Denmark is a leader for current themes such as sustainability and offers suppliers that provide great, high-quality products as well as an open and pleasantly laid-back business culture.
Denmark is quite often described as a place that almost achieves the status of a paradise in travel guides and blogs, magazines on deceleration, living and cooking trends or the social networks. People seem to be incredibly happy and relaxed in this small country, where even the coins are decorated with cute hearts, where the football fans refer to themselves as “Roligans” (deriving from the Danish word for calm: “rolig”) and the inhabitants prefer to ride a bicycle than drive a four-wheel drive. Clichés, of course. But there are in indeed reasons why for instance the World Happiness Report of the United Nations has declared the Danes as being the happiest nation of people on earth several times already (the current leader is Finland, Denmark ranks third). Factors, on which the survey that is carried out annually are based include the gross domestic product, life expectancy and social security provisions. Areas in which the Scandinavian countries – including Denmark – score top marks in general.
A high standard of living and a good education, health and social security system contribute towards a high quality of life, the sense for a good work/life balance is also reflected in working life. Having time for the family is very important for a lot of Danes, overtime is much less common than in many other countries. “It is normal to have regular working hours, so that one has plenty of time left to spend with the family,” said Susanne Christensen, Eskesen. “It is also common that companies shut for several weeks in the summer. But we work hard too and pay high tax contributions.” Since life is not always as leisurely everywhere in the country of origin of hygge – Denmark has a strong, prospering economy: “Denmark is currently experiencing a strong economy and has today exceeded the level that prevailed before the economic crisis, the unemployment level is under 2%,” according to Erik Jul Nielsen, Langhoff Promotion. “We are already starting to experience a lack of apprentices and skilled workers; Danish companies that don’t train people have to pay fines.” “The mood on the market is good, the companies are making profits and that is having an effect on the promotional products industry too,” confirmed Bo Willumsen of Poul Willumsen.
Small country with big ideas
The small country that stretches across Jutland, Funen and Zealand, the three main islands, is one of the major players in many sectors of industry: The Danish agricultural sector is traditionally strong, growth is being experienced in the IT and high-tech sectors. The country that lies between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea also plays a leading role in the maritime trade – the Danish Mærsk Line is the largest container shipping company in the world.
Many ideas and developments from Denmark have spread across the globe: Danish architects, product and industry designers are successful and famous all over the world with their construction projects, furniture and living accessories. In the field of environmental protection and sustainability, Denmark – like its Scandinavian neighbours – is much further advanced than many other European states: The pioneer country of the energy revolution already started systematically pushing wind power in the 1980s. Copenhagen is one of the leading bicycle cities in Europe and plans to be the first carbon-neutral city in the world by 2025. As a small state with around 5.7 mil. inhabitants and a correspondingly modestly sized domestic market, Denmark focuses strongly on export in many branches of industry, this also applies for the suppliers of haptic advertising. Bent Nørskov, Clipper: “The export business plays an important role for us. Our situation is comparable with that of the Netherlands: We are a maritime trade nation, our own market is small and is located extremely close to a very big, strong market. This means we have to be able to adapt to different market conditions. Our strengths lie in sales and service. The Danes have a good reputation in many countries across the globe. When I attend a trade show abroad or address international customers, I am carried by generations of Danish business people, who have earned us this good reputation over the years.”
Anyone, who wants to understand the “Danish way of life”, won’t get round the word hygge. Hygge is the talk of the town at the moment and is progressing into a trend all over the globe, both as a form of lifestyle and as a design style. “Hygge” is – quite logically – Danish and can to an extent be translated as “cosiness” or “security” – but that is only the gist of the meaning. One thing is certain: Hygge is the Danish instructions for happiness. It’s not just about feeling really “hyggelig”, snuggled up on the sofa in a candlelit room under a cosy blanket to escape from the stress of everyday life. The Danish lifestyle is more than that: It is a philosophy, that can be practised indoors and out, in both summer and winter. One spends a cosy time with one’s friends, feasting abundantly and letting the serious topics in life simply go by for a while – that is idleness the Danish way. Sounds pleasant and evidently seems to make people happy.
