When Maurice Piché, CEO of industrial water filtration company Sonitec, received a request to install a cooling system for a new airport terminal in Mali, he was left scratching his head. While Piché was delighted to get the order, he couldn’t understand how the small country in central Africa had heard about Quebec-based Sonitec. After all, the engineering firm that was designing the terminal was from China.
After a game of six degrees of separation, Piché and his team soon discovered that an individual connected with the Chinese firm had previously worked with the company’s trademark Vortisand technology in the construction of a major building in South Korea. This person had been so impressed with Sonitec that he wanted to use the technology for the Mali project also.
“This was a great moment for us,” said Piché. “We have made efforts to cultivate and nurture our clients worldwide, and have given our best on every project. It was nice to see our hard work come back in the form of new business.”
Piché makes a good point. When countries are bringing in companies from all over the world, often using many different firms on big projects, the opportunities become endless. “When a project is complete, the team disbands and moves off to new projects in other parts of the world, bringing their experiences with them,” said Piché. “No matter how small the project, bring your best, you never know when it will come around again.”
Finding success in the Middle East
Ross Prusakowski, EDC Economist for the Middle East, highlights that this type of approach will no doubt serve you well when doing business in foreign markets like the Middle East. “There, business is done on relationship building. Your business partners will be asking themselves: Do we know them? Do we trust them? If you have good experiences with other companies in the area, people will hear about it.” Founded in 1986, Sonitec now has products in more than 2,500 sites in 60 countries. And while the U.S. remains their biggest export market, recent opportunities in the Middle East has given them a new sightline.
With the help of Export Development Canada (EDC), Sonitec was introduced to senior executives from several large Middle Eastern companies, including Emirates Aluminum (EMAL), a leading global metal supplier. “Over and above the financial support that we received from EDC, their network in the region helped us open doors,” says Piché.
EDC credits Sonitec’s unique technology for their success in the region. “Sonitec has created a product that is exactly what Middle Eastern countries are looking for,” says EDC Account Manager Alexandra Bell. “It was impressive to see such a small company play alongside such large players.”
Although still a new player in the region, Sonitec is making strides to take advantage of the demand for cooling systems and green technology the Middle East is looking for. Piché himself travels to the region every two to three months, but found that the company needed to have more of a local presence if they wanted to make a bigger dent in the market.
To show their commitment to the region, the company recently set up an office in Dubai and will be appointing a territory manager to promote their product across the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), which includes the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.
“It all goes back to reputation. Not only is it imperative to build relationships, but the way your company does business and the products you sell have to speak for themselves,” says Piché.
Middle East looking for Cleantech
Many regions in the Middle East have committed to reducing consumption of resources. Sonitec’s cooling towers and cross-flow micro-sand filtration technology, named Vortisand, fit the bill as it uses up to 80 per cent less water to filter than other filtration technologies, reduces energy consumption and the use of chemicals by 20 per cent and minimizes the maintenance requirements on HVAC equipment.
Piché points out that having a product that relies on sand and water to function will allow them to use local resources eventually, adding that this also helps keep costs down and allows the company to help the local economy at the same time.
This applies to maintenance as well. “We have the most advanced filtration technology on the market but the mechanical aspect is very simple,” says Piché. “If a mechanical problem arises that requires specific skills, we can always send someone to help fix it – but more often than not it is easily serviced by local technician trained by Sonitec.”
Piché and his team have only just begun to fill the demand in the Middle East for a product like H2F Vortisand. Now that they have their foot in the door, opportunity is knocking louder than ever.
Have any experiences exporting to the Middle East? Share your thoughts and join the conversation.