German hospitality and hotel industry supplier LUSINI Group has grown quickly since it was founded 36 years ago. We caught up with CEO Boris Steinhagen and Managing Director Croatia Velimir Smetko to talk about the challenge of sustaining success.
In 1987, a seventeen-year-old entrepreneur called Erwin Müller started a mail-order hotel linen business in the Bavarian town of Donauwörth. There was little to suggest at the time that this was the start of something big.
Roll forward three and a half decades, and the LUSINI Group (formerly Erwin Müller Group) has 650 employees operating out of thirteen locations worldwide. The company has become a ‘one-stop shop’ for anybody operating in the hospitality sector, with four of their own well-known product brands (Vega, Jobeline, Erwin M. and Pulsiva) and numerous partner brands, offering a wide product range of more than 40.000 products including everything from kitchen equipment and appliances to tableware, glassware and linens. Boasting a proven sales and marketing concept, state-of-the-art logistics and IT, top-of-the-range products and worldwide procurement, what might have appeared originally as a small-scale niche enterprise has truly blossomed.
Joining a winning team
Current CEO Boris Steinhagen joined the company in 2012, working for LUSINI’s product brand Pulsiva. Various other roles ensued before he took up his current position in 2020.
“For me, this was really a fantastic opportunity,” he says with a smile. “If you asked me when I was younger what I wanted to be, the CEO of a company like this was always my dream. So although it was the next logical step after being managing director, it was also a great honour for me.”
Current MD Velimir Smetko, by contrast, only joined LUSINI to set-up a new LUSINI subsidiary in Croatia in December 2022 following a succession of executive roles in his native Croatia.
“Most of my career has been in marketing and sales,” Mr Smetko explains. “Over the last few years, I worked more and more within tourism and the hospitality industries. I began to deal with LUSINI as a customer, but as we spoke more and more, I could see that there was so much potential to bring LUSINI into the Croatian market, so that is what led to me taking up my current position.”
Much of Mr Steinhagen’s early work focused on the growth of the Pulsiva brand and being responsible for the purchases for all LUSINI brands. His impact was demonstrated immediately. Not only that Pulsiva’s annual profits increased four-fold, but he was also responsible for the international expansion of LUSINI. Of course, this process also brought challenges.
“We had to do some reorganisation,” Mr Steinhagen confirms. “We had developed a new sales team all over Europe, along with a new purchasing offices in Delhi. Then the COVID pandemic really hit us hard, as it did with everybody in our sector. It’s a good thing that is over now, and we are back.”
Perhaps the company’s biggest move in the last few years has been to launch the new umbrella brand, LUSINI, as a home for its four product brands, Vega, Jobeline, Erwin M. and Pulsiva, in 2021, accompanied by a new one-stop online shop for its four own brands. Prior to that, there were four different online shops, one for each brand.
Back on track
With COVID-19 and its associated lockdowns now firmly in the rearview mirror, LUSINI, like the rest of the hospitality sector, is able to focus on the road ahead. Following more than thirty years of impressive growth, it is incumbent on current board members to maintain the upward trajectory.
“I am so excited to be introducing the company to new territories.”
“When we look at the present position, in 2023, there are two things we focus on,” Mr Steinhagen says. “One thing is that we have just launched our marketplace, and the other is that we are launching our premium business targeted at four- and five-star hotels. With that will come a new sales approach and new product ranges, especially in textiles and furniture. We also will establish new services, such as assembly services and room-by-room delivery with interior consulting. Tied in with all of this, of course, is our market entry into new countries, such as Portugal and Croatia.”
“Yes, it is really important that we will have other brands on board as we internationalise,” Mr Smetko agrees. “In Croatia right now, there has been a tremendous rise in investment in tourism. It’s becoming more and more popular in Europe and around the world and has recovered from the pandemic really quickly. It’s really a great time to bring this business to Croatia. We will start the commercial side and begin selling in May and are anticipating a very brisk period of trading there.”
Such a confident outlook for the immediate future is enabled to some degree by LUSINI’s history. The company’s presence in the sector over the last 36 years provides a sense of stability and means that its services and products are well-known. In contrast to many competitors, LUSINI’s advantage comes also from owning the products that they sell. Many similar companies act as warehousers, stocking and distributing products made by others. This means that the LUSINI Group is able to offer direct guarantees regarding functionality, durability and restocking potential. It can also personalise products according to customers’ wishes.
“These were all things I noticed immediately,” Mr Smetko confirms. “As someone who has come to the company relatively recently, it is perhaps easier for me to identify what makes LUSINI unique. They make LUSINI a trusted partner for anyone in the sector, which is why I am so excited to be introducing the company to new territories.”
Putting people first
Central to all this success is something else which should not be understated—people. The values outlined on the company website state that ‘openness and team spirit ensure that life and work at the company are enjoyable.’ This is something else Mr Smetko is keen to emphasise.
“I really see the team spirit in the company and see how everyone is working together. The employees are so highly motivated. In the few months I have been here, I have spoken to lots of people. Some of them have been with us for thirty years. This says a lot about the company, how it takes care of its people. Employees tell me how much they love their job, and that is special.”
This rounded outlook, married to an expansive and forward-thinking approach, appears to place LUSINI in a very strong position. The company intends to continue its longstanding progress in the post-COVID era, while Mr Steinhagen is proud of both past achievements and the journey ahead.
“We want to bring to our customers an unforgettable guest experience,” he says. “We want to be 100 percent human-oriented; we focus on customers and employees as people, and we want everyone in the industry to know that if they are with us, they have the right partner by their side.”