COVID-19 hit Australia and the World hard. But what is the feeling of industry suppliers about the recovery? Are they optimistic or are they concerned? We asked a number of suppliers of machinery, software, and hardware both here and overseas to comment and generally; the feeling is one of optimism.
When it became evident that the Coronavirus would become a major health issue that would affect manufacturing, most suppliers acted promptly and with a total commitment to their employee’s and customer’s safety. Many companies set up management committees that followed the restrictions being imposed in their own countries and the Countries to which they were exporting. Video conferencing; working from home (WFH); smart and safe working practices and remote technical support all became important tools to ensure their customers’ needs were met.
But behind all of this was some despair, especially in Italy where most of our imported machinery and equipment is made, and where the virus hit hardest. Many people known to customers in Australia died, and tears shed by many of the people who have shared their thoughts for this story. However, for others the impact was far less severe, especially here in Australia and New Zealand. We’ve put together many of the comments from international and local suppliers who told us what they did during the crisis and what their view of the future is. We hope you find it compelling reading.
Chris Adams, owner of 3D Kitchen, reflects, “From the onset of COVID-19, we at 3D Kitchen assumed there would be a significant slowdown within the general cabinet-making industry, and this would have a negative effect on our own business. As it transpired this was far less than anticipated. We have continued with the same level of contact from our existing customers, providing remote support and online training as before. We had a small drop in sales in the Australian market, but this is beginning to pick up again.”
“The view of the future is definitely moving to a more positive one. It is sure the COVID-19 threat had a huge negative effect on the world economy, and this will be felt for several years. But we are also sure that as the restrictions placed on business are gradually removed, we will return to a more normal state and an increasing confidence leading to future customer investment. One way 3D Kitchen aims to help cabinetmakers in Australia is to continue to offer our software as a give-away in Supplier magazine. We know this has been a great boost to many and we are committed to keep this going.”
Vit Kafka, is working in Germany this year but said in regard to COVID-19, “At Altendorf we all got to know ‘Zoom’ and ‘Teams’ very well during these challenging times. We have done a lot of demonstrations on-line to the point where customers send us their material for us to edge and produce a sample. That has been successful. We have also taken the chance to do a lot of on-line training for our customers, dealers, internally and with our subsidiaries. In late May we were working on the concept of the Altendorf Virtual Tour.”
“Our service and spare parts have been uninterrupted 24/7. In Germany, the manufacturing is continuously running in both the Altendorf and Hebrock plants. I have been always a firm believer that every downside has an upside and there is no difference with COVID-19. We have learned something, and we have implemented new ways. We are realistic that there is a long way to go but we are prepared. In Australia, the footy season is on the way back and things are looking up.”
Federico Broccoli is Biesse Group Wood Division Director. He said, “Today we are rediscovering an unusual closeness based on technology that leads us to place greater value on connections and relationships. Sure, there will be repercussions for everyone, but I am convinced that after this time, there will be a recovery. We must work to be ready to take the opportunities that arise. We must take advantage of this accelerated cultural change that was already underway. The factory evolves, the processes become more streamlined and automated and Biesse Group focuses on activities with greater added value. We will be even closer to our customers, able to accompany them in this important cultural leap, cantered on the digitalization and automation of production processes. Together we will do it”.
Biesse Group Australia focused on remote, online demonstrations and live software training. Positions were filled fast, and additional classes were needed, such was the popularity of these events. Webinars were arranged by brand sales managers and focused on different topics and shared useful and educational information. Biesse Group’s online tech talks included topics with financial advisers on finance and the government incentives as well as the new SME credit environment. Other topics from Brand Sales Managers included tips to better perform technologies and the current covid-19 situation.
Jonathan Height, Joint Managing Director of CDK Stone said, “When the COVID-19 situation arose, CDK Stone responded quickly and put in a range of measures that ensured the safety of our clients and staff. As a business, we investigated ways to work remotely and leverage technology in our communication with clients. During these times, we have ensured that our high level of customer service and support has not changed. We have taken steps to keep vital areas of our business open whilst remaining safe and contactless.”