In order to register a car in Denmark, up to 150% of the purchase price has to be paid. The result: Most of the Danes drive small cars – or opt for a bicycle. The latter may well be high-quality and beautifully designed, and to take the little ones around, there are cargo bikes. Copenhagen is considered to be one of the most bicyclefriendly cities in the world and is famous for its “bicycle motorways”. 50% of all of the citizens in the capital use them every day to commute to work by bike. There are almost 400 km of cycling paths within the city region, among them some of the most frequently used cycling paths with up to 40,000 cyclists a day.
From a simple tower through to a 30 m wide spaceship – everything is possible with Lego. For generations the colourful plastic bricks have been convincing young and old builders with their simple, yet ingenious construction technique. The toymaker Ole Kirk Christiansen created the first Lego brick in 1949 in the Danish town, Billund and in doing so laid the foundation for a whole imperium. Christiansen’s prototype was a hollow brick with pimples on the top surface – made of plastic, which was available in Denmark for the first time after the Second World War. So that the revolutionary alternatives to wooden blocks could be stacked and interlocked sidewards, in 1958 Christiansen invented the coupling principle using integrated tubes that is still established to this very day. In 1978, the famous Logo characters were introduced in addition to the building blocks, followed by countless theme worlds and licensed articles. Today, Lego is the largest toy manufacturer in the world, every day over 151 mil. parts are produced. Evidently the creator also demonstrated vision on naming the item too: The abbreviation “Lego” stands for “leg godt” – which is Danish for “play well”.
The Danish domestic market for haptic advertising is small by European standards – according to cautious estimations the overall turnover of the Danish promotional products industry is approx. 500 mil. Euros. “The big, international Danish companies have an international alignment and invest comparably little marketing budget in their own country due to the size of the national market share. The budgets are spent more on Asia, Europe and the USA,” explained Nielsen. “There is strong competition for the big customers, all of the distributors want to win them over. Whereby most of the Danish promotional products distributors are one-man businesses. There are only a few big, internationally operating promotional products agencies that concentrate on full-service solutions.” Important partner countries for the export business are in addition to the D-A-CH region the Scandinavian neighbours of course – the latter is a financially strong, yet demanding market. In this way high auxiliary costs – among others due to the large geographically distances within Scandinavia – lead to margins that particularly face the suppliers with big challenges: “The margins are too high, they are in some cases between 60% and 70%,” reported Christensen. “That leads to many distributors importing goods directly.” This doesn’t appear to cause too much resentment, however according to many insiders family-like structures prevail within the Danish industry and a lively exchange occurs among the market participants: “There is a high degree of solidarity even among rival companies,” stated Nørskov. “Even if we are competitors, our dealings with each other are friendly and cooperative and we recommend each other if we are not able to accommodate an enquiry. Relationships are important and in Denmark the business relations are based on trust: A handshake is a handshake, a deal is a deal. Not everything has to be recorded in contracts and clauses. This makes us more flexible and we can often act faster.”
The relations with business partners and internally within the companies that are distinguished by flat hierarchies are relaxed and casual, as Nielsen reported: “One discusses private matters a lot, our interaction and dress code is not very formal and everyone is on first name terms.” “The polite style of addressing has more or less disappeared from the Danish language, even the Prime Minister would be offended if one addressed him by Mr. and his surname,” laughed Nørskov. “I would only use the polite form for two people in Denmark: The Queen of Denmark and a very old lady from Copenhagen, who I would offer my seat to in the bus.” So there is certainly some truth in the image of the relaxed Danes. Which is just one of many reasons to travel to Denmark to get one’s own impression of the country – not only for a private trip, but also on business. The following pages make an excursion into the world of Danish design and provide an initial overview of representative companies on the Danish market.
// Till Barth
photos: Till Barth, © WA Media (1); Shutterstock.com (12)