SACEEC INTERVIEW: “An exhibition is one of the most important tools for a business to enter a new market”

Let’s start with some background on your organization, your members and the aims of SACEEC?
SACEEC is a non-profit organization and we have a public-private partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry. We have just over 250 members out of which about 160 are companies that are actively exporting. In other words, more than 30 to 40% of their turnover is in the export business. All our members are South African manufacturers and employers. Their local content ranges anything from 50 to a 100%, with most of them being above 65% local content.

We have members that are in the following categories, including capital equipment, vehicle manufacturing, auxiliary equipment such as pumps and valves. We have manufacturers of pipes, fittings, nuts and bolts. We also have members who specialize in processes. So our members represent the entire manufacturing sector in South Africa. 

Most of the members are based in Gauteng, and the rest are in Natal and in the Cape.

Our main function is to introduce them to the international world, whether it be Africa, South America, Canada, Europe, Far East, it doesn’t matter. We try and open doors for them to sell the products that they manufacture. 

How important is your relationship with the DTi?
We obviously have a very good relationship with the DTi. The DTi puts national pavilions and missions together and they come to the SACEEC because we are the experts and our members give us feedback in terms of what is happening in the industry, where the opportunity is etc. We can then go back to the DTi and as part of our business plan, we can say: this year we need to be in, for example, Zambia, DRC, Ghana, Nigeria or Kenya. 

We have primary and research markets. The markets where we know our members are already established, it is good to go there for continuity so that they can go carry on building relationships and selling. But then you also have markets that are up and coming that we don’t know that much about and then we go on a mission and have a look and see what the opportunities are. And then we advise the DTi on where we think we should be going. 

We do just about all Spintelligent’s shows in Africa and we do international shows around the world. As SACEEC our members attend about 30 exhibitions per year around the world.

In this increasingly digital era, are exhibitions, where participants meet face to face, still important for SACEEC members to meet new business partners?
As far as I am concerned, an exhibition is one of the most important tools for a business to enter a new market. 

There are two types of people that go to a show. The one that gets sore feet because he doesn’t do research doesn’t do his homework and someone else is paying for him to stand and get sore feet on his stand. He hopes that somebody will walk past his stand, sees what he is doing and wants to buy his products or equipment or wants to enquire about it. 

Then you have the serious guy who does an exhibition properly. If you have a look at the DRC where we participated in the DRC Mining Week recently, it was one of the most successful shows I have ever been to because we did a lot of training for our members, and the organizers, Spintelligent, also organized a visit for the to the mines. We also invited the right people to come to the show and that is what a show is all about. 

People always say we are in the digital or electronic age, yes to communicate you don’t have to put a stamp on a letter and send it via the mail or via the Post Office anymore. Now you can send it electronically, you can now send pictures and brochures, but you still need to see the engineer or the foreman or the decision maker on the other side and you need to have a relationship with them. It’s still true that people will only buy from you if they know you. When you buy consumables you can go anywhere. 

However, when it comes to very expensive, hi-tech equipment, people want to see you, you don’t just buy it from anyone online. It is a specialized product that has been designed and manufactured and customized specifically to a client’s need and that’s why you need the show. The only way that you are going to break into a new market is to attend an exhibition. But you have to attend it properly and you have to invite people, you have to see the right people, and if they don’t come to the show then you have to take a few extra days and try and make appointments on the mines or wherever your customer is and go and see him. That’s the way business operates.

Tell us more about your participation at Nigeria Mining Week this year?
We have invited all our members and we don’t have a confirmed list yet. To us, Nigeria is a new market and hopefully, this year when we go there with Spintelligent we are going to open markets. When you talk to individual companies, people do business based on what we call “the ease of doing business”, the ease of getting paid and safety issues. Hopefully, we are going to break into Nigeria this year and have a good South African contingent going and together with Spintelligent get the right people to come and see them at the show or at their stand. And that is the way you break into a new market. 

It is very expensive to travel around the world and especially the airfares and hotel accommodation in Africa. Very few people will just jump on an airplane to Nigeria to see if they can do business. An exhibition is the ideal way to start and together with the organizers and the training that we give to our members, hopefully they will tell us the kind of people and we as SACEEC invite them to the exhibition and to the specific stands of companies exhibiting. And that is how you start to mobilize interest in a country. Very few people that haven’t been to a country before will go there if there is not an exhibition or a show. 

Did you follow a similar track for DRC?
Absolutely, we changed the way we do things a couple of years ago. Before we went to the DRC, we had the training here and Spintelligent came from Cape Town to talk to our members about their marketing, who they need to invite and we also work together to find out, for example, who the buyer on a mine is that we need to invite. And that is how we get the right people to the shows. And as an export council we also take people to our members and introduce them to as many people as possible. And our members also help each other, for example, someone may already be doing business on the Glencore Mine and then they introduce other companies to these representatives. So it is all about communication and in the engineering world, it is all about people. You have to see your customer, you have to be there. 

How excited are you about Nigeria and breaking into the mining sector there?
You know, Nigeria is a massive country. And it is not only about mining, it’s about engineering, any engineering product really, whether it is making bricks, concrete or tanks for the mines. It’s the second biggest market in Africa, maybe even the biggest market on the continent. We have to go there and examine that market because the opportunities are just absolutely huge.  

And if you look at where we are in South Africa at the moment, we need to export, we need to employ people and we are not going to do it in South Africa, South Africans haven’t got money. So, a lot of our exporters are doing fantastic work and they are looking for these markets because they represent new opportunities. 

As South Africans, we like doing business with the rest of Africa because it is not that far. We just need to meet the right people to get it going and this is where an opportunity such as Nigeria Mining Week comes in. So hopefully we will have some of our members who say: “yes, we’re gonna go!” 

And what normally happens with a show like this and we are talking to everybody and publicizing it all the time is that when we when one or two members decide to go, other members follow suit and it snowballs because they will not feel alone and they know that whatever Spintelligent does is going to be professional and they put on an incredible show. So there is trust in the supply chain and it is a new market which could enable our members to increase their export budgets, that is what we are all about. That is why we do it.

Where in Africa are your SACEEC members doing well?
Namibia, Botswana, DRC, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, all over. I don’t think there is a market in Africa where our members are not active. But the most important are the SADC countries of Botswana, Zambia and DRC because it is closer to home and we have been involved in those markets for years and years. 

Nigeria is quite a closed market to us at the moment although several of our members do business in Nigeria already and hopefully, with this show we can show them the huge opportunities and it will grow, it has to grow. And going with Spintelligent makes it easy, because we know the shows they do, it will be professional, safe, have a good attendance and so on. For example at DRC Mining Week this year, every record was broken.