The German AHK (Foreign Trade Chamber) Roadshows are useful means for companies reaching out to explore new markets. Until now, thenex has successfully taken part in several of these roadshows. In an interview, thenex Managing Director Henry-Johann Nientimp explains why these roadshows have proven so profitable for thenex.

Joop van Reeken: What prompted you to work with the German Chamber of Commerce?

Henry-Johann Nientimp: At the moment our company is growing very strongly. We are going two ways to shape growth. Point one: We strengthen our existing customer relationships and further expand them. This applies to already active markets. Point two: Acquire new markets and new customers in existing markets. Here we have considered how best to tackle this.

thenex has always tried to keep in touch with the foreign chambers of commerce in our market areas. For example, during my semester abroad in South America (Argentina), I visited the German Chambers of Commerce in Buenos Aires and the German Embassy in Uruguay to gather information about what our company could do there and what the business conditions are. This was interesting at the time because I’ve learned that there are indeed many possibilities in Buenos Aires, but it might not be the right time for thenex to enter the market. At the time, there were significant problems in Argentina, such as high inflation and highly increased custom fees that blocked foreign companies. That is partly still true today.

After that, we kept close contact with the Foreign Chambers of Commerce. This was also the case two years ago when I visited the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I met with Mr. Oliver Oehms, the AHK delegate in Saudi Arabia, for an exchange of information. I was interested in finding out, what possibilities thenex has in Saudi Arabia to expand our business in the market. We were then offered the company roadshow.

JvR: What does such a corporate roadshow look like?

H-JN: The roadshow means that the AHK employees on-site make appointments for us. They identify and contact potential customers in the market for us. In doing so, suitable customers are selected according to our specifications: What does thenex do, what do we look for, what do our end customers look like? The AHK then organizes a series of appointments with selected companies. Then we travel to Saudi Arabia to visit the contacted customers together with an AHK representative.

In spring 2018, as I usually do around this time, I flew to Saudi Arabia to visit customers for a week together with Mr. Mohammed Faleel, the AHK representative. In this meeting, there were new customers, but also customers, who we already knew about. I was skeptical at first about the appointments with the customers we already had known. Because of the excellent network of the AHK we, however, had the chance to meet different representatives of these companies, especially on the higher management level, that we had not known or met before.

The result of the roadshow organized for us in Riyadh and Jeddah has brought thenex new customers. Of course, some conversations end up in vain. But we were able to further develop and strengthen good customer relationships. A year later, we can also say that we have gained new customers with whom we have been able to develop very good business in the shortest possible time.

JvR: Have you considered more roadshows after that?

H-JN: This year we did another roadshow in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province: we were in Dammam, Al-Jubail, Al-Khobar as well as in neighboring Bahrain. We visited and met several customers there. Relations have already developed, and we are trying to tackle concrete projects. At this roadshow, we were able to win good new customers and strengthen existing contacts.

JvR: So, you would say it is an advantage for thenex to use the offers of the foreign chambers of commerce?

H-JN: Yes. We use the AHK as a local partner or contact person on site. As the AHK is on-site and well connected, they can easily analyze the market for your needs and arrange qualified appointments with the right companies and contact persons.

This was again shown on the second trip. The strong network and the continuous presence on-site are also highly recognized by customers and local contacts.

JvR: Are there any costs?

H-JN: The AHK service is of course not for free. A service that you claim must be paid for. But I can only recommend this service. We have had valuable experience in Saudi Arabia. And we are in contact with other AHKs in the Middle East for similar programs. Currently, our collaborator for Latin America, Mr. Jerly Rojas, travels to Chile and Peru. He participates in two roadshows, each of one week each, with the German AHK Chile and the AHK Peru.

These preparations for travel with the AHKs in Latin America have also gone very well. We are of course curious to see how the meetings went. The first talks took place and I have already received very positive feedback from our employee. In any case, it seems that it is also worthwhile and that valuable appointment had been organized for us.

JvR: Would you say that the AHKs are “local trading partners” who make an important contribution to “analog” communication, so to speak face-to-face, between companies?

H-JN: That’s true. The German AHKs make up the appointments on-site and thenex meets the contact persons of the selected companies on the spot. The point is that we can communicate with our customers not only “digitally” and by phone. We want to have face-to-face conversations, we are old-fashioned. We need to visit our customers regularly so that we can build and maintain a personal relationship with our partners. We don’t believe that good business can be done in any other way than with personal interaction. Only digital, only website and only Skype – this does not always work nowadays. That’s why we deliberately decided to try out the AHK roadshows, and it has proven its worth. Soon we will have completed our fourth roadshow and I am sure that more trips of this kind will be added.

JvR: Does the AHK organize such roadshows for any company that asks?

H-JN: Yes, the AHK is neutral, and its mission is to support the German economy.

JvR: Does a company have to have a specific qualification?

H-JN: No. After our roadshows, the AHK got our permission to use our company as a reference. That’s why one or the other entrepreneur has already called us and inquired about our experiences and the processes. There have been a wide variety of industries.

JvR: Are there German AHKs everywhere?

H-JN: There is a German embassy or consulate in almost all countries of the world. In many countries also an office of the AHK or at least a contact person who is located in the embassy or consulate. Many events are organized, regular tables or receptions just like the delegation trips. You can also be a member in some cases. There are opportunities to ask questions on many issues, to express problems and to get support. It’s all there. The German government provides us entrepreneurs with this service, then you just have to use it and reach out to the experts for these markets.

This interview appeared first in the AHV NRW Magazin September 2019 Issue and in the German-Saudi Business Magazine – December.

Foto: Mr. Nientimp during a customer meeting in Riyadh with Mr. Faleel, Head of Market Entry of the AHK Saudi Arabia.