Paul Stricker is not only one of the biggest import companies in the Portuguese and Spanish markets, but is in fact already a real global player with subsidiaries in Shanghai, the Netherlands, Barcelona and São Paulo. Placing a strong focus on the export business, the Portuguese company has succeeded in steering its way out of the crisis. Partners from all over Europe hold the competitive portfolio and the comprehensive services provided by the family business in high regard.
Unfortunately, one doesn’t hear much good news from Portugal at the moment. The state is one of the EU members that was hit worst by the economic crisis, and the situation is still precarious. So, companies that manage to break away from the downward spiral send a positive signal. “We registered a growth rate of over 8% last year,“ reported Ricardo Stricker, CEO and son of the founder who the company was named after. “This year we are expecting to achieve a growth rate of over 30%. Our plan to circumvent the economic crisis with a resolute realignment seems to be paying off.“
About two years ago Stricker launched a large-scale campaign focusing on internationalisation. During this period the company succeeded in increasing its export share from less than 10% up to around 50% despite the fact that the name Stricker was hardly known among the promotional products distributors outside of the Iberian Peninsula. “Our venture into international waters is the result of a decade-long evolution,“ stated Ricardo Stricker.
Writing instrument specialist becomes an importer
The company dates back to the year 1944. The Austrian Paul Stricker laid the foundation by setting up a firm that specialised in repairing writing instruments. Shortly afterwards the company launched its own range of pens. “A lot of people still associate us with pens even today,“ explained Ricardo Stricker. “From pens we evolved to a stationery collection. At a certain point, due to their close connection, we started selling promotional products, being pioneers of that market in Portugal.“ In the 1990s Stricker became the exclusive representative of some of the most relevant European companies and their respective catalogues on the Portuguese market, until, at the end of the Century, the company decided to enter the import business itself. “In 1999 I attended my first trade fair in the Far East. Then, within six months we completely relocated our core business,“ reported Ricardo Stricker. “Our own first full range promotional products catalogue appeared in the year 2000, at the same time the import business brought an increased demand for warehousing capacity.“ This led to the company moving to its new premises in Murtede in 2003, not far from the venerable university town of Coimbra. Within a few years Stricker advanced to become the leading Portuguese importer and in 2009 opened its own office in Shanghai, which has been responsible for purchasing goods in the Far East since then.
In 2010 several radical changes were introduced: Paulo and Catarina Stricker, the children of Ricardo Stricker and his wife Lígia Jorge – also a manager of the company – joined the firm. CFO Alexandre Gil and a number of other young talents complemented the management team. “We brought a lot of new impulses into play: My sister Catarina is an engineer with a passion for product design, Alexandre came from the corporate finance at Deloitte and I worked in the management consulting for McKinsey previously,“ stated Paulo Stricker (not to be mistaken for Paul Stricker, his grandfather and founder). “The know-how we gained in the consultancy business was extremely helpful for the company’s realignment focusing on our internationalisation. At the same time Catarina and I had known the company since we were small – we practically lived here when we were children.“ Ricardo Stricker added: “We have a really young team, which brought us a fresh wind for the planned realignment. The foundation for the next decade has been laid.“
In the same year Stricker exhibited at the PSI Show for the first time ever, up until then they had only ever participated at the Expo Reclam in Madrid. Furthermore, the company founded offices in Lisbon and Barcelona, the latter being managed by Gabriel Moese, the Chairman-in-Office of the Fyvar (the Spanish/Portuguese industry association). In 2011 an exclusive representation for the Turkish market was established with a local partner and in September 2012, an office in Alkmaar, the Netherlands, was opened. Finally, late this year a new subsidiary will open in São Paulo, Brazil, focused on direct imports from China. Paulo Stricker: “Brazil is a huge market with great potential. I lived in Brazil for four years, and of course it is quite easy for us to gain a foothold there because we speak the same language and I already have a deep knowledge of the country’s business culture – actually quite different from the European one.“
Control centre in Murtede
Customers in the region around the Portuguese capital are served by the Lisbon office and showroom, however the control centre for all European activities is the headquarters in Murtede, with its central location and excellent traffic connections. From a global team of almost 80 people, 50 work there.
Overall the company has around 10,000 m² of warehouse space at its disposal and holds an average stock of approx. 5 mil. Euros worth. The storage capacity is to be expanded mid-term.
Until the end of the year the only individualisations done in-house are laser engravings, carried out by an ultra-modern machine that the company purchased a couple of years ago. In January, the long-time partner of Paul Stricker for the personalization services will be incorporated in the group and pad, screen, transfer and sublimation prints will be added to laser engraving in a fully new dedicated structure – a logical step, as Ricardo Stricker explained: “Creating our own printing department means that we will be able to further sink the already low prices and production time we offer. But, more important than that, it will enable us to introduce a deeper quality control to ensure we keep our broadly recognized premium quality imprinting service.”
