The Chinese Linhorn Group, which is headquartered in Shanghai, has seven subsidiaries in total. Six of them are based in Tianjin, Shanghai and Shenzhen, and only one is located in Europe. Linhorn Industrietechnik GmbH was founded in Bremen in 2015. Procurement manager Song Xing is in charge of sourcing industrial components – including machinery parts, tools, fittings, sensors and valves – in Europe for the entire Linhorn Group.
When Zhaohang Lu set up Linhorn in China in 2007, it was a medium-sized trading company for industrial components. Each of the subsidiaries has its own focus, such as supplying the steel, food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Over time, Linhorn has expanded its service portfolio, which now includes consultation, design and aftersales services. As a result its demand for industrial components from European manufacturers continued to grow, and Lu began to look for a partner to handle procurement and reliable quality control.
Eventually he found one, and in 2011 they set up a company together in Bremen. “We had decided to base ourselves in Germany and to start with, North Rhine-Westphalia was top of our shortlist,” remembers Lu. Its urban centres are home to a lot of companies, and also to a large number of Chinese people. “But Lu Wang from Bremeninvest drew our attention to Bremen. Among other things, trade taxes and the cost of living are slightly lower here. Bremeninvest gave us really good advice, and supported us through the process of setting up the company.” In 2015, Zhaohang Lu decided to go solo and set up his own company in Bremen, Linhorn Industrietechnik GmbH.
Once again Bremeninvest was there to lend a hand, particularly when it came to finding a suitable location for the office and warehouse. “We check every part we order for Linhorn before we send it on to China,” says Song Xing. Is it really new, is it complete and does it work properly? Only then are the parts batched up and dispatched to China. Small, high-value items are sent by air freight, large items travel by sea in containers. The warehouse – and its delivery area – need to offer the size and flexibility to cope with changing demands. At the Justus Grosse business park in Woltmershausen, Linhorn has found exactly what it was looking for, and the GVZ Cargo Distribution Center is also close at hand.
While Zhaohang Lu spends a lot of time looking after his businesses in China, Song Xing has everything well under control in Bremen. He studied transport and logistics in China, and came to Germany in 2009 as an exchange student. To begin with, he spent two years in Erfurt. Then he met the managing director of Unicon Logistics and moved to Bremen in 2011, initially for an internship, which was followed by a permanent job with Unicon. There he met Zhaohang Lu, who offered him a position, and Xing joined Linhorn Industrietechnik GmbH in April 2016. “In our first year we had a turnover of one million euros; last year it was almost three million euros,” says Xing proudly.
He is the interface between his colleagues in China and suppliers across Europe. “Sometimes my colleagues order directly from the suppliers, but mostly they tell me what they need and I handle the enquiries and quotes. I visit lots of suppliers for consultations and to negotiate prices,” Xing says. Once an order has been placed, the goods come to Bremen first for quality control.
“There’s no sense in waiting until our colleagues in China realise that goods are defective – it would make complaints much more complex, and take a lot longer than if we sort it out in Bremen.”
Many suppliers set great store by personal contact. “There are plenty of small companies that produce exactly what Linhorn and our customers in China need,” says Xing. “But they are difficult to find from China. Some don’t even have a website, let alone anything in English.” By now, Xing is very familiar with the industry. He establishes contacts at trade fairs and forges lasting relationships. “We aim to be more than just a trading company,” he says. “We are constantly expanding our expertise because we are able to discuss questions and problems directly with our suppliers on the ground. Our customers benefit from this as well.”
Xing is currently the only permanent employee at Linhorn Industrietechnik, but he has regular assistance from casual workers and interns. “We often have Chinese students or students with good Chinese language skills working for us. For some of them I arrange internships with Linhorn in China, and that benefits everyone involved.”
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