Seepje cleans the dust off the German organic market
Interview Gwendolyn Behnke, German country manager at Seepje
The ecological soap brand Seepje has been active in Germany for some time now. A step that started with a spontaneous LinkedIn message to a German retail chain and, among other things, gained wings through participation in the International Market Entry Coaching program (IMEC) of InnovationQuarter (IQ) and The Hague Business Agency (THBA). Together with Gwendolyn Behnke, German laundry chancellor at Seepje, we reflect on the past and present: how does Seepje wash in Germany?
“Seepje is a cheerful brand that communicates very informally,” says Gwendolyn. “The spontaneous LinkedIn message that co-founder Jasper sent to the retail chain Alnatura was a good example of this. Surprisingly enough – Germans often tend to be more formal – a nice conversation started, and Alnatura managed to get convinced. Seepje was allowed to be exclusively on their shelves for a year.”
In that year, Seepje thoroughly researched how the local organic market works. They also examined what it took to get the Germans on board to collaborate with this cheerful newcomer. Participation in the IMEC process also took place during this period. The emphasis was on legislation and regulations and establishing contacts.
“Germany has a long tradition in the field of ecology. On the one hand, this makes our eastern neighbours a good choice for a 100% natural product such as Seepje. But it also means that consumers are well-informed and want to know much more than Dutch consumers,” says Gwendolyn. “The German consumers’ need for facts and certainty is reinforced by their specific knowledge of sustainability.”
The findings led to an adapted packaging for the German market, with much attention for certificates and additional information. The German-language website also contains further information and a very extensive FAQ. Yet Seepje has remained herself. Gwendolyn: “With our fresh humour and friendliness, we really stood out in the rather dusty organic market in Germany. Our success is, therefore, based on a mix of adapting and staying true to yourself.”
With her German background, Gwendolyn fulfils a sort of filtering function within Seepje: “As long as you have your facts ready, you can get away with even that typically Dutch informal communication in Germany. Otherwise, it is sometimes difficult. The many questions we receive from German buyers or consumers – right down to the chemical composition of our products – are almost regarded as criticism by the Dutch here. While it is often genuine interest.”
It is clear that Germany has embraced Seepje. A large drugstore chain recently challenged them to launch a new product within eight weeks: a solid dish soap. It was actually on the shelves within ten weeks. “That shows nicely that our dynamics fit well with the need for sustainable washing power in Germany,” concludes Gwendolyn.
– Gwendolyn Behnke, Seepje
Together with their year of learning by doing, the participation in IMEC has resulted in several important lessons for Seepje:
The perception that Germany is a neighbouring country where you can work just like at home does not hold true. Therefore, hire someone with a German background or at least someone who speaks German well. This prevents a lot of miscommunication.
Expanding abroad is not something you do on the side. It takes a lot of time. Make sure you are well-prepared so that you are not surprised. On the other hand, it is also a step you should not be too afraid to take. Just do it!
It is wise to familiarize yourself with the legislation of the target country. Always have a lawyer take a look. Then consider what is necessary now and what you can arrange later.
The Hague Business Agency and InnovationQuarter offer SMEs from the Hague region a route to make a flying start on the international market: IMEC (international market entry coaching). Read more about it here.