As a full-range importer Stricker offers a wide selection of products – the current line-up comprises of around 800 different articles and 2.200 references, which are presented in one annual catalogue. The company is particularly strong in the cap, non-woven bag, umbrella and writing instrument sectors, in addition to niche or sub-sections such as children’s products or aluminium bottles or a bamboo collection, which are systematically expanded. Moreover, the number of own designs is also being promoted. “Overall about 20% of our products are already the result of our own design – a good example is the bags segment. Next year we plan to register the first designs and have them patented,“ announced Catarina Stricker, who is responsible for product development. „That is important regarding the market positioning. Furthermore, you need new products in order to sell the old ones.“
The items are purchased from manufacturers all over China. Thanks to its own procurement office in Shanghai, Paul Stricker can not only guarantee optimal order processing and communications with the manufacturers, but also good quality management. Lígia Jorge, the COO of the group, notes: “One has to be just as careful in China today as 20 years ago, which is why we check the raw materials just as thoroughly as the finished product. They are namely checked in China, where we work closely with international testing institutes, and then once again in Portugal, upon their arrival at the warehouse.“
In any event quality is Stricker’s priority – Gabriel Moese: “The Portuguese and Spanish markets are very price-sensitive. We can offer extremely competitive prices, however we refuse to drop below a certain price limit, because then we wouldn’t be able to guarantee the required quality level.“
However, to compensate Paul Stricker meets the demands of “price sensitive“ trading partners in other ways: “We don’t really have any minimum order quantities for stock products,“ explained Alexandre Gil, also responsible for the markets outside Iberia. “And we don’t restrict delivery to full boxes. Sometimes a customer from Portugal or Spain only orders 20 pens, which we deliver. Due to the crisis, the average order volumes have continually decreased, but we want to keep the customers, who are having to cut back.“ Lígia Jorge added: “The times are difficult for everyone, we have to make things easier for our customers.“
“Defying the cliché“
Customer bonding, cooperative partnerships and a faster, more efficient and more reliable service belong to the key maxims of the Stricker corporate philosophy. “We are reachable from 9 am to 7 pm (CET) and frequently also outside the office hours,“ commented Alexandre Gil. “If a French customer calls us at 7 pm to order a sample, it is delivered the next day – that is standard. We have a state of art logistic system implemented and the proof is the success we are having in serving the Turkish market that is geographically located at the other side of the continent.” “
In terms of order processing Stricker can also guarantee fast delivery: An order is delivered to France within 48 hours, to Germany in 72 hours and to Romania within four to five days. The customers can trace the delivery status via a special rubric on the website.
„As far as our service is concerned we are the complete opposite of the cliché of the ‘Southern Europeans‘,” joked Ricardo Stricker. “We unite the best from two worlds: Iberian flexibility and competitiveness with ‘German efficiency’. After all my father was Austrian!” Lígia Jorge adds: “With us, the customers know that their problems will be solved. We receive feedback from a lot of clients that our prices are the first appeal factor, but it’s our service that guarantees their retention and their conversion into long-term partners.“ Here, team spirit is the top priority – Ricardo Stricker: “It is not the individual who sells, it is the whole team.“
Service quality that Stricker can prove officially: Since 2000 the company has been ISO 9001 (quality management) certified.
All in all reasons that according to company accounts have without doubt significantly contributed towards the export share growing faster than expected. After the foundation of commercial bases in Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands, the company is currently focusing on France and Poland: “The French market is geographically close, vast and relatively open to our offer,“ explained Alexandre Gil. “Whereas we invest in Poland because we think that in the Central European markets there is room for a ‘latin flavoured catalogue’ backed by strong service and logistics.” “At the PSI 2013 we will be presenting our own representative for the French market,“ stated Paulo Stricker. “Alexandre and I have just returned from a full month business trip to our main clients in Europe, and we have very positive expectations concerning the reaction the market will have to all the investments we are undergoing during this year for 2013.”
The coming PSI Show will no doubt be an excellent display of the entire offer of Paul Stricker. The company will be represented with a spacious stand and an exhibition team of 20 people, including the various national representatives to serve the international distributors. “We will be presenting not only our teams for the French and Polish markets but also an entirely new web platform that aims to be a 360º system at the offices of our customers”, stated Paulo Stricker.
And Portugal? Ricardo Stricker made a rather reserved forecast: “In the short-term the situation will only stabilise at the very best. It will take at least two years for it to improve.“ By then it seems certain that Paul Stricker will have made good progress on its way towards becoming a European Player.