The civil engineering industry in France

What does your industry look like in France ? Today: the civil engineering and sustainability sector

The building and civil engineering industry, often know in France by its acronym BTP (Bâtiment et Travaux Publics), is a large and healthy sector of French economy. Encompassing the conception, construction and promotion of private and public buildings, and with a total national turn-over exceeding 170 billion euros in 2017, this vast and confusing world weighs heavily in the French GDP. Snap-shot of the French BTP market, players and concerns.

Healthy and steady growth
According to Deloitte 14th study of the European Powers of Construction, the last few years saw the French BTP sector kick the recession into touch for good, with an overall growth figure of 0.4% in 2016 and 1.3% in 2017. The construction sector alone employed 20,000 new people in 2017 and boasted a 4.3% growth.
Not satisfied with being the European market leader and with being home to some of Europe’s largest corporations such as Vinci, Bouygues et Eiffage groups, France’s healthy building industry employs over 1.4 millions people across 536,000 businesses.

Public Sector
As expected, a large slice of this particular cake goes to the public sector. All upcoming government tenders have to be published on the Marchés Publics listings. If you are considering bidding on French tenders, I suggest you find yourself a French translator who is used to working in a civil engineering environment as they’ll not only be helping you with the tender bid and all contractual documents but eventually with all reports and drawing submissions, too.

Sustainability : a major concern of the French BTP sector
A strong contender of this formidable market is the renewable and sustainable energy sector which is not only a part of most residential projects but is also the object of growing interest from business and industrial property developers. This side of the BTP industry is responsible for an optimistic 4.8% growth forecast by Deloitte.

The energy-hungry civil engineering industry is in the spotlight of 3 major, current, European debates : climate change, resources crisis, and sustainability, leading the French government to show support to a large number of real estate projects focussing on energy efficiencies. The French thermal efficiency regulation, the RT2012 (soon to be replaced with the upgraded RT2020), leads the way by imposing limits on factors such as carbon footprint and energy production. The ultimate objective is to build BEPOS (known in English as Energy-Plus buildings) ie buildings deemed to have a neutral or even positive energy impact not only during their construction but also in terms of longevity and maintenance.


The marine industry in France

What does your industry look like in France? Today: the leisure marine sector

Put simply, France’s leisure marine industry is Europe’s market leader and the second largest in the world. French boat builders have the know-how and the traditional approach required to back up a robust international reputation, allowing them to launch modern and innovative designs and to remain at the forefront of the marine sector.

Three years snap-shot

2018 was the year which finally saw the French marine industry recover from 10 years of global recession. In September last year, after a good summer season, the Fédération des Industries Nautiques cheerfully reported 1% of growth the national market. Nothing to call home about, I hear you say, but following the whooping 23% growth recorded in 2016 and the steady 13% in 2017, it seemed the French marine industry was finally back to its pre-recession state.

Whilst just under 60% of new boats purchased in 2017 were sailing yachts, 2018 saw the trend switch, with a neat preference for power boats last year. Finally, the influx of new boats from the early 2000s which had long been carrying the second-hand market is wearing thin and boat builders were rubbing their hands last September when the Fédération des Industries Nautiques announced that the brokerage market had mostly be stagnating whilst new boat sales were up by 40 %.

The whole marine sector, including stake-holders involved in the production, distribution, accessories and servicing of boats, is currently made out of some 5.000 large businesses employing around 40.000 workers, and circa 60.000 sole-traders and sub-contractors.

The superyachts

La grande plaisance is defined as all boats over 25m in length. Oblivious to trivial considerations such as economic crisis or Trump or Brexit related uncertainty, the superyacht industry is thriving in France, not only in the gorgeous and mostly sunny Côte d’Azur where the owners of luxurious vessels from Monaco and overseas are prepared to sell their soul (or at least to apply for French citizenship) in order to enjoy the glamour of the riviera, but also along the Atlantic coast, famous for hosting world-famous regatta such as the Transat Jacques Vabres or the Vendée-Globe which attract a large audience of rich and passionate, superyacht-based aficionados.  In short, if you are a supplier to the French superyacht industry, you have nothing to fear.

How to target the French boating market?

Get a French presence – Find a marine-minded French translator to work on the main pages of your website, your blog content or your marketing literature.

Work with French dealers – A French branch is perhaps the easiest way to get started, even if it means communicating via a French translator or interpreter or budgeting for the translation of your contractual documents.

Attend French events – The Salon Nautique de Paris normally takes place in December. La Rochelle’s outdoor event, the Grand Pavois, makes the most of the September sunshine, whilst the Monaco Superyacht Show draws all the superyacht builders to its rather large pontoons every September. Find yourself a fluent French speaker or translator before you go!


Double your customer base by reaching for a neighbouring market

Small businesses can double their customer base by selling to France – but what are the pitfalls?

As many small UK businesses find it increasingly difficult to meet their targets and keep afloat, more and more of them are marketing across the Channel in an attempt to increase their prospective customer base. You can get an international marketing plan going with as little as £500, but beware of the pitfalls (check out my list of Do’s and Don’ts of doing business in France).

