Paul Stricker is one of the industry’s pioneers in Portugal. Today, the company is among the biggest importers on the Iberian Peninsula and is recording rapid growth as well as proving very successful in the export business.
“Our aim is to become one of the top five suppliers for promotional products in Europe within the next ten years,” explained Ricardo Stricker, Chairman of Paul Stricker SA and son of the company founder, Paul Stricker, who the company was named after, who is incidentally Austrian. The latter laid the foundation for the company in 1944, when he started up a business that specialised in repairing writing instruments. Own writing instrument collections were soon added to the portfolio. “A lot of people still associate us with writing instruments today,” explained Ricardo Stricker. “We successively expanded our lineup to include stationery and ultimately we now concentrate on promotional products. We were one of the pioneers in the sector in Portugal.“
In the 1990s, Stricker was the exclusive sales partner of European suppliers on the Portuguese market, until at the end of the century the company decided to enter the import business itself. “In 1999, I visited my first trade fair in the Far East. Then, within six months we completely relocated our core business,” reported Ricardo Stricker. “Our first own catalogue containing exclusively promotional products appeared in the year 2000, at the same time the import business brought about a growing need for warehousing capacity.” In 2003, this led to the company moving to its present headquarters in Murtede, which is not far from the traditional university city, Coimbra.
Within a few years, Stricker advanced into becoming the leading Portuguese importer and opened up its own office in Shanghai in 2009. Finally, in 2010, several profound changes were initiated: Paulo and Catarina Stricker, the children of Ricardo Stricker and his wife Ligia Jorge – also a company manager – joined the company. CFO Alexandre Gil and a host of aspiring young employees became part of the management team. “We provided many new impulses: my sister Catarina is an engineer and passionate product designer, Alexandre came from Corporate Finance at Deloitte and I previously worked for McKinsey as a strategic consultant,” stated Paulo Stricker, the company’s current CEO (not to be mixed up with his grandfather, the company founder, Paul Stricker). “The know-how that we gained in the consulting business was extremely useful in realigning the company towards internationalisation.”
This internationalisation was carried out consistently and persistently. “When we enter a market, we don’t give up if we make mistakes. We learn from these and grow with the challenges,” confirmed Ricardo Stricker. Today, the company is represented with offices or subsidiaries in Murtede, Barcelona, Madrid, Warsaw, Shanghai and Sao Paulo. Around 130 employees work for the company worldwide, the overall turnover in 2014 was 14 mil. Euros, whereby the export share is between 65% and 70%. “We are also gaining market share in Portugal, but the growth rate of the export business is much bigger,” reported Alexandre Gil. “Going by the first quarter of 2015, we are expecting to achieve an annual turnover of 19 mil. Euros this year, with the Brazilian unit already responsible for an important share of this year’s growth. Mind you, we analysed the markets there for three years before stepping in. The financial and legal entry barriers for importing goods from China to Brazil are significant, complex and evolving each year. Nevertheless we are already being quite successful, based on the first figures of 2015.”
Paul Stricker is also very successful in further export markets – “We have existing customers in over 70 countries,” confirmed Ricardo Stricker. ”Obviously, our presence in these different countries is at different stages. There are markets where we are already a key player and markets where we still are an ‘odd’ company. Also, each market has got its own peculiarities and the way we approach it requires a specific and dedicated analysis. Using the same formula in every market is a basic mistake that we have learned to avoid since 2010,” states Paulo Stricker. “For example, right now we are analysing the best way to approach the German market, where we still have a marginal presence. Unlike we did in other EU markets, we will probably operate together with a local partner, with our focus shifting from a commercial development standpoint to a corporate relationship focus,” concludes Alexandre Gil. The company puts the ongoing and rapid growth above all in the European markets down to a number of reasons: excellent logistics, professional service by a competent team, a very good quality/price balance and high quality in the customising sector.
Alexandre Gil: “We specialise in customising and individualising promotional products. Samples leave our company within 24 hours and the lead time for personalization is five working days or less for 90% of all orders. From September onwards, we will dispose of more than 2,000 m2 of production surface especially for the customising of products using different technologies – such as pad and screen printing, engraving, digital UV or laser. Incidentally, we also have probably the best track record in the market for the transfer printing technique, both in terms of pricing and quality.“ The constant growth and the ambitious expansion targets for the coming years require a management prepared to continuously deal with new realities and taking decisions on the spot. Ricardo Stricker: “We constantly work on improving the processes. The permanent growth and our dynamic corporate philosophy make the automation of the work processes necessary. This saves staff, not so that we can dismiss them, but so that we can deploy them more efficiently in another position. Process optimisation in the customising sector allows fast production with high quality and low costs. The intelligent construction of the new warehouse that spans 6,000 m2 and where the stocks are in constant rotation, serves to optimise the processes and organisation.” The company was able to go through a significant evolution in the last five years, among other reasons, thanks to its management culture. An open door policy between the different hierarchical levels, a well-coordinated team and a corporate philosophy focused more on the results and not so much on the processes – the famous “Portuguese flexibility” and capacity to adjust on the spot – enable fast decision-making and an even faster execution. The majority of the shares of the company belong to the Stricker family, all of whom hold executive positions, and to a number of directors. An external private investor contributes an additional perspective, the important “view from the outside”.
“It is important – also as a signal to the financial system – that not only the internal approach is taken into account. Our private investor is on the board but not involved in the day to day business. The family is responsible for the corporate policy, whereby it is actively supported by the directors here. We all have common goals,” confirmed Ricardo Stricker with satisfaction. And the success has certainly not reached its peak yet. “Being a company that already operates successfully in the European market, that has so many open doors in the African market and that is the only a non-local structured player in the Brazilian market – the door to entire South America – I have to say that we are certainly one of the companies with the biggest growth potential in the promotional products market for the coming years,” Paulo Stricker concludes.