Vit Kafka, VP Global Sales, Altendorf Group talks about his new role and updates Wood & Panel on the Group’s progress despite challenging times in the wake of the global pandemic, COVID-19 in an exclusive zoom interview with the editor-in-chief, Apratim Ghoshal.
Getting adjusted to the new normal in the wake of this pandemic has forced us to change the ways a company functions. How has Altendorf Group coped up with the situation?
Vit Kafka: We learnt and responded very quickly to the situation of COVID-19, thanks to our operations in Qinhuangdao, China where we have a manufacturing plant. The Chinese Government put out some restrictions during January and our plants have been impacted. So being here in Germany, we thought this might not be an isolated situation and we started preparing very early and now things are getting normal. We are taking extra care of hygiene, maintaining social distancing, and working from home, setting up the workstations at home! Yes, we have done that early compared to the other companies because we had a little bit of know-how or have seen what happened in China and we thought to get prepared and thankfully at the moment we are all healthy and that’s the way we are going to keep it.
A major share of woodworking business depends on supply chain like any manufacturing business. How did you manage the supply chain amidst this crisis?
Vit Kafka: We are very pro-active in our actions. We thought that our supply chain might affect us, but I have to say that firstly our service operations are working for 24/7 so, we were able to not just service at our customers but we also have been able to deliver our machines where ever possible, of course by maintaining different country rules and different situations of the market. Also, we are a company we call it, ‘We do it ourselves’ company so, it didn’t affect us as much as we thought it would. Some deliveries and transports, of course were difficult, but I personally believe we have come out of the difficult situations. Our manufacturing plants at Hebrock and at Altendorf haven’t stopped. We have been manufacturing through the Corona virus pandemic. I think that’s a very good statement for us and a good sign that we have done and putting the right strategy and processes and by staying close to our customers.
Besides supply chain another important point in our business is after sales-service which involves large number of travelling which is unfortunately not possible now but at the same time, we know that our machines are very smart now and can remotely identify and gives solutions to the customers. What about Altendorf Group?
Vit Kafka: Yes, absolutely. Digital technology has always been our priority. We have used digital platforms but then again most of the companies are doing these. Live demonstrations, education and training webinars are there for our people and customers. Of course, at the end of the day, we have to learn the new way where customers send us samples which he wants to produce and they sent those by courier and we do whatever it needs to do with that sample here and send the sample back to him to satisfy and when he says yes, we like it. It continues as sales process. So, yes we have done it quite successfully. I guess and the most challenging part of this is the communication skill when you are talking to somebody and it’s not easy to show your personality sometime. I think what used to be pretty good for this pandemic today seems quite amateurish so we have to get all better doing these things. And, yes, it is a new way of life but let’s just hope we don’t have to this forever!
Most of the trade shows are cancelled or postponed this year. How have you developed the marketing strategy during this time?
Vit Kafka: When it comes to our group, both the brands, Altendorf and Hebrock, we have over 150 years of experience. I am sure you are aware, Altendorf celebrated 114 years this year and Hebrock celebrates 40th anniversary. We still stay very close to our market and to our customers because to us that’s something very important. We know that our brands are strong but we need to make sure that our brands stay stronger for another 150 years. So, at the end of the day we are very close to our customers obviously through the digital network like online media, telephone calls, and virtual meetings. It’s not just selling our machines- it’s the matter of their well-being, their business’s well-being and to make sure if they are struggling or need something from us. I’m sure every company likes to sell machines, likes to deliver their service. But we, at the same time, see our customers as partners and partnerships for life. This is the time when we need to stay close to them and being helpful by providing them assistance they need, if they are struggling and even if they cannot deliver something, we help them to deliver their own product. So, it is a partnership in the end and we strongly emphasize these to our people and make sure that we are still very close to our customers and I think our team has done a fantastic job!
It is the time we should adopt the Digital Technology, as people are getting more involved and they are adopting this technology rapidly. What are your plans?
Vit Kafka: Yes, absolutely. We are all about innovation and something we will continue doing so. We are currently working on a system which we call ‘Hand Cut’ which is a prevention of cutting your hand on a sliding table saw and we are now in a process to set up test machines in a market. I believe this is going to be quite a nice evolution for the table saw industry. Similarly with the edge-banders, there is connectivity which helps to see the machine online, and to service the machine online. These are the thing we are definitely not just working on but implementing. This is the future. On the sliding table saw, again we have connectivity within the machine (some of the models) where again if the customer lives in a remote area, or case like people can’t travel for example, we can help them online with the connectivity. So, we are looking at these things and again the challenging situation today is showing us the necessity for these things to be even more in our machines.
Which next trade show you are planning to exhibit and in Germany also, now that it is allowed to organise trade show with lot of new norms?
Vit Kafka: I think the next main show will be LIGNA next year; that is the key for us and of course here in Europe. There are a lot of partners around the world. Most likely, there will be Guangzhou show in China in March but this year as far as I know, apart from one or two exhibition, there are no more exhibitions to join.
Right from the beginning we understood that we can’t trouble customers and we can’t put anybody at the risk so we choose the preferred form of communication like zoom training, meetings and webinars. We have executed a lot of trainings, webinars, live demonstrations successfully for our partners, dealers, agents.
We will do few in-houses in our subsidiaries around the world for our customers to check out our latest innovations. There will also be some open days for our partners and dealers. That’s the only solution we have at the moment, apart from being online, doing some live demonstrations and trainings.