Successful launch into the solar market

SHB student writes a business plan for Sika AG

Without a business plan with good, qualitative content, a strategic business unit has no chance of successfully conquering a market in the long term. How can market opportunities and risks be recognized without having to observe them directly within the market? Which growth opportunities might emerge, and how can a business define and build on its own market position? Which tools and resources can be applied, in what form and when? Frank Holzäpfel set out to answer these questions for Sika as a part of his bachelor’s degree program at the Steinbeis University Berlin (SHB) School of Management and Technology (SCMT).  

Common elements of a business plan include selecting the right customers and sifting out their demands. If this information is known, production and services can be adjusted accordingly. To stimulate strategic product development, improve services and find the ideal positioning for a business’s organizational or strategic business unit structure, it is essential to determine and research customer de­mands.  

Frank Holzäpfel from Sika focused precisely on these topics for a project as a part of his bachelor’s degree at the SHB. Sika, based in Baar, Switzerland, is an international company in the field of specialty chemicals which supplies the construction and manufacturing industries. Holz­äpfel first eva­luated the current market standing of the company to align its strengths to this position and ensure that the strategic business unit keeps as far ahead of the competition as possible. Furthermore, the company needs to develop USPs and maintain, protect or even innovate them on the market. 

After determining the current status of various market forces, Frank Holzäpfel analyzed these findings and developed an appropriate strategy. To do this, he considered the company philosophy and other objectives of the Sika Group. The marketing mix was adjusted according to these aspects and everything was put in place to make this possible. It’s impor­tant to have a clear, transparent and well-communicated goal setting process for this to work. To keep sight of overall objectives and ensure milestones are achieved – not only within the set timeframe, but also given the existing conditions – monitoring instruments have to be in place. These can be adjusted according to key indicators such as profits, margins, costs, market share and earnings before interest and tax (EBIT). Additional softer values or financial management instruments also have to be worked into daily business practices so people can take corrective action at short notice.  

Through its acquisition of its first noteworthy customers, Sika demonstrated how writing a business plan and its key elements can have a long-term impact on the success of a strategic business unit. 

This was made possible in part by market know-how gained through the preceding market analysis. In addition, realigning not only a single product, but also the entire product portfolio to the demands of the solar market – including release certificates, guarantees and a solar module based on the ascertained customer benefits in terms of process and operation – made a key contribution to the company’s success. The cata­loguing of all company projects and clients potentially interested in Sika solutions and services in the future also had a huge positive impact.  

Adjusting Sika’s existing and upcoming product portfolio also played a huge role: using multiple instruments, Frank Holzäpfel filtered customer demands to trim the existing product lines to the company’s new positio­ning in the solar market (e.g. by introducing a product group for the solar market). Product innovations have now been defined, with prospective USPs, and these are captured in the brief to development. These will be launched for field testing step by step over the next few months. Several patents have already been registered for this purpose. Also, sales and marketing have been realigned to be more competitive with the addition of another key account manager to the team. This will make it possible to penetrate the market more intensively to accom­modate the stipulated rapid growth. Resources for marketing activities have been approved and have already been accounted for in the budget. Finally, an in-house solar team has been established, growth potential in the solar market has been approved by senior management, the organizational focus on becoming a market leader has been signed off, and managers of the German business unit have already been shown the company’s first success stories. 

Despite the volatile environment, the German solar industry was able to double its sales compared to the previous year. The same doubling of revenues is being targeted for 2013. The chances of achieving this goal look good. Frank Holzäpfel’s involvement has certainly made a significant contribution.

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