“We have seen a lot of interest in stone and its application. We believe this will flow on to support our clients and the wider industry. Growing with the processes we have already put in place, CDK Stone is developing more areas of the business to better accommodate our clients and raise our level of customer service even higher. As we develop a deeper understanding of how to better service our clients, we have shared this with our customers to support the wider industry. Looking to the future, we have already seen clients looking to invest in automation technology and machinery plant equipment to leverage the opportunity in the booming renovation market and to support their business when economic conditions improve.”
Walter Crescenzi is Managing director, HOMAG ITALIA. He said, “Although this emergency was unpredictable, our reaction was so quick that even our super-organized German producers were amazed. While it is clear that personal relations with people cannot be replaced by a video conference, the events we experienced gave a boost to digital interactions, accelerating a transition that was going to happen anyway. I consider video calls especially useful, we save a lot on travel and hotel expenses, but limited to non-critical meetings. Preliminary contacts and finalization meetings will still have to be in person. My inborn optimism makes me believe, once again, Italians will get out of this crisis even stronger than before, leveraging our ability to make the best out of impossible situations.”
In Australia Director Ross Campbell sent Homag salespeople home on 16th March. Admin, spare parts, and service continued as normal but with workplace distancing, disinfecting, and sanitizing both at the office and with customers. The sales team has been communicating digitally by phone, email, ‘Skype’ and ‘Zoom’. Ross said, “This work has continued, and it’s been really cool to participate, to learn and watch how everyone responded and embraced digital communications. I think everyone has found that when effectively used, these tools can be just as useful, it is definitely more efficient on everyone’s time. I see the future with a fair degree of caution but not without some optimism either. From the point of view of workplace practices, I think COVID-19 has driven change, some of which I hope will become entrenched.”
Leda Machinery’s Peter Schilling reports, “March 16th Leda Machinery implemented Phase one of our COVID-19 Strategy. In preparation for a downturn in business we acted to immediately cease non necessary spending and reduce expenses, basically going into ‘survival’ mode. We developed a COVID-19 policy to protect our employees and customers; limiting contact for technicians working on site and had some of our people working from home. The phones stopped ringing and customer confidence was down with the uncertainty of what was ahead.”
“However, after only a week customer confidence was coming back and the phones were ringing again. Two months later by mid-May we were back in full swing. After a slight delay with shipments from suppliers we took delivery of 11 containers in May and have a further 15 containers on order. With so many businesses and industries affected by COVID-19 we are thankful that the impact to us has been relatively low and are extremely optimistic for the future.”
Stephen Heusz said, “We have been operating more-or-less as normal during the crisis. We worked with our customers to ensure we followed all directives in relation to hygiene and personal distancing and yet maintain the level of support our customers required. Because the majority of our customers were able to remain in operation, the backup and support we provided was seen as an essential service. In some cases, our service people attended the customer at specific times to ensure that no persons were placed at risk.”
“Being wholly Australian owned, and our machinery manufactured in Australia, we saw no impact on our production or customer support. Owners of Multicam machinery had un-interrupted access to all service and spare part items. This also meant customers were able to take immediate advantage of government incentives to upgrade plant and equipment, putting them on the front foot as the recovery begins. There is no doubt that recovery will take time, however we are optimistic that many businesses will emerge stronger, with a more diverse range of capabilities. Many have already adapted and taken advantage of new opportunities during the pandemic.”
Planit Cutting Edge Solutions
Blake Cugley said, “We have been assisting customers’ transition to working from home through short term licence arrangements as well as ensuring our Tech Support team were available to assist customers who needed assistance moving their software to a new computer in order to take work home. Planit has been able to transition all our face-to-face events online, as well as all integrations moved online to ensure customers continue to move forward.”
