The goal is set. The County of Kalmar is aiming to be number one in e-commerce in Sweden. Stating that, the work has begun. In the end of 2011, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) published a territorial review of Småland-Blekinge in which the message was clear: “Technology-intensive industries and knowledge-based enterprises were underrepresented in the counties. There is a need for attracting and retaining talents and encouraging increase in new knowledge-based startups.”
The study also told us, or should I say confirmed, that we need to take advantage of areas where we are highly skilled and develop those areas further. Everybody knows that it takes a lot more effort to start up something new than to develop what we already got. In times of Smart Specialisation we were even more convinced to develop and increase our lead in the e-commerce area.
In order to reach our goal, a brand new cluster has started within the Kalmar Science Park. The e-commerce-cluster is the first of its kind and has been granted a lot of media attention since it’s startup. Kalmar Science Park and the cluster has applied for and been granted funds for expansion of the operation through a big regional development project set up to build an infrastructure to support the e-commerce-companies. But, as mentioned before, the e-commerce has a history of itself in this region. And being a branch as young as e-commerce, a history in itself is unique.
Already in 2005, a group of e-commerce-entrepreneurs started a small private association. They were all driven entrepreneurs in the same field of knowledge, but definitely pioneers in a brand new branch and business model. They searched for a platform for expanding their knowledge and exchanging ideas of development. The network grew and most of the associated companies were successful and expanded their businesses.
One of the eldest e-commerce-companies in Sweden, www.patroner.se is one of the companies which has been an active member since the start. The company was founded in 1992 and has been in e-commerce since 1996. The company sells cartridges of ink both B2C and B2B.
Another successful e-commerce-company in the region is www.outnorth.com who sells clothes and equipment suitable for outdoor activities. It’s a subsidiary of Naturbolaget I Sydost AB who also has physical shops. The company is really old, it started in 1926 and started online in 2005. An early, and a very good example of multi-channel-sales, which is increasing today in order to live up to the market and consumers.
In September of 2012, at our annual e-commerce-day in Kalmar, Jens Nordfält (assistant Professor of Department of Marketing and Strategy and Dean of BSc Program in Retail Management of Stockholm School of Economics)stated that multi-channel-sales where combining a site, a physical store and a catalogue is the recipe for success.
In fact, Kalmar Science Park just awarded one of the major e-commerce-companies from the region with the Kalmar Science Park Award 2012. The prize was given to www.bygghemma.se , the leading online-building-supplier in Sweden.
One of the reasons that they were given the reward is for their unique collaboration with one of the biggest chains of building-supply-stores in the Nordic countries, XL-bygg. We wanted to reward them for taking the lead, again. The company has grown enormously and is on its way to go international, starting with Scandinavia, as many other of our e-commerce companies. New markets means new challenges.
In late 2012, the associated companies were admitted into the cluster. By doing so, we were given a new set of rules and are now expanding the initial thoughts of exchanging the knowledge within the e-commerce-companies to broadening the map and also being able to include important partners and suppliers.
The interest from companies in logistics, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and packaging industries, among others has been overwhelming. Everybody wants to help out and contribute. It’s like everybody is relieved that 1) finally, someone took care of things waiting for attention and 2) the specialization and goal was clear and easy to adapt to. A lot of times, we’re careful not to express what we’re good at. Our statement to achieve the leading position was attractive and almost a craving for.
How to get there?
The activities in the clusters are up and running. We had the first meeting of the year in early February. It was wonderful to attract and meet a lot of new companies, of which we had no idea they used e-commerce as a channel. We had guessed that there are so many more than we knew about, but the initial turn-out has thrown us away. Companies in all possible areas are there. It’s an exciting fact that they all, regardless to what they sell, meet the same issues and challenges. The common goal is to convert the visitors into buyers.
We’re drawing the map
The lack of awareness of the size of the “branch” e-commerce is a problem due to the fact that all the companies are sorted under SNI (Swedish Standard Industrial Classification, EU; standard, NACE Rev.2) and therefore rarely classified as e-commerce-companies but within their special fields. Just another sign on how young this branch of business is. Among our e-commerce-entrepreneurs, we actually find advisors to the National Board of Trade and other European agencies, due to the lack of laws and terms fit for the global market of e-commerce.
Of course, the size and the value is what you measure. On the other hand, the common question more and more is: “What isn’t e-commerce today?”. To use the Internet to conduct business is more or less a prerequisite to do business at all. Our region has a history of the industries close to (and crucial to) the e-commerce-businesses. We have a number of successful companies in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), logistics, (both warehouse and transport) ICT and even contact-centers.
Those industries in combination with a strong university and a reasonable good labour market guarantees important assets. We hope to have influence on the university, program and courses and maybe even research within the area? We also want to attract talent to the region by expressing this area of strength. Kalmar has a long history of market and trade, all the way back to the times of the Hansa back in the 13th century. Our region attracts many establishments in retail and the shopping-tourism is flourishing. National statistics (Klarna, 2013)) even showed us that the inhabitants of the Kalmar region were more eager than average to do their Christmas shopping online.
E-commerce, by the way? More and more people talk about m-commerce, since the mobile is essential to all development of e-commerce. It’s hard to keep up with the possibilities given by technique and the demands given from the consumers. When you think of it, the skills needed to be successful online, are many. You need to be a businessman, understand computers and technique, be able to understand (at least to buy) SEO, have a marketing understanding and close good deals with suppliers. It’s easy to get stuck in technical issues and platforms, but in the end, it all comes down to sales.
With the positive start of the cluster and the opportunities given within the new e-commerce-project “e-business region” we plan for lots of activities. In close collaboration with the University of Linnaeus, the regional industries and national partners, we wish to encourage growth within the existing companies, to build new and fruitful alliances, inspire for more startups and market the region as a given place to establish more and new e-commerce-companies. This is the e-commerce-hot-spot where you can find competence, alliances, networks and support to grow. See you online!