4 June 2007
Moving Ahead(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 06,2007)
The Netherlands-based electrical appliances enterprise Tristar Europe B.V. markets its 400-item product range almost exclusively in Europe
Established in 1979, Tristar has its headquarters in Tilburg, a city of about 200,000 people situated 30km from Eindhoven and 100km from Amsterdam.
Included in the company's 400-item product range are clothes irons, electric fans, vacuum cleaners, grills, toasters, blenders, doughnut makers, coffee machines, coolers, popcorn makers, personal-care and beauty products, steam cleaners and grass trimmers.
While almost all of these items are marketed exclusively to Europeans, Tristar's sales team must travel far and wide to meet buyers, potential agents and distributors, including Hong Kong.
"This strategy seems odd, but we do it. We need to position ourselves to be seen by our buyers, and they come to trade fairs in Hong Kong. More and more brands travel to Hong Kong mainly to serve European clients," van Bemmel adds.
"In October 2002, we first exhibited at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair and we've returned every year since," he remarks. "Often, the buyers source many things. They look at what's new and possible. They don't buy only from us and frequently check other companies' prices and bring the details to us and challenge us to do better. For them, it's important to be in Hong Kong."
The 17-year Tristar veteran, busy negotiating with customers living just a few kilometres away from his office in the Netherlands, also notes: "If clients simply drove into Tilburg and checked our information, it wouldn't be enough for them. We also participate in European fairs, where we meet mainly the retailers, shop owners and chain-store operators. People with more enterprising ideas come to Hong Kong. They want to think, consider new possibilities and find opportunities. We can tell them that we're looking for someone in the Czech Republic, in Moldavia or elsewhere."
He says he also has requests from Asian buyers. "But it's difficult. The problem is that we have totally different requirements. We produce everything under the very strict safety guidelines that Europe uses, and selling elsewhere would involve different rules and extra expense. We choose to focus on Europe because its markets are big enough, we think, and our products suit European preferences."
Decades ago, Tristar often produced plastic houseware products. "Back then, we had a very wide assortment of perhaps 3,000 different items, mainly from Italy," van Bemmel says. "Now we're more specialised."
Tristar employs about 50 people, mainly in sales, marketing, design and logistics, at offices in the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany and France.
Production takes place at dozens of factories on the Chinese mainland, and Tristar keeps inventory in the Netherlands and Portugal for quick deliveries, even in smaller-than-usual quantities, across Europe.
"We have all 400 products ready with beautiful packaging in 12 different languages on our shelves in Europe. We can ship right way. For customers, that's convenient and allows them to start small. Then they have a brand that they represent, which makes them strong, with full support from us," says van Bemmel. "If the clients want, we can do a lot of own-label work. We arrange everything."
A European design team strives to distinguish Tristar's products from all others. As an example of excellence, van Bemmel points to an eight-person raclette stone grill (model RA-2947). European raclette parties involve cooking, often with cheese, vegetables and meat, on a special grill that heats many small pans, one for each guest, to individual preferences.
"The raclette grill is fully designed by us," van Bemmel says. "The pans are colour-labelled to avoid mixing them up. Actually, it's a multifunctional appliance with the raclette pans, a stone grill and a normal grill. You can make several courses at once on the same appliance - the fish here, the meat there, so the flavours don't mix. This product operates on electricity and has variable temperature. It's very popular."
In the Netherlands, according to van Bemmel, tradition calls for a raclette meal on the day after Christmas. "It's also something you may do with leftovers. Children find this style of cooking entertaining, even educational," he adds.
When in Hong Kong, the Tristar team also meets with factory managers. "We trust Chinese manufacturing, but we do a lot of quality checking, too," van Bemmel says. "In terms of durability and quality, high standards are normal for us, even at competitive prices."
Eventually, Tristar will expand to markets beyond Europe. "We're growing rapidly," van Bemmel says. "Gradually, we'll start to focus on other areas and approach the buyers in Hong Kong. That's the best way."
TEXT BY JOHN CAIRNS
Tristar Europe B.V.
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