3 experts, 3 perspectives

A very personal look at the industry: That was 2021

Turbulent, challenging and comparatively successful: 2021 is drawing to a close. How did Carmen Tappeser, Leif Kania and Hans Hermann Hagelmann experience the year that is now almost over? We asked them and gathered their personal impressions for you. Here is the industry outlook for 2021!

Dec 13 2021

Corona makes successful 

"2021 was an exciting year! No day was like the other, which was often just great fun, but on other days led to pure despair. But somehow I muddled through and made it the most successful furniture year of my career." 

This is how kitchen consultant Carmen Tappeser sums up the last 12 months for herself. The unpredictability of the pandemic with all its side effects was a challenge. But challenges are there to grow from them. 

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Carmen Tappeser has an affinity for furniture and interior design in her blood. Her mother is a seamstress in a furniture store and thus responsible for the creative side that the kitchen consultant and vintage lover also shows in her private life when she tailors her clothes. Her father - who has been working in the furniture industry for over 30 years - was and is Carmen Tappeser's role model in her profession. She likes to discuss furniture topics with him passionately. It is therefore not surprising that she turned her back on her original career in hotel management after completing her training. In 2010 she ventured a career change in a furniture store and discovered her talent for consulting, planning and sales. Since 2013 Carmen Tappeser has been working in the kitchen retail trade near Cologne. Customers appreciate her direct and honest way of communication.

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Time for goals 

Leif Kania also draws a positive conclusion. The coach used 2021 for his heart's project, an online academy for sales and personnel development in the kitchen trade. The insight: 

"Good things take time. The project had been in the drawer for a long time. For the implementation, I had many discussions with salespeople, sales managers and trainers. And now was the right time for the launch. One or two years ago, that might not have been the case. The pandemic has confirmed: If one door closes, at least three others open. That's exactly what happened to me. Currently, I'm training ten lateral entrants for a well-known client, and they're all doing great." 

The sunny side of the economy 

A complete success, then, and an important contribution to helping companies cope with the great demand for furniture. For this – everyone agrees – was still noticeable. Carmen Tappeser reports: 

"In fact, 2021 even exceeded the previous year! The end consumers have invested heavily again. Kitchens have become much more high-quality and individual than in previous years. I think this is due to the fact that most people had more time during the pandemic to spend on the subject of kitchens. There has also been a greater presence of various 'gimmicks' in exhibitions and social media. However, the classic remained the white, handleless high-gloss kitchen in 2021." 

BMK President Hans Hermann Hagelmann dares to take a slightly different industry view of 2021: "It's been said a thousand times, but I'll say it anyway: the furniture and especially the kitchen industry is clearly the winner of the pandemic and is - now in its second year - on the sunny side of the economy. Poetically put. And in parentheses: it can't help it! So, anyone who now stands up and says we've done a super job, I have to say: Objection, Your Honour! At most, maybe a super reaction." 

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Hans Hermann Hagelmann studied business administration in Bochum and Frankfurt before embarking on a career in marketing and product management in the early 1980s. Among the professional stations of the business graduate are Pepsi-Cola in Offenbach and BASF in Mannheim. In 1990, Hagelmann switched to the furniture industry and initially worked in the supply industry. In 1999, he became a member of the management board at Nolte Küchen, and in 2001 he became managing director for marketing and sales. At about the same time, he joined the board of the marketing company A30 Küchenmeile and was spokesman of the board of AMK from 2004. He held both positions for around ten years. Since 2013, Hagelmann has not only been the owner of 3H-con Unternehmensberatung in Bad Oeynhausen and 3H-Distribution for the kitchen brands Pronorm and artego in France, but also President of the German Association of Medium-sized Kitchen Retailers (BMK). In 2017 he completed additional training as a certified business mediator.

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Happiness needs to be forged 

Where the home becomes the centre of life, furniture is needed. Corona provided the opportunity that had to be transformed. But this also requires the willingness to dare something new. And that's exactly where the problem lay. 

Hans Hermann Hagelmann perceived the situation as follows: "In the summer, when you almost had the feeling that things were back to the way they used to be, the industry fell back into old behaviour patterns. Furniture retailers and wholesalers advertised discounts again and people asked themselves, do they even have the products?" 

Perhaps some people are sceptical about whether the current situation is just a snapshot, Hagelmann adds. Besides, behavioural change is a long-term process and: "I think that really only works when there is real pressure to suffer. And we didn't have that, purely economically. Except for the individual fates, which of course existed depending on the industry, no question about that." 

Positive experiences 

Instead of pressure to suffer, there was new, positive experience. Leif Kania gives an example: "For many it was really great that they were able to achieve a very high closing rate with the forward business. Over 90 per cent - that is of course cool and fun. Sellers I spoke to had a beaming smile on their face. The forward business was simply very effective for all sides and also brings advantages from an ecological point of view. If no one is there, you don't have to spend hours lighting up the exhibition. For me, it's something that could be maintained even without a lockdown." 

