Welcome to the Inflight Magazine of Brussels Airlines
Boyd Farrow rounds up what’s happening in the business world across Europe
Website of Spanish fashion brand offers clothes in return for compliments
Barcelona-based fashion firm Desigual has launched a marketing campaign that rewards its fans for being kind to strangers – in this case, online bloggers.
Fans of Desigual clothing sign up with its ‘Happy Hunters’ site and indicate which item from the current line they’d like, then wait for the company to alert them to a particular blog post to target with uplifting comments (those selected are not Desigual’s own blogs, but rather its favourites from across the web). The Happy Hunter members then post their positive comments on the blog in question, and the first 100 to get a reply from the blogger win the clothing item they requested. All Happy Hunter members also get a 20% discount at Desigual.com.
It seems Barcelona is a hotbed for companies with websites that steer purchases through peer-group recommendations and collectively bargained discounts. Venture capital is pouring into this ‘social shopping’ sector, as evidenced by the millions raised recently by Groupalia and Privalia Venta Directa, based in the city. Groupalia, which offers discount coupons on the best things to do, see, eat and buy in Barcelona and Madrid, has plans to cover Bilbao, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Valencia before expanding into Latin America and Southern Europe.
Pelt popularity rise as Ravizza launches boutique in Moscow
Ravizza is the Milan-based brand that enticed Naomi Campbell to wear fur again after her dalliance with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), during which a famous advertising campaign saw the supermodel pout that she’d “rather go naked than wear fur”. But designer Simonetta Ravizza, who now runs the family business, is embarking on an even bigger challenge this winter: to sell lightweight, modern, brightly dyed fur in Russia – a country more accustomed to the heavy, old-fashioned coats designed for temperatures of -30°C. Ravizza, who’s just opened a boutique at Moscow’s high-end TSUM department store, a key destination in the world’s fourth-largest luxury market, is nevertheless optimistic, saying, “My new proposal is fashion: easy fashion, youngish fashion.”
Whether Moscow’s size-zero party girls will totter out in €3,500 fur-trimmed goatskin coats remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that fur is getting more fashionable. Global sales nudged €9bn worldwide last year – a slight increase on 2008, despite the recession – according to the International Fur Trade Federation. For the autumn/winter catwalk shows, more than half the designers used fur, in forms and shapes that were both traditional and daring.
Ravizza has also recently opened a boutique in Paris and, with wearying inevitability, is now aiming to extend her empire in the United Arab Emirates – a country in which you wouldn’t have thought too many people fret about frostbite…
Danish company using old newspapers and notes to insulate homes
Burning banknotes to keep warm this winter may not be such a crazy idea; Papiruld Danmark, based in Hillerød close to Copenhagen, has reported significant growth after successfully using old newspapers and currency notes for insulation.
Popular in the US, this sort of insulation is catching on in Europe. Pre-sorted newspapers and banknotes are shredded and then run through a so-called ‘eddy current mill’ that breaks up the paper to its fibre structure. To protect it from fire, mould, insects or vermin, it is then impregnated with boric salt, the natural mineral often found in foodstuffs and contact lens solutions. Papiruld Danmark says it expects to insulate as many as 5,000 family houses in 2010, and that it had been contacted by a growing number of construction firms looking to use its product. Managing director Claus Skov, the biggest shareholder, recently told the Jyllands-Posten newspaper that the company expects to grow between 30% and 35% each year over the next five years. The company bases its growth profile on government initiatives to promote energy efficiency.
Internet access across the globe continues to grow apace
The number of consumers accessing the internet should surpass two billion this month, with more than five billion mobile phones also in use. According to UN agency ITU, the number of people with home web connections reached one billion in 2005, and 1.4 billion in 2009. Half a billion residences – almost a third of the potential total – are likely to have internet access by the end of the year, and the number of those with internet access in the Netherlands, South Korea and Sweden now exceeds 80%.
Some 162 million of the 226 million new users will be drawn from emerging markets, as penetration hits 71% among mature countries but just 21% in developing nations. Despite this, fast-growing economies were predicted to contain 1.2 billion of the web population this year, including around 420 million in China. Penetration rates are set to achieve 65% in Europe, 55% in the Americas, 46% in the CIS, 24.9% in Arab states, 21.9% in Asia Pacific and 9.6% in Africa. Signifying the medium’s rising importance, Estonia, Finland and Spain already view online access as a legal right. It’s also expected that five billion mobile subscriptions will be active by 2011, including 940 million mobile owners in 143 countries using 3G services.
Top Scandinavian brands launch websites selling pre-owned goods
IKEA caused a ripple of excitement in Sweden recently when it launched a new programme that offers used furniture online. The company’s CEO Sweden Peter Agnefäll told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper: “It’s about taking an environmental responsibility for how our products are used in the longer term and making it easier for our customers to do their part towards the environment.” IKEA also says it intends to extend the idea to foreign outlets.
