company is functional and Enterprise Estonia can provide other interested parties a chance to grow.

Magic wand or a powerful tool?

The fairs not only help to get one’s foot in the door, but we also have real examples of companies getting in through the door entirely. Icosagen Cell Factory has gained various valuable client relationships through the joint stand, whereas Balsnack has sent containers after containers full of potato wafers to different corners of the world. The export revenue of a company that has participated in the joint stand has grown by an average of 150,000 euros.

The companies that participate in the joint stand represent a cross-section of our innovational products and services, introducing Estonia and local companies as competent partners and strengthening the business sector of Estonia as well as the reputation of the entire country in general.

If used skilfully, a fair can be a powerful tool for establishing contacts, but it should certainly not be regarded as a magic wand which remains the only activity in the company’s export plan and solves all export issues for the company.

5 tips for participants in a fair

  1. Upon starting export, it would be wise to first just visit a few fairs – communicate, establish contacts and get the initial feel of the event.
  2. Preparation is key. Prepare a plan regarding activities before, during and after the fair. The most successful companies have the meetings at the fair agreed in advance.
  3. First appearance and details are important: one cannot sell real estate in flip-flops or surfboards in a suit.
  4. Take time to look around during the fair, communicate and find out what the competition is doing, what are the new trends like and what the sector is moving towards.
  5. Set time aside for follow-up activities. It is often the case that export people spend several days at a fair and once they return, their everyday tasks have piled up and addressing the valuable contacts established during the fair is delayed.
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