The focus in sales talks has also changed, Hans Hermann Hagelmann knows from the trade: "I had the impression that many were positively surprised that you no longer had to talk about price and customers didn't run away even when you had to pass on costs from suppliers. That quality and availability are now more important than price and discount was a completely new experience." 

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Leif Kania is a trainer and coach for the furnishing industry, drawing on over 20 years of sales and management experience in the kitchen and furniture trade. The former managing director of a large VME company with craft and commercial training knows the problems of his customers first-hand and knows how to solve them sustainably. As an accredited trainer according to Insights MDI®, the industry expert focuses on the recognition of individual strengths, which allow sales teams and managers to reach their full potential according to their personality. The focus of the sales training courses is on type-specific advice as the key to increasing sales.
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Lack in abundance 

This brings up what is probably the biggest challenge of the year: Supply bottlenecks. Almost on a par: the shortage of skilled workers. Carmen Tappeser says: "We still have the problem in the industry that too much is sold in terms of assembly capacities. Although staff has been increased, this has not been enough to cover the demand. We urgently need young people in assembly, the profession simply has to be made more attractive and of course also advertised." 

This is where the associations have a duty, says Leif Kania: "Dealers don't need anyone to tell them how to optimise the lighting in the studio. Retailers need answers to the question of how to sell online, how to find, train and retain staff. Recruiting and staff development are core topics for which concepts have to be developed. And that, in my opinion, would be an absolute association task." 

The coach continues: "I can only recommend not only building up expertise in this complex topic, but also bringing in competent service providers for support. I myself am now doing a further training course at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce to become a recruiter, so I tap into the knowledge of people who have a clue in this area to pass it on to my customers. Furniture dealers can't do that on their own. They have to concentrate on their business!" 

Rethinking is called for 

Hans Hermann Hagelmann sees the current development quite positively: "2021 has once again shown very clearly what range of services an association can and must provide for its members in times like these. I think it worked very well everywhere. The associations have been able to distinguish themselves as problem solvers, service providers and information procurers for their members." 

It can continue like this. Carmen Tappeser also emphasises the urgent need for action: "We have to rethink the usual structures NOW. Those who still sit back and think that everything will somehow work out will be overtaken by their competitors very quickly. New approaches and concepts are needed. Now is the time to set a new course. Stockpiling, for example, is once again an issue. Just in time' will remain a problem in the near future." 

With regard to increased freight costs, Hans Hermann Hagelmann adds: "In the meantime, it is the case that some companies are completely eliminating certain kitchen products - i.e. chairs, tables, bar stools - from their range because they had to triple the price. At the moment, that doesn't work at all from a business point of view. And if the concept is still viable, you think about it and say, let's do it without. 

Regional instead of global 

In addition, there was another major topic that should not be missing from the industry's outlook for 2021: Sustainability! The BMK President continues: "If the return to core competence leads to selling only one's own products or at least sourcing products from other sources, then that also fits in very well with the desire for climate protection." 

Less globalisation and more regionality would not be possible from one day to the next because of the structures that have grown up, but in the long run they would also be reflected in the furniture industry. However, more domestic and thus high-quality goods would also mean a thinner entry segment. Hagelmann adds: 

"It is not as if, proportionally to the price increases or shifts in the product range, everyone also has more money in their wallets. Someone has to pay for it at the end of the day, we must not forget that!" 

Wishes for 2022 

Inflation and a slowdown in consumer spending are the keywords that make our three industry experts cautious about the future at the end of the year. What do they wish for 2022? 

Carmen Tappeser finds that many a business relationship has suffered from a lack of flexibility in seeking alternatives in the face of a lack of goods. That's why she says: "I would like to see more interaction and cooperation as an entire industry. Looking outside the box is too narrow-minded for me. Otherwise, I hope for a successful business year and great new contacts." 

Hans Hermann Hagelmann says that the tone has become harsher at all levels - whether shopping, in restaurants or in the public service. As for the supply bottlenecks in the kitchen trade, he adds: "After all, there was no lack of understanding for the matter itself, but for the fact that there were no clear announcements. Maybe a supplier was also unable to make a clear announcement, but even that would have been a statement!" 

The BMK president would like to see a learning effect: "At the moment, people are still going by the motto 'State, you screwed it all up, so you have to help too'. But at some point the first aid kit is empty, and then it gets exciting!" 

Leif Kania joins in and pleads for more self-criticism, willingness to invest and courage to change. And then, of course, one very important, if not the most important thing: "The main thing is that I and my loved ones stay healthy!" 

We wish that for you too! Have a wonderful Christmas season and come well into the New Year. Maybe you feel like sharing your 2021 experiences in the comments? We would be delighted! 

Author: Christine Piontek

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