by Marjolein Hinfelaar, adapted by Prue Gargano
Business is increasingly becoming an international affair. Wherever you go in Europe – whether it be London or more locally – you are likely to run across the same brands and the same shops. The reason is simple: consumers in the various European countries are starting to resemble each other, and where there is business to be done, businesses will follow. Yet, many a business has fallen on its face because it has not taken the differences between the various European countries into account.
Take the major English clothing retailer that opened a branch in The Hague and one in Amsterdam in the early 1990s. Some of the items they sold – men's underwear, for example – did extremely well, and there were reasonable sales in other areas, notably women's dresses and skirts. One area failed to thrive, however: in the children's department, nobody went near the racks of white shirts and the dark blue and grey blazers, pants and shirts stayed on the racks. The manager of the branch was baffled – they were bestsellers in England, especially among mothers with children of school age, so why not in the Netherlands? It took a while for the penny to drop: nobody had told him that Dutch children go off to school wearing casual gear.
Just as unwittingly, a Dutch fashion chain with a large and growing number of branches in Germany also ran up against problems relating to cultural differences. As a reward for the excellent sales that were being made, the chain's main office decided to send its German sales managers a Valentine's Day card accompanied by a magnificent bunch of flowers. Unfortunately, their efforts met with a somewhat cool response – what they did not know was that in Germany, as elsewhere in the world, Valentine's Day is a celebration for couples only.