Retail

KAISER + KRAFT MD (Germany) Carlos Czerwinski

Founded in 1945 in Stuttgart, KAISER+KRAFT steadily established itself as an international service for business supplies, and steadily expanded its continental reach throughout the post-war era. By 2016, its operations spanned 16 countries in Europe, as well as Japan and China – in 2021, this figure rose to 20 countries. Today, KAISER+KRAFT is a highly respected omnichannel retailer for business, warehouse, and office equipment in the B2B sector, providing everything from office chairs to forklift trucks.

For the most part, this rapid growth was achieved by utilising a catalogue system; a physical paper catalogue was produced, printed, and mailed out to customers, who could then phone-in orders. However, by 2020, this approach was struggling to keep pace with the demands of modern consumers, so KAISER+KRAFT adapted and innovated.

Enter Carlos Czerwinski in July 2020 in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. As managing director for the German market, Carlos’ initial remit was to revolutionise the company and implement a new digitally-oriented approach. This needed to happen just as all sectors of the global economy started stalled under lockdown – brick-and-mortar outlets were being forced to close their doors. It was an incredibly difficult period for all forms of trade.

“KAISER+KRAFT had to change,” Carlos explains. “This suited me because I like change and I like these sorts of challenging projects.”

Over the last 12 months, the MD implemented various operational shifts, the most prominent of which is a new companywide IT system. Carlos says these changes have happened smoothly, largely thanks to KAISER+KRAFT’s German HQ, while the transition has been welcomed by employees.

I like change – I like challenging projects

“For me, this has been the most important thing,” he says. “Success comes from the people and I am really proud that they’ve managed this project so well. The spirit of the team is excellent.”

The management team oversaw a rebranding of the company’s print and promotional materials, changing the slogan “Everything for the company” to the more forward looking “Equipped for tomorrow.” This future facing outlook proved fundamental for KAISER+KRAFT’s stabilisation during the pandemic and has had a positive influence on all parts of the business.

Another important move was to opening up and utilising alternative sales channels. The era of the catalogue as a standalone instrument had clearly passed; Carlos knew that future growth – in a digital world – depended on this. KAISER+KRAFT’s marketing team boosted its print and digital presence for its online shop, which is primarily aimed at smaller to medium-sized customers, ranging from people working from home to companies with a handful of employees. In particular, the first of these categories saw a huge spike in interest because of the pandemic, enabling the company to weather the storm. But with the future in mind, it was also crucial to re-think the ways in which KAISER+KRAFT could cater to its larger customers.

“The international accounts are very important to us, and this was a key focus for me,” Carlos explains. “The number of employees handling these larger accounts was doubled, with a particular emphasis on e-commerce. Our new e-procurement systems streamlined the buying process, enabling a more efficient acquisition procedure. I also implemented a new project team called ‘Team Pro.’” This means that KAISER+KRAFT now offers a new service to large customers in Germany undertaking a major development.

Carlos: “If someone is building a new warehouse for example, we engage in dialogue with them, then help the customer to fill it with everything they need to make it functional.”

This approach has enabled KAISER+KRAFT to move on from being simply a supplier to more like a partner to some of its larger clients, adopting a solution-focused approach to its customer’s needs. The idea is for KAISER+KRAFT to manage the demands of new build or expanded facilities, freeing up customers to continue running their businesses. In keeping with the demands of modernity and the changes wrought by COVID, the discussions necessary to drive such projects can be held on web platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams; Carlos believes it’s imperative to retain as much “face-to-face” contact as possible. “When it comes to project business, when you are fitting shelves for a warehouse, for example, then you have to be there. You have to look, you have to watch, you have to see the environment that the customer wants to create.”

The company also takes this relationship-oriented outlook into dealings with its own suppliers.

Success comes from the people and I am really proud that they’ve managed this project so well

“It is always a partnership,” Carlos says. “They are not the supplier and we are the customer. We do not look at it like that. There are some situations like the banking crisis of 2008 or the current coronavirus crisis, when it is very important to have excellent relationships, to show flexibility so we can all support each other.”

KAISER+KRAFT has around 50% of catalogued items stored in its warehouses, the rest is sent to customers directly from suppliers. This, to some degree, cuts out the middleman, reduces storage costs, and makes for a more efficient delivery process.

Such an arrangement clearly involves a high level of trust. KAISER+KRAFT does not have a system of external quality control and so relies upon suppliers to deliver quality goods to customers on time.

“This can only work through stability,” the MD confirms. “We have used the same suppliers for years and these longstanding relationships enable us to work like this.”

Perhaps the most important strand of KAISER+KRAFT’s focus on the future relates to the way it regulates its environmental impact. It has been carbon neutral since 2018 and this, Carlos says, is a “big USP.” The majority of KAISER+KRAFT’s suppliers are EcoVadis certified, meaning customers can be assured of the low carbon footprint of each and every product. Even the fleet of company cars are low emission, electric models.

We have used the same suppliers for years and these longstanding relationships enable us to be successful

“This is so important for us,” he explains. “Most of our biggest customers want this now, but more than that, it’s not just a USP – when you look at our major shareholders, sustainability is very important to them.  Our company created the term ‘enkelfaehig’ for this, which means preserving value for future generations, being ethical. We are acting on this every day and in everything we do. It is what we are all about.”

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