our cooperative

The GFT becomes european

Interview with GFT's internationalisers: Günter Rappan (left) and Harmen W. Teesselink (right)

Since 2021 GFT is no longer only active in Germany: with Austria and the Netherlands, it has entered two more European markets. Responsible for business development in these two countries is the Austrian Günter Rappan and the German-Dutch Harmen W. Teesselink. A special challenge in the middle of the pandemic. But the first successes indicate the potential of this step.

Mr Teesselink, what is the thinking behind GFT's "going Europe"?
Teesselink: Basically, the following applies to cooperatives: the more you are, the stronger the community. That also applies to GFT. But in Germany we are coming up against limits. There the penetration is already very high. That is why we have started to bring our successful model to other European countries. And it's already going quite well.

So according to the motto: "What brings success once, also works twice or three times"?
Teesselink: Exactly. It helps us that Austria and the Netherlands also know the cooperative model, that purchasing cooperatives are also established there, that cooperatives there also take over central invoicing for their members, but not in the field of telecommunications or security technology.

And the existing members also benefit from a growing size and thus European market relevance.

Mr. Rappan, what does cross-border cooperation look like?
Rappan: It's relatively simple - and that's what makes the step into other European countries so obvious: GFT takes over or centralises certain business processes - article data management, accounts payable management, invoice verification, central invoicing. These are all activities that would otherwise have to be handled by all member companies with their own resources. GFT does all this for German members and now also for Austrian and Dutch members.

But it does not build its own infrastructure in these countries, but uses the resources of GFT in Hilden. The larger volume handled means that the cooperative's productivity continues to grow. And so we in turn increase the financial added value for existing members and offer attractive framework conditions for new members.

And how do you manage the market entry in Austria?
Rappan: We were able to agree on attractive conditions with the most important existing suppliers, also for future Austrian members. In addition, we have added Austrian suppliers to our portfolio. This means that new members in Austria can immediately benefit from the strong services of a cooperative that has developed for 50 years on behalf and for the benefit of its members. This convinces many to enter into an exchange with us, suppliers as well as installers and security technology companies.

Isn't that particularly challenging during the pandemic?
Rappan: Of course. These are not ideal conditions when the personal contact that is so important for building a cooperative network is largely missing due to the pandemic. A multi-layered construct that we offer is not easy to explain over the phone or video. But there is a lot of positive feedback on the services and benefits that the cooperative offers.

And in the Netherlands, Mr Teesselink?
Teesselink: First of all: cooperatives are well-known and self-explanatory in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, it took us five months of preparation before we could approach the first companies. Homepage, brochures, contracts - everything had to be translated. Then we conducted a potential study and identified 200 installer companies for which GFT's services would be suitable. The quality of the companies was more important to us than the quantity. Now I am very confident that we will be able to onboard the first Dutch members in the first half of 2022, especially since we have further refined our approach technique and are currently concentrating on family businesses.

And in safety technology, 250 companies are active in the Netherlands. But we only want to address this target group in a second step in the second half of 2022.

But surely there are differences in the markets?
Teesselink: Yes, some. For example, we have distributors with a Dutch branch, cash discount is unknown in this country. Since not all EU directives have been implemented, we sometimes have different framework conditions. An example of this is the participation of producers in warranty cases, which is unknown in the Netherlands, also in the costs incurred by the removal of defective goods and the subsequent installation of undamaged products.

In addition, companies in the Netherlands are much more oriented towards short-term profit than in Germany, where the benefits of the network - i.e. the generation of long-term advantages - are just as important as the immediate effect on profit. Germans are also more open when it comes to exchanging figures. Here, my Dutch compatriots are rather reserved. The Netherlands is much further ahead in the cloud business.

Rappan: In Austria, the average company size of the potential members is smaller than in Germany and thus also the volume transacted. So we have to define the bonus targets with the suppliers differently for the Austrian members in order to be attractive here as well.

The merchandise management systems used by the interested parties are also so diverse that standard solutions like in Germany, where we have a much more homogeneous market with regard to merchandise management systems, were not possible. But the necessary adjustments have been made. That was a big step.

In the ICT sector - similar to the Netherlands - there is a strong tendency towards cloud solutions for new installations, so that both the installer and supplier structure in this country is different from that in Germany.

What initial successes do you see?
Rappan: We are signing contracts with a growing number of suppliers every day. And despite all the adversities caused by the pandemic, we were able to win our first three members. I am in talks with other interested parties. We will also be able to welcome many of them as members in the course of 2022.

Teesselink: Of course, we have an extensive "lessons learned" on the credit side. We have also identified many new suppliers in the Netherlands and family businesses on the installer side. It is certainly much easier to convince them of the long-term advantages of a strong network.

To what extent do existing members also benefit from the expansion of GFT's business territory?
Teesselink: Cross-border deliveries are an absolute plus. Because in the future, it will be less about price and more about the ability to deliver. Here, thanks to internationalisation, we offer great advantages as an even broader-based and relevant player - for our members in every market.

Rappan: And these new suppliers outside Germany also enrich the range for the existing members in Germany. By increasing the volume handled, we will also be able to increase productivity and thus also the distribution to members. Last, but not least, the community always benefits from the exchange of ideas and information. In this respect, an expansion of members and suppliers across borders will strengthen GFT as a whole.

We conclude contracts with a growing number of suppliers every day.

Günter Rappan
Going Europe

GFT now also offers its successful model in Austria and the Netherlands.

Sees great potential in the Netherlands: Harmen W. Teesselink during the interview.