Fighting their way to the top

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Polish-made brands have evolved on the world market. The few original exports like Krakus Polish Ham and Prince Polo, have been overshadowed by new and innovative goods

by Mark Ordon

It used to be that if you asked a foreigner with limited knowledge of geography or history what they know about Polish products or specialities, they may have mentioned pierogis or kielbasa, in a very generic sense. Not much else. On the other hand, the same question about Germany would trigger a different reaction: BMW or Mercedes cars, Bosch spark plugs or Bayer aspirin. Of course, as with any rule, there are exceptions. An American, especially in certain regions of the US, may recall Krakus Polish ham. Most Icelanders, on the other hand, will without a doubt exclaim: Prins Póló!. But stereotypes aside, what is the condition of the Polish brand today?

And you are from where?
Today, an overwhelming number of companies are successfully exporting products manufactured in Poland, yet in many cases these are rebranded for the target market or sold under well-known international brands. In the end, customers may have a difficult time finding any indication that the products were in fact “Made in Poland.” Examples of such products include German NIVEA cosmetics, Swedish IKEA furniture or the popular Italian Fiat 500 city car.
24-29 cover story-4A number of companies in the country have managed to go a step further, to stand out from the crowd. Since 1996, Solaris Bus & Coach, has been producing public transportation vehicles which now roam the streets of 600 cities and towns in 30 countries. The company was founded and led by the husband and wife duo of Krzysztof and Solange Olszewski. According to the founders, it wasn’t easy at the start. A lot of effort and investment was put into convincing foreign customers that a bus made in Poland can have the quality of a vehicle made in Germany, says Mateusz Figaszewski, Deputy Director of Public Relations at Solaris. Poland has never really been associated with any leading automotive brand, he explains. It was well worth the struggle. Today, Solaris is among the top European manufacturers of buses, trams and trolleys and is the largest independent bus manufacturer on the continent.
Rafał Brzoska, CEO of Integer.pl, operator of the InPost private postal service, also admitted that joining the club of top ranked market players is a challenge when you are from a relatively unknown Central European country. He quickly adds that the underdog position proved to be beneficial in winning over the likes of Saudi Post, Eesti Post, Australian Post or Iceland Post.
Carving out a place for Polish companies among global leaders may be difficult, but there is really nothing to be ashamed of, as Adam Leik, Marketing Director at window manufacturer Drutex points out. He stressed that the company never held an inferiority complex. Therefore, there was no real need to conceal the fact that Drutex was from Poland. “That is why we always appear under our own brand and offer Drutex windows made in Poland, according to the rule ‘It’s good because it’s Polish,’” Leik said.
Delphia Yachts, Poland’s top producer of luxurious water vessels, which now ranks among the top 10 European yacht builders, has likewise always emphasized that their boats are built at a Polish shipyard, says the company’s PR manager Ewa Kot. She added that although the tedious task of enlightening customers abroad took years, now Polish yachts are associated with cutting-edge design, top quality and functional features.
Still, there are sectors where the country of origin is not key. In the clothing industry, for example, it does not really matter where the owner of a given brand originally comes from, says Dariusz Pachla, Vice President of the Board of LPP, owner of the Reserved, Cropp and House brands. It’s a factor which does not really affect the end consumer’s decision to purchase a product off the rack. What is important for LPP rather, he explains, is that the company’s brands are well-established on the markets where they operate and enjoy a high level of awareness among consumers.
Wiesław Włodarski, CEO of Foodcare (Black and Frugo), also notes that positive communication of the brand itself is key. Only strong brand names which have a story to tell and a clear message to the consumer are capable of making it in today’s market, be it in Poland or abroad.

