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Busy beavers in freight-forwarding

Interview with Patrick Brechtbühl, Sales Director of SOMATRA S.A.

European Business: SOMATRA’s historical emblem is a beaver. What is about beavers that you identify with?

Patrick Brechtbühl: Beavers are renowned for their industry and perseverance. They also have a marked effect on the world around them. By felling trees and building dams, they create ponds of still water that provide a habitat for species other than their own. We are as “busy as beavers” in our efforts to meet all of our clients’ ever-changing demands.

European Business: As a medium-sized player in the freight-forwarding sector, how do you compete against your larger rivals?

Patrick Brechtbühl: By occupying the middle ground in terms of size, we can offer our clients the best of both worlds. We offer flexibility and creativity as well as customer proximity. At the same time, we are a member of several international associations including FIATA, IATA and SPEDLOG. Most importantly, we are part of international logistics network, L.I.N.K., which brings together 65 operators in 65 countries, and gives us global reach.

European Business: Speed is everything in international transport. How do you minimize transit times?

Patrick Brechtbühl: For longer distances and for time-sensitive shipments, the fastest solution is air freight. To speed up the process even further, we have our own customs facilities at Zurich and Geneva airports and take care of all customs formalities on behalf of our clients as an agent authorized by the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (OFAC). However, air freight carries a disproportionately high carbon footprint, which is why we always look at alternatives where these are viable. For example, rail transport has a much lower carbon footprint, is cheaper and in many cases just as fast. Switzerland is also an important transit country for road freight. Thanks to our customs freight forwarding office at the Swiss border, we can guarantee our clients faster clearance through customs and lower freight rates than other operators.

European Business: Specialization is another way to stand out from the crowd. Is this something that SOMATRA has embraced?

Patrick Brechtbühl: Yes, it is. We transport goods of all kinds, but we have also come to specialize in transportation and logistics for events such as trade fairs and exhibitions for luxury brands. When the luxury caravan rolls into town for a show, we offer transportation and assembly of event equipment according to a defined timescale followed by its dismantling and return. We have operated in the events field for the past decade and have built this area up to be very successful. Another project that is currently on the agenda is horse transports. This is my field of expertise, having been active in equine sports myself for many years. When I started in the family business five years ago, I initiated this new business area. I have been able to start the acquisition of all the necessary certifications for the import and export of horses as well as the ATA CARNETS. In the future we plan to offer tailored transports for horses taking part in international competitions.

European Business: SOMATRA has 60 years of experience in the freight forwarding sector and has evolved greatly in that time. How do you see the company developing in the coming years?

Patrick Brechtbühl: We have several targets for the future. On the one hand, we want to continue to expand our activities in event logistics. Our experiences to date have all been positive and the feedback from customers is very good. The same goes for our horse transport activities. In order to grow these areas still further, we want to consolidate our market presence and maintain our momentum. Close customer contacts are vital here, as is the continuity of those contacts. I travel a great deal for work, visiting customers and building up relationships. That is the basis for success in this business.