It is beyond dispute that our design companies are highly regarded abroad and are an important Flemish export product. We asked some Flemish companies how they approach their international conquest. We talked to Jan Ameloot, CEO of Delta Light, a lighting company that focuses on showrooms in major design cities.
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Pure lighting pleasure, reads Delta Light's slogan. "That slogan hits the mark," says Jan Ameloot, who runs the family business together with his brother. "Whether we provide lighting to shops, hotels, restaurants, offices or homes, it doesn't matter to us. As long as these are projects where light really makes a difference, creating beauty and a good feeling."
Delta Light sells its products in 120 countries and has showrooms in every major design city in the world. From Paris and Milan to New York, from Sydney to New Delhi and Dubai. "We started with our neighbouring countries, but we soon started spreading our wings to a bigger part of the world. How do we decide the locations for our showrooms? Simple, we don't primarily look at the biggest markets, we look at the places where design trends and -evolutions start. Places where the top architects and top designers, who carry out projects all over the world, work. If, like us, your ambition is to be among the absolute best in architectural lighting, you also have to be present in the cities where it all happens."
"Those showrooms set their own accents, but there is also uniformity in them. They all feel like Delta Light. If you don't know whether you are in Amsterdam, Dubai or Miami, you would think you are at our headquarters in Moorsele. We also look for the people ourselves to run those international hubs. These are people who know the local market and have a network there, but also understand our European way of working. In New York, for example, a Frenchman who has lived in the US for 20 years is running the international hub."
Feedback without noise
At first, Delta Light aimed for joint ventures with local partners for its international conquest, but that strategy has been reversed. "We had two main reasons for that," Jan explains. "Our partners wanted to make sales from day one. That makes sense, but we were more patient. We wanted to get on architects' radar, we wanted to build a reputation and win their trust. That long-term strategy sometimes clashed with our partners' horizons."
"The second reason was that we wanted to be closer to our clients. Without intermediaries and without noise on the line. We mainly work on a project basis, short communication lines and an open dialogue with our clients are very important. By being present in those design cities ourselves, we get their feedback directly and can manage our R&D and innovation even better. We understand our market even better."
"We often bring international customers to Moorsele. Here, we show what we make and how we make it. Customers see the innovation and the quality. And more importantly: they feel the passion."
Fairs make way for events and pop-up stores
Delta Light made many international contacts at design fairs. But according to Jan, these fairs have become less important in recent years. "This year, we even decided not to participate in the largest and most important trade fair in our sector, Light + Building in Frankfurt. But we will be present at Architect at Work in Rotterdam. Trade fairs remain important for making personal contacts and showing products. But they are no longer thé moment to launch new products and innovations with a big bang. Today, you notice that every company is looking for plenty of other ways to amaze the world. We are also increasingly turning to other formats, such as smaller events or pop-up stores in design cities."
"We not only want to inspire architects and designers, but also support them in their creative process. This is why we work in two directions. We go to our target group in the main design meccas, but we also bring more and more international customers to Moorsele. Here we can show them what we make, but also how we make it. Our customers see the innovation and quality from the front row. And perhaps even more important: they feel the passion. During such a visit, the contact is much more intense than a superficial meeting at a trade fair."
Manifesto and culture immersion
How difficult is it to internationalise while guarding your DNA and brand identity? "That is a challenge, especially when you are growing fast and internationalising quickly," admits Jan. "Ten years ago, it was easier. But the bigger you get and the more places you operate in, the harder you have to work to keep everyone on the same page. We put a lot of time and effort into that. We are developing a manifesto that clearly explains to all new employees, anywhere in the world, what Delta Light stands for, what our values are and where we want to go. To be able to tell our story to customers, they have to be completely imbued in it themselves first."
"We also heavily invest in training. Our people from India recently spent a week here for extensive training. They were completely immersed in our way of working, our quality requirements, our culture."
"It is an advantage that our R&D and our production are still in one place. We keep it that way. We have a small assembly in the United States, but we conceive, develop and manufacture 99 per cent of our products here in Moorsele. We are much more active in the project business than in the distribution business: every lighting project is different and often changes last minute. This multitude of choices and options is too complex to decentralise. So for us, in the middle of that international story, Moorsele still remains a bit the centre of the universe."