With technology becoming smarter and more ingenious by the minute and multilingual marketing agencies fast emerging, selling overseas has never been easier. But many companies seem unable to convert their marketing efforts in France into new business. Why and what are the most common mistakes people make?

1. Do you speak English?

Language is by far the most important aspect of selling to a different country, yet one of the most common errors British businesses make is to think that they can approach a foreign market with brochures and websites in English and get away with it.

Yes, someone does need to speak French! But it needn’t be you….

Some form of French marketing material is a must:  an English website won’t rank on French search engines, English banners won’t attract attention from a French audience, and even if you somehow manage to make contact with prospects, your literature, correspondence and other contracts will soon put them off if they can’t understand it. A bilingual contact is also paramount; you need to be able to communicate with your customers in more than what’s left of your school French, and Google translate won’t cut it either.

I once worked with a company who advertised ‘French speakers’ as part as their customer service, counting on email correspondence backed by automated translation to deliver the service. They eventually lost most of their contracts with French businesses as clients phoned up and discovered that they couldn’t communicate with their supplier.

If you French doesn’t go any further than “Bonjour, comment ça va?”, there are a few options available to any business looking to communicate with French prospects:

  1. The most affordable option is to employ a bilingual marketing agency (such as This will give you access to all the benefits of a French office as well as the experience of a French marketing expert at a fraction of the cost. They can be at hand to represent you at all time but you only pay whenever there is work to be done.
  2. A French speaker in your UK office. If you are recruiting for any role at the moment, just add the little line Fluent French would be an advantage to your ad’. It might not cost you anymore and make all the difference.
  3. A sales person in France. If you can afford their salary and the travel expense that comes with it, hire yourself a French sales person in France. A financially safer alternative is to look for a freelance sales agent to take on your products (“Carte Commerciale”), but note that the commission will be much higher.
  4. Look for dealers in France. You can start your investigations with a market report with some emphasis on potential dealers, or simply target your French competitors’ dealers. A French dealer will have the same interest in growing the business in France as you do and they will provide invaluable help with your marketing mix, your sales, your customer service etc.

2. Boss, I need to go to Paris again….

Since you mentioned targeting France as a new market to your sales team, their credit card bill is through the roof and there’s nobody in the office, yet you don’t seem to see the sales flooding in. Sounds familiar?

Don’t make the mistake of instantly booking up lots of speculative and cold meetings with prospective clients. There is a lot you can do to virtually warm up leads and seek new business before you get on that plane.  Will you need to go to France? Yes, but not to start with.

Use technology ( for some ideas) to get around the expensive trips to France: webcams, videoconferencing, teleconferencing (try, it’s free), instant messaging and your good old emails and telephone are plenty enough to get you going. If language is a problem, your bilingual marketing agent can step in to translate and help you close a deal. Obviously, you will get to a stage when you need this all important face-to-face meeting with your new representative and with your clients, but by then you can count on your French business to sustain its own travel costs.

Presence at trade shows can be invaluable when it comes to growing the business but, before you fork out several thousands of hard earned euros into an event, consider whether you could pair up with a prospective dealer to share the cost and take advantage of their fluent French – they may already be attending anyway. Alternatively, your French Marketing Agent should be able to source a French speaker to attend on your behalf.

3. They’ll just have to pay us in Sterling

Exchange rates vary from day to day, and many businesses will try and mitigate their losses due to currency variations by setting their price in pounds. This is a big no-no! If you’re selling abroad, embrace the currency and swallow the (probably small) cost of the Euro rising. If you want to try and keep it under control, check out my tips on how to protect your exchange rate, but offering products in GBP to the French is like screaming “I can’t be bothered to adjust to your culture, and I might not bother to send your order either!”. It will wipe out all your efforts in one clean sweep, and the chances are the reaction will be something along the lines of “I can’t be bothered to buy from you!”.
Just like with any other marketing exercise, keep the purchasing process as easy as possible for your clients. Don’t expect them to convert GBP to EUR, they’ll sooner walk away and buy it from somewhere else.

4. Avoid wasting money on international banking fees

If you’re sending goods to someone who is registered for VAT in France, it’s likely that you’ll be able to zero-rate the supply for VAT purposes (provided the transaction meets all the conditions outlined by HMRC: Trying to exchange cheques or BACs payment with a customer overseas can prove costly (admittedly, it may well be worthwhile for the best deals). Alternatively, if you don’t already use Paypal, now is the time to give it a go as it will make the transactions with France cheaper and easier. Ultimately, if business is likely to pick up quickly and massively, a bank account in France could well be the best option.

5. Extortionate P&P

Talk to several freight companies and strike a decent international shipping deal: unless you sell online services, the chances are you will be sending out samples and products to your newly found customers and you don’t want to put them off with extortionate shipping costs and complicated return policies. Ideally, look for a courier with branches in both countries ( Once you’ve got it sorted, make it clear in your marketing materials that delivery is no more costly with your quality UK products than it is with lesser French ones!

Stick to the basics

If your product works in the UK, there is no reason it can’t reach a similar turnover in France providing you keep things simple for your clients. The translation costs will largely be offset by the fact that you have done a lot of the leg work already when you set up in the UK.   By converting your brand and your business model to French in the right way, you’ll find a world of new prospects right across the Channel.

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