Thursday, 26 Jan 2012
No opportunity wasted in China
Alan Peel of UK company Altek shares his secrets and insights for business success in Asia.
ALTEK has been developing systems for the recovery and recycling of aluminium scrap and waste material since the early 1990s. But while we’re in the aluminium recycling business, we’re not in the business of wasting opportunities.
In my previous companies (over the past 20 years) I have spent many years selling into the Asian market and to companies in the Chinese steel and aluminium industries. When I bought ALTEK in 2003 with my partners, it was apparent the company needed to explore the aluminium market there in more depth. Our research found the use of aluminium was growing among the country’s 1.2 billion people, driven by the increase in sales of cars and white goods and general urbanisation over the previous decade. Moreover China was investing heavily in aluminium production infrastructure to support both domestic consumption and their export manufacturing businesses.
In my experience, the Chinese like dealing with Western companies on a face-to-face basis and we recognised the merits of visiting aluminium plants in person. A previous associate recommended a local representative for us to work with. He did a fine job identifying would-be clients, and helped us overcome language and logistical challenges. But respect is a much-admired value among Chinese people, and travelling to China and spending time with Chinese customers to secure the personal relationship has undoubtedly helped us secure meetings with senior decision makers and win business.
ALTEK: Fast facts
ALTEK employs 18 staff at its UK base in Chesterfield and seven in Pennsylvania, USA.
ALTEK has sold over £5 million of business into Asia in the last 5 years and over £2 million of that is into China.
Between them, ALTEK’s engineers have more than 300 years of international experience in developing and refining solutions to aluminium dross and scrap recycling.
ALTEK’s international client roster includes Alcoa, Rio Tinto and Hydro
ALTEK exports to Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, India, Australia, South East Asia, South Africa..
In 2011 Altek was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category.
Our reputation and customer references around the world with our international client base also helped garner interest among Chinese plant owners as we found the Chinese customers who were looking to build new facilities wanted to match the best available in the West. Word of mouth proved to be a useful route to market, while we also marketed our products through various government-run institutions in China who sometimes acted as advocates for Altek’s technology. Increasingly we found many Chinese plant owners were looking to use Western technology as they considered it to be more reliable than systems developed domestically.
With more than 400 customers around the world, we can rightly claim to be global leaders in our product range in the aluminium recycling industry. And our future in Asia looks bright; we aim to consolidate our position as market leaders in China with our product range, where we’ve secured 16 projects over the last six years. We’re also aiming to have an employee based in China full-time within the next two years, who will help coordinate sales with our local representative ,support procurement and provide customer technical service support locally. We’re also hoping to make further inroads into Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan, all of which are strong potential markets for our technology.
Many businesses believe Chinese markets are too difficult to penetrate. But meticulous planning and hard work has paid dividends for ALTEK, as has working with UKTI. Its advice on accessing finance and exporting, and knowledge on how UK companies can showcase their goods and services in China has undoubtedly helped us thrive in the lucrative aluminium recycling market.
Alan’s top five tips to success in China:
1. Be prepared to travel to China personally. You will gain respect from potential clients for doing so.
2. Work with good local partners. They act as your eyes and ears on the ground and will help you identify genuine business opportunities and provide after sales support.
3. Offer advanced technology to differentiate from the local competition on technical and performance basis and provide good return on investment to counter the ‘low priced’ local competition.
4. Chinese companies often expect local rates. Be prepared to negotiate and don’t be afraid to walk away.
5. Spread the risk. China is a burgeoning economy, but avoid putting all your eggs in one basket by exploring opportunities in other countries.