Oct 12 2020

Industry look at 6 hotspots: corona as a magnifying glass

Word may have gotten around that the furniture industry is on the right track despite the crisis. Which is why we are changing the perspective and seeing corona as a magnifying glass that focuses on what is working well or poorly. Tendencies are intensified during the pandemic. Our three experts, Leif Kania, Hans Hermann Hagelmann and Carmen Tappeser, present their personal viewpoints on six thematic hotspots in the industry look.

1. Masks

Everyday masks: there are as many names for the masks as there are colours for the offering of reusable masks. However, the furniture industry likes black.

What brings out the main points in the kitchen is certainly able to do that in my face, seems to be the motto for sales areas and trade fairs. Put a logo on it and one can already release the staff on customers. Many are doing this, Leif Kania has observed, and throws up her hands in horror:

"A black mask seems forbidding, even radiates a threat. This is highly unfavourable for sales. I advise using a transparent mask, because you can then see a smile in more than just the eyes. Or white masks with a smiling mouth on them. There is a much more positive effect when one enters a place of business where people only walk around with bright, friendly masks."

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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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Show your face!

Hans Hermann Hagelmann also has suggestions: "My suggestion since May: take a nice photo of yourself, clip it onto your shirt and write your name beneath it. So that I at least know with which face I am conversing.

But nobody does this. Why? It is so simple, and so pleasant for somebody walking in. If I was going to the trade fair now, I would photograph my employees and have the photos printed on masks, so that everyone wearing a mask also has a face."

His appeal of "People, be creative!" could also be transferred to other areas. Just because something has always been done a certain way, is no reason to not also try something different.

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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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2. Digitalisation of commerce

Good for all black mask wearers: there has been a digital boost during the crisis. Purchases are increasingly being made online, but not only there. Carmen Tappeser reports: "Our customers prefer the purchasing experience on site. They are in fact very well-informed, but less so through the Internet.

The impulse often comes from acquaintances and relatives. Then they are grateful when the innovations are shown and explained to them. I think that we are still a long way from purely virtual sales."

"We have a hybrid situation in this market and need both", Hans Hermann Hagelmann adds. "On the one hand, the pre-selling that can already help direct people in terms of taste, function and dimensions at home, and then the consultant that provides reassurance.

I find that the specialty traders also play this very well, because one trusts in their competence and not every third sentence is 'And now I have an offer for you!' - because nobody is really interested in that at the moment!"

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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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Better exploiting potential

Hagelmann sees working without a digital pillar as risky: "One thing is certain for the future: I will no longer be sitting in my shop waiting for the doorbell to ring. That's over. There will bee a "beep" somewhere on the screen, and if you don't hear the bell, you are gone."

For Leif Kania, the "digital bell" is even overdue: "Many of my customers would like to have worked this way earlier and taken the chance of not seeing people personally. That this works well has been proven. However, the potential still needs to be much better exploited, for example, for the digital sales area, which links the stationary trade with the Internet. Nobody has really been that successful with this as of yet."

The pandemic is showing how marginally digitalisation has been treated to date. Given the new tools in sales, Hans Hermann Hagelmann is nonetheless satisfied: "The industry has really been shaken up. This wouldn't have been possible in five years with consultation alone!"

3. Home office: who can be reached when?

Digital or not: business is booming, because cocooning is becoming increasingly popular under corona. However, the sales routine is tricky. Carmen Tappeser misses shaking hands as the start of a conversation, and that she can't offer customers a beverage. However, much more important are cuts in work processes, which have changed significantly due to COVID:

"Some specialists are hard to reach on the telephone because they are in home office mode. Others are introducing times for receiving calls in order to be able to completely dedicate the rest of the time to processing orders. Customers often have a specific question, which then can't be quickly answered, which leads to the purchase having to be postponed.

We in sales also unfortunately can't make time, which is why measurements, customer visits or orders also take place after closing hours or on days off." Corona makes clear: permanent presence isn't necessary, but accessibility is. Especially when business is booming!

4. A high level of need, but a shortage of skilled workers

The more orders are received, the more employees are needed. Here too, corona acts as a magnifying glass. "The mass of orders is very difficult to master right now, whether we are talking about industry, delivery, disposition or processing", says Carmen Tappeser. "However, the biggest bottleneck at the moment is installation personnel."

Leif Kania sees a need for action: "Kitchen installation has been neglected for a long time. This is an area that is always a little uneasy. People are often unsatisfied. There are few good teams and it's hard to create new ones, especially in three months, because they also have to be trained well."

The coach, who has specialised in the targeted training and continuing training of employees in sales with seminars and in an online academy, wants to counter this trend. This is because even the sales area is becoming increasingly problematic in the face of the good order situation: "I have customers that now want to expand, especially kitchen studios, and they don't have enough salespeople."

5. Delivery bottlenecks

And something else is missing: devices! Corona is proving that buying cheap is often expensive and is pushing the trend of strengthening domestic suppliers. Hans Hermann Hagelmann explains the background aspects of what he calls a "gigantic disaster":

"With the big device manufacturers, the supply chain in the direction of China with electronic control and building elements must have hit pretty hard. The problem is that we are dealing here with an oligopoly, so that especially the small speciality traders hardly have a chance to turn to anyone else."

Those who aren't now resorting to complete offerings are initially delivering kitchens as a temporary solution without devices or with a more affordable substitute and then upgrading when the ordered branded articles are available.

Carmen Tappeser adds: "The disadvantage for the trade lies in the difficult to plan delivery times. The situation also can't be easily communicated to every customer."

6. Solidarity

This brings us to the last hot spot; solidarity. With corona as a magnifying glass, selfishness has a face. Or rather faces. Carmen Tappeser sees several of them.

"70 percent of our customers are completely understanding given the current situation. The rest seem to think corona is being used as an excuse for everything. Patience is at a premium when it is about one's own kitchen. One then hears, 'The fitter can work an hour longer and install the missing device. That won't take long.' A significant discount is also demanded now and then because one had to do dishes by hand for a day or two."

However, corona also provides chances here. Carmen Tappeser has the final word: "Now would be the right time across areas and industries to reconsider our life rhythm and to develop a better understanding of one another."

Author: Christine Piontek

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