Norway, a small, rich country covering a huge surface, offers a modestly sized, but well-developed promotional products sector that is characterised by a high price level and quality awareness. Good prerequisites for suppliers from the rest of Europe, who are prepared to face the special challenges of the Norwegian industry.
Anyone, who visits Norway for the first time, probably holds his breath at least twice – on the one hand because of the unique beauty of the nature, on the other hand because of the prices that are way above average compared to many countries. The fjord country is one of the richest countries in the world and has a corresponding lifestyle. This was by no means always the case: Norway was one of the poorest countries in Northern Europe not all too long ago and mainly lived from fishing, agriculture and forestry – until the first economically viable natural oil sources were discovered in 1969 and Norway was suddenly rolling in wealth. The country made an economic quantum leap and is meanwhile one of the most significant natural oil exporters worldwide. The Human Development Index of the United Nations has been classifying Norway as one of the furthest developed countries in the world for years and Norway also occupies one of the pole positions in the World Happiness Report of the United Nations every year, indeed in 2017 the country topped the rankings. However, among others the Norwegians are happier than the average because the government in Oslo cleverly invested the oil billions, instead of blowing it. In spite of this wealth in fossil fuels, the Norwegian petrol prices are exorbitant and the notorious taxes that the state imposes in many areas finance one of the worldwide leading health and social systems. Thanks to the Government Pension Fund, into which the state income from the oil business flows, every one of the 5.4 mil. Norwegians is theoretically speaking a millionaire. It is therefore logical that in view of the thriving economy, the market for haptic advertising is also flourishing. There are no reliable figures on the current turnover of the Norwegian industry, but the level of the promotional products market is high.
Whereas there are a host of large concerns within the Norwegian oil industry and other industries, small and medium-sized companies with the corresponding modest demand for promotional products dominate the scene. As in other parts of Scandinavia textiles play a major role – whether as workwear or in the scope of events, which follow each other thick and fast both in the winter sports and summer season. “20% of our turnover is made in the months May and June,” stated Lasse Lauritzen, IDE House of Brands. “During this period there is a continuous row of summer and vacation promotions, sports events and kick-off events. However the Christmas business is even more important – we make around 30% of our turnover at the end of the year.” That is namely when the Norwegian companies show their appreciation to their business partners and employees.
In a country large parts of which are covered in snow from autumn until the spring, it is not really surprising that the inhabitants know everything there is to know about the white dust. Indeed, the Norwegians are the world leaders in winter sport. Modern skiing has its origins in the Norwegian county of Telemark in the 19th century, but an ancient rock carving at Rødøy in Nordland county shows that Norwegians used skis as far back as 4,000 years ago. In the 1870s, Sondre Norheim from Telemark began using stiff ski bindings that enabled him to swing and jump without the risk of falling off. He also designed a “waisted” version, which was the prototype for the modern ski. The Holmenkollen Ski Festival, established in 1872, is the world’s oldest Ski event. Norway has won more medals in the Winter Olympics than any other country, with 368 to date since the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924. Recently at the latest Games in Pyeongchang, the country was able to set a new record after winning 39 medals. Norway itself has hosted the Winter Olympics twice: Oslo in 1952 and Lillehammer in 1988.
Anyone who hears the word Norway, probably immediately thinks of the unique coastal landscape of the Scandinavian country, of the fjords that one always wanted to see. The estuaries that extend deep inland along the Norwegian Atlantic Coast, which extends over a distance of around 25,000 km, are breath-taking and were declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Without the over 1,000 fjords the coast would only be 2,650 km long. The fjords were formed by valley glaciers that wandered seawards and their exceptional beauty is among others thanks to the steep rock faces that tower out of the sea up to heights of 1,400 metres and which in some cases form picturesque waterfalls. In 2006, National Geographic classified the most popular World Heritage Sites, the Norwegian fjords clearly topped the ranking against its fellow candidates including the Galapagos Islands, the Egyptian pyramids or the lost city of Machu Picchu.
Small country, large distances
Trading in Norway means having to overcome significant distances – it is 1,572 km from Kristiansand in the South to Hammerfest, close to the North Cape. There are even important industry centres with the corresponding demand for haptic promotional products in the high North of the country. At the same time, the goods are mostly ordered from European importers and specialists or from the Swedish New Wave Group, which recently opened up a big warehouse in Norway. What is normal for promotional products distributors in West or Central Europe – ordering a customised batch of items from a supplier and receiving the goods within a few days – is hardly possible in Norway. On-site warehousing is thus just as indispensable for the distributors as having a printing partner close-by so that one is able to deliver goods short-term. That is the reason why printing service providers in Norway still have good order books in spite of the high wage costs. A few printers even stock products themselves in case they have to sell them to the promotional products distributors fast. “In the case of last-minute orders, the transport is always a risk,” said Sveinung Sve, Sve Profilgaver. “We use local service providers to be on the safe side, even if it is of course much more expensive than the big European importers with customising centres in Eastern Europe.”
Companies that export promotional products to Norway, are supplying to a non-EU country which brings with it the corresponding obstacles. For instance the Norwegian legislation regarding product safety is even stricter than that of the EU. “Before the 2016 World Biathlon Championships in Oslo all of the promotional products were checked by the government,” reported Lauritzen, whose company was the official outfitter of the sports event. Hence, importers who certify their complete line-ups as far as possible are well-armed to set out on the Norwegian market. And this is extremely worthwhile for many suppliers, since the market offers high growth rates and customers, who are less interested in the price, but instead all the more in quality. “Many European suppliers are taking a close look at Norway – however to be successful there, one has to really know the market well,” explained Sve.
This market is shaped by distributors and agencies, many of whom are members in the NBR (Norsk bransjeforening for reklameprodukter) – an active industry association, which as well as organising two promotional products shows annually, also undertakes a number of other activities. “In the past, nobody knew anybody here. It is thanks to the association that we communicate with each other and help each other, there is a more active exchange in our country than anywhere else in Scandinavia,” reported Sve, who became Chairman of the NBR in 1994, ran the organisation for around a decade and co-shaped many initiatives. “Of course, there is competition, but it is of a friendly nature – the motto is getting better together and telling our customers what we are doing and can do.” For instance, when it comes down to increasing the market shares: “The market is pretty stable, there are very few fluctuations, at the most shifts in the budgets,” commented Sve. “Growth is hardly recorded – so we must increase the significance of promotional products in the marketing mix.” The latter is a task that distributor colleagues in probably every other European country are familiar with. The following pages explain how the Norwegian promotional products players are writing their own special success story and which peculiarities the promotional products market between Skagerrak and the Norwegian Sea has to offer.
// Till Barth
photos: NBR (1); Shutterstock.com (10)