- Business in Europe has been severely impacted by Covid-19, but many countries are now beginning to re-open and are determined to get industry and business moving again
- Movement of products is improving while movement of people is still a challenge.
- Opportunities are likely to emerge for example in digitisation across industries; or in the healthcare sector for non-Covid related health issues.
- Preparation and planning is vital.
- Enterprise Ireland offices around the region are on hand to offer support.
There is no doubt that Europe has been heavily hit by the effects of the current pandemic, but regional director Anne Lanigan says many countries are beginning to move into recovery phase and countries across the Eurozone are determined to get their industries and businesses moving again. There is a general acceptance in Europe that we need to learn to live, as safely as possible, with the virus. Construction and manufacturing industries are gearing up while observing social distancing and using personal protective equipment; digital technology and office based businesses are for the most part still working remotely but increasingly effectively and in a number of countries e.g. in France and the Netherlands some services like hairdressing have re-opened under strict guidelines.
“The numbers speak for themselves in terms of infections and fatalities, but most countries have passed their peak and are moving into exiting confinement and reopening – all at slightly different stages,” she says. “But there is alot of similarity in terms of the timing of countries coming out of lockdown at this point and what this is really saying is that Europe is opening up again.”
Lanigan says while we are inclined to look at when schools, shops, and social outlets open, what is really important to the restarting of economies is when industry is recommencing.
“Whether or not you can get a haircut isn’t relevant to most of our clients, what is really vital is the restarting of construction and manufacture and the returning to work in businesses. Of course movement of people and products is crucial to this” she says. “Movement of product is definitely improving but movement of people, particularly across borders, is still an issue which of course affects our clients.
“Each country is different and even regions within countries can be at different stages and have different restrictions, so it’s important to get up to date and accurate information from your partners, customers and logistics providers. For example most countries will have a requirement to use face masks in certain circumstances, and social distancing rules will differ between countries. So don’t assume that the Irish rules will work – it’s important to know the specifics of the country you are working in.” Enterprise Ireland offices across the Eurozone can also help clients with this.” Irish companies with personnel on the ground in Europe are in a lot of cases eligible for state support from the country they are operating in and again our offices can offer advice and direction on this.
Thankfully many Enterprise Ireland client companies have maintained business in the Eurozone throughout the crisis and some have won new business. However while some clients have continued to do business in a similar fashion to pre-Covid days, most will need to get used to new requirements and many may also need to diversify.
“Our clients will need to be creative in adjusting to the new normal” says Lanigan. “Digitisation will form a large part of this. Localising (not just translating) websites is more important than ever – ensuring that websites are easily found, are easy to navigate and provide all the necessary information in a clear format. Social media is also getting a lot of traction at the moment, so making sure to be ‘out there’ in terms of social media, will help to raise a company’s profile.”
“As countries open up, travel will continue to be restricted so if companies can digitise their maintenance and servicing by providing online videos or some kind of instruction online or via a webinar in a sophisticated and professional manner, this will help them to hold on to business. Online shopping functionality may also be an important capability to add for some businesses.
Understanding how each country works is vital for Irish exporters, but the regional director says keeping in touch is even more important.
“Communicating with customers is still crucial whether business has slowed, stopped or continued during the current crisis,” she advises. “The communication lines must be kept open – and ear-to-ear or ideally face-to-face on a virtual platform is much better than an email. So virtual meetings, webinars and virtual distributor forums will all help to maintain communication and build strong relationships.
“This will keep businesses up to speed on what is happening in the markets and what is happening with their customers and so position them to adjust more quickly and in the right direction to maximise potential.
In every crisis there is opportunity and the current pandemic is no different with several sectors set to do well out of the situation. Lanigan says “Every industry is now seeing digital transformation at an accelerated pace and there are opportunities for businesses who digitise fast and opportunities for businesses who offer digital and tech solutions.”
“Our clients and Irish people are typically good at spotting opportunities,” says Lanigan. “I would encourage companies to look at how they can pivot in the current crisis – anything which reduces human contact and allows remote operations will have opportunities i.e. digitisation.
“Another area likely to surge is non-Covid related healthcare. In most countries routine treatments have been put on hold or much reduced in order to deal with Covid 19 cases. As things move back to normal, there is likely to be a big demand for other med tech and pharma products. Now is the time to prepare for that.”
Lanigan advises companies to be look toward the future, reset and get ready for the recovery. “There is a danger that we just focus on the immediate – we are advising clients to also look at the medium to long term and get plans in place” she says. Future business may be a continuation of current business but with added value or an adjusted value proposition; it may be with a repurposed product pivoting to a different sector; it may be exploiting brand new opportunities created by Covid 19; or it may be replacing global products with ‘made in the eurozone’ products. “We are nearing the end of the stabilise phase and moving into reset but we need our eyes on the recovery – so be prepared, be aware and look forward. Enterprise Ireland’s team across the Eurozone are here to help you reset, recover and build your business.”