And anyone who’s not entirely convinced of the life span of IKEA furniture will soon have other ways to be virtuous in Sweden, Denmark or Norway. The Swedish electronics chain Siba has added a classifieds section to its website, enabling customers to sell and buy pre-owned products. With 56 stores in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, Siba says that secondhand.siba.se came about because it realised that customers sometimes specifically set out to buy a second-hand product; for example, when buying a TV for a holiday home. Others, meanwhile, need a place to offload their camera or games console before upgrading to a new one. The company doesn’t charge listing fees, and hopes the service will attract visitors to its website, as well as garnering goodwill by helping consumers find what they’re looking for. Surely it will only be a matter of time before H&M launches pre-owned stripy sweaters, or Bjorn Borg begins flogging second-hand underwear…
Solar panels set to power locomotives in Belgium
Belgian solar firm Enfinity is installing 50,000 square metres of solar panels on top of a railway tunnel on the line between Amsterdam and Paris as part of a project that could slash the carbon footprint of Europe’s rail network. The company, based in Waregem (around 80km from Brussels), claims that energy generated by the panels will be used to power conventional and high-speed trains on the line. It is working with Infrabel, Belgium’s railway infrastructure body, to install 16,000 panels on a two-mile stretch of tunnel running alongside the E19 road. Due for completion this month, the project will provide 3.5Mw/hours of energy a year, and cost €14.5m. The installation will also power parts of Antwerp Station, and the Antwerp north-south junction. To stop fast trains creating vibrational problems, Enfinity has pioneered a ballast tile that avoids the need to put perforations directly in the roof, insulating the solar panels from kinetic force.
The ambitious Belgian company recently acquired American solar energy developer ClearPeak, and has taken on board its portfolio of US-based renewable projects. If the railway tunnel project succeeds, it could be a useful flagship contract as Enfinity expands into the North American market; the US government is considering several high-speed rail projects to create jobs and fuel green industries.
Volvo enjoys success in China after takeover by Geely
China has become the third-largest market for Volvo following the Swedish brand’s acquisition by Chinese automaker Geely. According to the official Xinhua news agency, head of Volvo Cars China Alexander Klose told a trade show in the northern city of Tianjin that sales of the vehicles in the People’s Republic had soared in 2010.
“As of the end of September, Volvo’s global sales volume was up 12.5% year- on-year, compared with a 52% year-on-year rise in China,” he was quoted as saying. Volvo also expanded its dealer network to 81 Chinese cities in 2010, he said, adding that he was confident of seeing huge growth in the nation’s auto market in the next five years.
Back in August, Geely paid $1.5bn (€1.1bn) to buy the struggling carmaker from US automobile giant Ford. Head of the Chinese automaker Li Shufu said in a September interview with the Wall Street Journal that he hoped to build three Volvo assembly plants in China that would produce up to 300,000 autos a year for the Asian nation.
Unsurprisingly, other carmakers are also desperately trying to cash in on China’s vast auto market, which overtook the US in 2009 to become the world’s largest. German company Daimler, for example, said it planned to invest €3bn in China by 2015 in order to boost the production of Mercedes-Benz cars.
Hotel chain to launch modular capsule lodgings
Madrid-based Lookotels is planning to build an energy-efficient budget hotel with 100 modular rooms in less than six months. Every room in the ‘lowxurious’ structure will be a separate, prefabricated module, ranging in size from 9.7 to 12.10 square metres, and will offer a sofa bed, TV, desk, chair, telephone, air con, bathroom, automated controls and Wi-Fi. Self-service check in will be enabled by automatic dispensers and control-card access, plus 24-hour telephone customer service. Building costs will be minimised through reduced construction time and raw material costs, the hotel says, while staff costs will be 70% lower and energy costs 40% lower than in equivalent Spanish hotels. The company is reportedly seeking financing of €60m to build 10 hotels in Spain before expanding around the world.
Orbital Technologies, meanwhile, is aiming much higher with the prefab concept. The Moscow company has unveiled plans for what may be the most expensive digs ever offered: a ‘cosmic hotel’ for space travellers and researchers. Guests would be ferried on a Soyuz shuttle to the four-room guesthouse, which could be in orbit by 2016. “Our planned module will not remind you of the International Space Station,” promises CEO Sergei Kostenko. “A hotel should be comfortable, and it will be possible to look at the Earth through portholes.”
American students learning German for business purposes
English may still be the main language in the business world, but US students increasingly believe that learning a smattering of German for the workplace will aid them in their dealings with one of the US’s most important trading partners.
According to Katja Fullard from the Chicago branch of cultural organisation the Goethe Institute, a growing number of economics and business students are taking courses that involve some German. Outside of the EU, the US is Germany’s biggest trade partner, and as Germany plays an ever-more important role in the world economy, more German companies are opening offices in America. There has also been a big rise in the number of mid-career professionals, who travel several times a year to meet with partner firms in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich, taking up German courses. Spiegel quotes patent lawyer Warren Zitlau, who explains that while meetings are generally still held in English, German small talk outside the boardroom improves working relationships.
And Germans are learning to speak American too: talking about how his country had come out of the recession, economy minister Rainer Brüderle recently boasted of an “XL upswing”.