With 15 million inhabitants, Moscow plays a key role in the Russian economy. 20% of Russian GDP is created in the capital. Five years ago, WACKER set up a technical center in Moscow to develop and test product formulations for the construction industry under local climatic conditions. Since late 2008, the range of services WACKER provides in Europe’s largest city has been supplemented by the VINNAPAS® ACADEMY, our training center for the crucial Russian market, where WACKER customers can acquire theoretical and practical knowledge of the use of polymers in the construction industry.
Dmitrij Firsaev’s office is in the second story of an office building at an old paint factory. VINNAPAS® ACADEMY’s training manager in Moscow took a degree at the capital’s Russian University for Chemical Technology, started work with WACKER at its Moscow technical center and has worked in the laboratory and on site for customers throughout the region. In this interview, the 25-year-old manager talks about plans for the new training center, located just 15 minutes by subway from the Kremlin.
Mr. Firsaev, what factors does a company need to consider if it wants to do business in Russia?
Russians like to conduct business face to face. This is the traditional way. Talking on the telephone tends to lead to complications. Building up a personal relationship is important. As a consequence – with the country and consequently our market being so large – our sales force is on the road pretty much the whole time. As well as Russia, our sales area takes in Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Our main customer base is in the dry-mortar sector, which encompasses around 150 large companies that between them own about 200 factories.
What do Russian customers want?
A few years ago, many Russians felt that foreign goods and materials were better than their Russian equivalents. We imported everything. That’s now changed. We have much more self-confidence and faith in our own products, to which huge improvements have been made. Foreign companies have grasped this fact and are now locating their factories here – not just in the dry-mortar sector, but also in the auto industry, for example.
Russia is a huge country. How big is the Russian market?
The market served by WACKER POLYMERS emerged just 20 years ago with the opening up of the then Soviet Union. Today, it’s about a quarter to a third the size of the German market but is growing at a rate of about 15% per year. There is strong demand for exterior insulation and finish systems, with many buildings having gone up in the 1960s and 1970s with very poor insulation. Otherwise, the Russian market is becoming more like the German one. The quantity of high-quality products is constantly rising, but whereas in Germany the proportion of such products is around 80%, in Russia it’s just 20%. I think in 10 to 15 years, though, we’ll be at the same level.
How can the VINNAPAS® ACADEMY contribute to this growth?
We meet the growing demand for theoretical and practical knowledge of our products. In the technical center, we were only able to touch on the practical side. Conversations were generally one to one, which is not especially efficient. Now, we’re able to standardize training sessions and hold them on our own premises. Having become more professional and more efficient, our training activities are starting to gain a reputation in themselves.
Why is having a VINNAPAS® ACADEMY in Moscow particularly important?
The initial idea for the academies arose in parallel with the idea for the technical centers, which WACKER planned around the turn of the millennium and implemented several years ago. Since then, the company has become increasingly globalized. As WACKER has become active in ever more markets, local needs and local conditions have become increasingly apparent. In Russia, for example, the climate is very difficult. We have a long winter, from November to March, and the products have to be adapted to this fact. We have two test walls and a climate chamber in Moscow, which enable us to simulate a broad range of climatic conditions, ranging from tropical humidity to extreme permafrost.
Apart from variations in climate, are there other regional differences in Russia?
Sure, there are very big differences. Moscow is relatively prosperous, and our customers in the Moscow area produce dry mortars with a large proportion of value-adding additives. In contrast, companies outside Moscow want much cheaper products, as the non-Moscow market doesn’t offer the same returns. We still have to offer these customers high-quality products, however. Many smaller businesses – especially businesses outside Moscow – don’t have a travel budget. With these companies, we prefer to hold seminars on site.
Which, presumably, requires some coordination between the technical center and the academy?
Yes. The VINNAPAS® ACADEMY is linked to the technical center, and customers attending training sessions can use the facilities of both. This proximity is also important for facilitating communication. It allows us to get customers together with the relevant technical and training managers over dinner, say. Sharing information at a personal level consolidates the relationship with our customers and is a huge help in resolving everyday business problems.
Give an example – what exactly are customers interested in at the academy?
Since our customers are primarily from the dry-mortar sector, they’re often interested in chemical additives for dry mortars. How do additives react with other components? How do they work? What quantities should be used and how should they be used? We offer seminars for the engineers who develop dry-mix mortars. One reason this is important is because Russian university courses have only started to deal with dry mortars in the last ten years. Prior to that, it was always exclusively about cement and concrete. We‘re also going to be holding seminars for our own sales staff and distributors who are involved in selling outside Russia, especially in Ukraine, where managers tend to ask a lot of in-depth questions that our sales staff can’t answer.
What benefits does the academy offer WACKER?
Internally, all our staff worldwide can attain the same level of knowledge. Externally, it creates a new platform on which WACKER can get together with its customers without having to talk sales. WACKER also gains valuable additional input for product development. It allows us to reach out to new target groups – visitors to the technical center tend to be primarily technical staff, whereas at the academy we’re able to play host to the entire company. Lastly, it also helps build contacts with strategic partners such as standards institutions, ministries and universities. The academy is supported by our supervisory board, whose members include professors from specialist construction and architecture universities in Moscow and St. Petersburg. They help us improve the quality of our program.
Are there any major challenges for which WACKER needs to be prepared?
With our very strong market presence, we have, in recent years, invested large sums in developing the dispersible powders market. This was necessary to establish WACKER as a market leader, but our competitors have also benefited, in that they are faced with a prepared market without having incurred the costs of preparing it. The VINNAPAS® ACADEMY allows us to offer something extra, in that we can support our customers with dispersible powders know-how to help them stand out from their competitors.
Mr. Firsaev, what makes you a good training manager?
I learned a lot about customers when I worked in the technical center. I know exactly where the problems are and where customers need help and advice. Most of our customers want to know as much as possible. Maybe this is an especially Russian quality, something shared by the Germans, who also like to have everything explained very precisely.
Thank you for talking to us.