Ask the pros, and they’ll tell you doing business in Indonesia is a lot like other international destinations: relationships and adaptability are key, and it may take awhile to land deals and get paid.
But Georgia companies shared a few specific pointers on operating in the Southeast Asian nation, an emerging economy with more than 270 million people.
For Ron Taylo, military sales manager at Aventure Aviation, it comes down to partnerships, patience and perseverance, he told an Indonesian delegation and local audience during an Oct. 2 trade and investment forum in Atlanta.
Mr. Taylo has worked in the aviation world for two decades, his many years in Asia including a stint in Indonesia where he picked up some of the language and cultural nuances — from Jakarta traffic patterns and shopping mall nicknames to local flavors like nasi Padang, a type of steamed rice.
He made it a practice to find local partners who could be eyes and ears on the ground and help cultivate the high-level relationships needed to land deals in the regulated industry of plane parts.
“It’s relationship first, then business,” he said. “You always want to meet up with the ministers, the four-star generals or whoever is leading the groups there because it makes the transition or the opportunities run a little bit smoother, as you’re basically going to the top of the totem pole, as we say.”
But the process takes time. Indonesians have a culture of hospitality and want to base business on trusted relationships rather than contractual obligations, he said.
“Don’t expect to get a contract or an agreement the first meeting that you have. It takes several meetings, a lot of interaction, a lot of face-to-face communication.”
It helps to have a dose of civility, avoiding conflict and learning little things like how to address people with the right honorifics — Pak for men and Ibu for women. That will help avoid common misunderstandings, like the temptation to believe “yes” means the same thing in bahasa Indonesia as it does in American English.
“They’ll normally answer with the word ‘yes,’ but the the context doesn’t necessarily mean they agree or confirm what you’re saying. ‘Yes’ could just be more of a means of being polite and respectful,” he said. “You kind of have to reaffirm a few times just to be sure that you’re of the same understanding.”
Ron Harrison, an entomologist and technical director for pest control franchiser Orkin, said his Atlanta-based company works with local franchisees to deal with the nuts and bolts of operating locally. Orkin’s key challenge is melding the high global standards with specific market conditions, from pricing to chemical regulations.
“We come across very strong that (the global standard) has to be paramount or we can’t do business. Sometimes small pest control companies don’t fit with us. Their approach and understanding is different,” Dr. Harrison said.
Helping local manufacturers, food producers and hotels comply with demands of the global economy is where Orkin excels, he said.
“We’re talking about trade, and when you open a pair of shoes that were made in Indonesia and there’s a scorpion in it, it’s going to be a pretty negative type of situation,” he added.
That means Orkin is often pulled into new markets by major multinationals, from French supermarket chain Carrefour to the Marriott hotel brand. Sometimes Orkin has to create standards from the group up, like with a recent roadshow on integrated pest management across five cities in Pakistan
Still, a commitment to long-term service is one of the most important attributes of a partner; some franchisees internationally aren’t even in the pest-control business before signing up with Orkin.
From Indonesia and beyond, all Orkin partners complete three weeks of training at the Rollins Inc. headquarters off Piedmont Road in Atlanta. The facility includes model environments mimicking what they will encounter in the field: a house, kitchen, hospital room, grocery store and more. After franchisees begin service, Orkin sends technicians to the country within two months and follows up every six months thereafter.
How they market the business can vary widely: In Kazakhstan, social media has been valuable, but in Guatemala it hasn’t worked. In Egypt the Orkin franchise to 50 technicians largely by word of mouth. Whether in Indonesia or elsewhere, it’s about attention to detail.
“Don’t forget those basics,” Dr. Harrison said. “Your success is based on that.”
Prasetyo Singgih, an attorney who heads up the U.S. committee for the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, or KADIN, agreed that it’s important to understand local conditions, including the permits and licenses that can be required at various levels of government. Engaging consultants may cost a bit in the short term, but ultimately it will save time, energy and even money.
“We’re all in this to promote trade and investment, and we want to do it efficiently. Therefore, do it right the first time,” Mr. Singgih said.
Indonesia has 34 provinces and 500-plus regencies, akin to counties in the United States. From east to west, the archipelago is about as wide as the continental U.S. and has thousands of islands.
“We have hundred of ethnic groups, hundreds of languages, plus we have a very dynamic business environment. You cannot to expect to come down to Jakarta, come down to Surabaya once and strike a deal and come back and everything is Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah. It doesn’t work that way,” Mr. Sinngih said. “You need to invest the time, you need to invest the energy. In time, it will be very very fruitful and prosperous for both markets.”
He noted that KADIN has a business desk that can match companies partners upon arrival in Indonesia.
The forum at the Atlanta law offices of Miller & Martin was headlined by Ambassador Mahendra Siregar, who promoted deeper trade ties with the U.S., and included a luncheon featuring an interview with Consul General Nana Yuliana, who focused heavily on educational exchanges.
The consulate, which made arrangements for the event, is hoping to host a trade delegation from Atlanta next year.
To learn more about opportunities and the trade delegation, contact Deri Marret at firstname.lastname@example.org.