As Hong Kong's construction industry continues to evolve, building maintenance works are now worth more financially than new construction projects. In response to this change in the market, construction solutions providers are rapidly adapting and reaping the rewards of continuous growth in the building maintenance sector.
Leader in the field Hilti Corporation fabricates and markets a wide range of products which facilitate fastening, fireproofing and drilling and demolition. Established in Liechtenstein during the early 1940s and profiting from the European building boom after the Second World War, the company soon expanded, and today operates in 120 countries around the world.
Explaining the company's early success, Josef Aschbacher, general manager, Hilti (Hong Kong) Limited, says: "Hilti pioneered direct fastening — shooting nails into concrete and steel plates. We still lead the market here."
Today, Hilti factories in Europe and China make products sold through many operations including Hilti (Hong Kong) Limited.
Hilti has been in Hong Kong for 33 years, and prospered during the 1980s and 1990s, primarily providing tools and anchors for fastening and holding curtain walls and other parts of buildings in place. The past decade has seen a decline in construction in Hong Kong however, while the number of maintenance projects has risen. Indeed in 2007 maintenance works exceeded new construction projects in dollar value.
During the boom years, Hilti had no need to focus on maintenance in Hong Kong. Now, however, Mr Aschbacher views it as an excellent opportunity for growth. "In renovation, you need the full range of products and services," he notes.
The number of Hilti customers has increased by 50 per cent over the past four years. Mr Aschbacher anticipates another 50 per cent growth during the next five years. To achieve this growth, Hilti is set to expand its sales force to attract more small- and medium-sized customers.
Courage and curiosity
There are two kinds of salespeople in Hilti, each with differing requirements. Those working on key accounts involving construction projects should have an engineering or science background. Experience as a consultant in the construction industry also helps.
Conversely, more than half of Hilti's sales team works with smaller or medium-sized customers. Although post secondary education is not a prerequisite for joining this team, candidates with a higher educational background are encouraged to sign up. The key is to have a passion for sales and working with people.
"A background in sales or customer service is helpful," says Mr Aschbacher. "The ability to listen and a strong desire to close deals are also essential. The rest you learn on the job." He adds that curiosity is also an advantage alongside the courage to face customers who may be resistant to adapt to change.
Recruits to Hilti's teams of sales executives focusing on smaller and medium-sized customers are assigned to different market segments, such as building and construction, and mechanical and electrical engineering. Initial training covers product knowledge and insights into professional trade applications. "We make sure sales people are well equipped before they meet customers — so we are confident they will project a professional image," says Mr Aschbacher.
Further training follows, including "strategies for successful selling", which covers ways to approach customers, how to ask specific questions to identify customer needs, and how to match those needs with Hilti solutions, adding value to every transaction.
Seeing is believing
One benefit of on-site sales calls is the ease of equipment demonstration. For instance, sub-contractors have found the gas-powered nail gun GX100 really does speed up dry wall building. "When they see it, they believe it," adds Mr Gan, a marketing manager at Hilti.
Once a sale is sealed, the aim is to convert each customer into a "Hilti fan". This is done by ensuring quality and service standards are the highest in the industry.
Hilti also seeks to cultivate fans within its workforce through biannual seminars on Hilti culture. Teamwork plays a crucial role in this, Mr Aschbacher stresses. Meetings are interactive and Hilti staff are expected to give feedback and express different views. Integrity is also promoted at Hilti: "We have a zero tolerance policy regarding corruption and unethical behaviour," he says.
The company recruits around 80 per cent of its leaders internally, and though there are career opportunities within Hilti Hong Kong, Mr Aschbacher sees even greater prospects within Hilti in the Asia Pacific region. "We are expanding at a higher rate in other parts of Asia," he says. "At present, we seek to increase the exchange of experience, knowledge and culture by sending employees from Asia to our headquarters in Liechtenstein. Our quest is to develop future leaders who will be more successful if they know our headquarters and embody our corporate culture."