Quality, innovation, vision. Not price.
If you think strategies like price dumping can get your foot in the door of the high mileage club, think again.
Figaszewski notes that breaking through with a Polish bus in the German market back in 2000 required endless positive 24-29 cover story-5marketing. Regretfully, at the time, “Polish product” was not an equivalent of “high quality product.” Although in the long run, offering ridiculously low prices is not the way to go, especially in the public transportation sector. In this regard, Solaris has never competed on price alone, but above all with innovation, high quality and top-level service.
The same rules apply in the clothing sector. As Pachla noted, in addition to a reasonable price and easy access to stores, customers rate the attractiveness of a garment based on its high quality and trendy design. In many cases, price will even take a back seat to far-reaching vision and innovative ideas, like the parcel lockers (paczkomaty) offered by InPost. Brzoska is happy to report that his company had the foresight to predict current trends in the postal market as well as the overwhelming development of the e-commerce sector and were able to react accordingly. As a result, InPost’s parcel locker terminals meet the strict demands of web-driven consumers in Australia, Chile, the UK, Saudi Arabia and dozens of other countries.

It’s not only the consumer that notices
Polish companies abroad are not only steadily growing their customer base, but are also being noticed by experts in the field. Top quality and innovative features of InPost parcel lockers earned the company its fourth win in a row at the World Mail Awards 2013, beating out operators like Singapore Post or LibanPost in the “Customer Service” category. In the UK, the parcel lockers earned the Delivery Excellence Award 2014 in the “Best Carrier Contribution to Delivery Innovation” category, earning more votes from internet users than the top postal and delivery operators in Great Britain, including DPD or UK Mail. The luxurious Nautika 1080 Soley, produced by Delphia Yachts, won Croatian Boat of the Year 2014 and was nominated by German yachting magazine Boote for European Powerboat of the Year 2014. Solaris buses were recognized by readers of the German trade magazines Lastauto Omnibus, Trans Aktuell and Fernfahrer as Best Commercial Vehicle 2014 in the category of imported midi buses. FoodCare went in an even more sophisticated direction: a case study of the Black beverage brand appeared in the curriculum of the most prestigious business school in the world – Harvard Business School.

And they’re not stopping there
The overwhelming success of these companies has by no means clouded the vision of its leaders. In the nearest future, Włodarski has plans to focus particularly on the US market to push sales of Black. Since May 2014, the energy drink is available in American retail chains under the Black Gold brand, and FoodCare hopes to involve boxing great Mike Tyson to market and promote the product. Włodarski is particularly proud of this achievement and mentions that for him personally it’s a great satisfaction to be able to buy a can of Black or a bottle of Frugo in New York or Chicago, something which he couldn’t have dreamed of 15 years ago.
Drutex has also opted for celebrity exposure. The company, known mostly in the B2B realm, is now targeting the end customer with a sports twist. Drutex windows are to be associated with high quality, professionalism, speed and reliability. That is why the company chose world-class football stars Andrea Pirlo, Philipp Lahm and Jakub Błaszczykowski as their ambassadors. Leik feels that for his company the best is yet to come. To address the potential in Poland and abroad, Drutex is building a European Joinery Center which will double its output to 10,000 windows daily.
LPP already has a solid position in Central and Eastern Europe, but is now aiming for the German market, where it plans to open three new Reserved stores. Pachla also unveiled the company’s plan to extend beyond Europe. By the end of this year, LPP, along with franchisee Azadea, will open the first non-European Reserved store in Qatar.
Solaris is now answering to the demands of strict emissions regulations in many European cities with its range of electric-powered buses. The company is also planning the release of a new Urbino model city bus with the official unveiling set for September 24 of this year.
So how is the Polish brand doing in 2014? Quite well, you could say, based on this small sampling of companies. Sampling is the correct term here, because in addition to Drutex, window maker Oknoplast is also a key player abroad, as is Fakro. Although Solaris is the best known fully Polish-owned independent vehicle manufacturer, busmaker Autosan is also building its position in foreign markets, while Bydgoszcz-based PESA is sending its trams and trains to the Czech Republic and Germany.
What seems to be a very positive trend now is the fact that the case of the Polish company abroad no longer seems to be a fight between “us” and “them” – or the disadvantaged Pole against the rest of the world. In their respective sectors, each of these companies has developed into a full-fledged player which now has the means to compete on all levels – be it innovation, quality, service, design or even price. Definitely a better place to be.

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