“It has been exciting to hear customers mention new enquiries coming through, aided by software such as Vortek Spaces, allowing them to sell online. Some of their customers have moving their spending from travel to renovation and updating their kitchens. Our industry needs to be commended in both the way they supported the community, but also the way they approached working onsite. The fact that many projects have been installed during this period is testament to how our industry adapted and applied the requirements in order to continue working. The way businesses have diversified and adapted will assist in our industry moving forward as restrictions are raised.”
Luigi De Vito is SCM Division Director (Italy). He comments, “The social-economic impact of this pandemic is proving to be deep at world level, with repercussions which could prove similar or worse than those previously experienced during the 2008 financial crisis. The biggest change we have seen is how we work and interact with our business partners, dealers, and subsidiaries around the world. In an international context which has seen key industry events cancelled or postponed until possibly mid next year, we are discovering and taking advantage other ways of doing business. These include conference calls, practical demonstration, and on-line courses about our technologies with businesses of all levels, including artisans. With the ‘Maestro connect’ platform we provide instant access to a vast range of services which allow wood industry operators to be assisted by the Scm team even ‘virtually’ in order to maximise all the service and maintenance activities.
We all need to look at this crisis situation as an accelerator for change, rethink our working practices, improve our production sites, and make them safer, healthier, and more comfortable. Many of our customers stopped production but not their creativity. They are making the most of this period to develop and implement new production strategies, new business opportunities, new smart working methods and communication with customers and suppliers which perhaps, in the past, they would have been unlikely to have given any thought.”
WOODSHOW (Dubai, Uae)
Rahul Ranka is assistant project manager WOODSHOW (Dubai). He said, “Undeniably this global pandemic has affected the majority, if not all, of businesses and industries all over the world. However, we are optimistic that such negative impacts are only short-term. For the most part, it changed how businesses operated. Many operated remotely and relied on digital technology to enable communication and collaboration. As an individual, I believe it also changed people’s perspectives on life and its vulnerability. There are different possibilities and changes that can happen in the future depending on how the society and countries exit this crisis and its repercussions. Preparation is the main key to survive the ‘post COVID-19 world’. Businesses must be equipped to manage potential setbacks and threats. Hopefully, companies will take advantage of this predicament to build strength and a more solid management, and for people to foster better relationships and a more meaningful lifestyle”.
Anastasia Parlamentas said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly presented some unique challenges to Nikpol. Normal face to face interactions have changed, these changes look like they will endure long into the future. The safety of our staff and customers had to become the key objective. This meant a change in the way we used modern technology, to engage the market and to display and explain the solutions of our products safely. Social distancing rules have meant that normal practices had to be evolved and refined. The future is unclear, hopefully the worst is behind us.”
Andrea Volpato is President, Fravol (Vigonza, Padua). He said, “Everything will change. And changing everything is the only way to say that we have learned the lesson of this emergency. Think about continental and intercontinental journeys, we will need to increase safety measures… I believe this situation will have not only a strong economic impact as everyone fears, but also massive psychological consequences. People will be afraid to go ‘back to normal’. To go to a football match, travel in crowded transportation, walk around in shopping malls packed with people. The quarantine improved the situation, but we must wait for a vaccine to be safer.”
Andrea Bucciarelli is director Furniture systems REHAU (Edge Banding tapes) ITALIA. He said, “A great uncertainty characterizes the days we are living in and unfortunately, even the post-Coronavirus scenarios are unpredictable and unknown. Before jumping to hasty conclusions, it will be necessary to see how the Italian system reacts. After all, national industries have a relevant export share, so we also depend on the epidemic progression in other countries. Extraordinary and incisive measures are necessary to face an unprecedented liquidity crisis and to support our sector, which represents an essential supply chain for the economic and social stability of Italy”.
Fabrizio Azzimonti is owner, Ormamacchine (Bergamo, Italy). He says, “I could never imagine I would have talked about, and even less experienced, a situation that can only be described with one word: apocalypse. The damage to the economy and image of our companies will be devastating, in the short term because we cannot fulfill the existing orders, and in the long term because there will be no new orders. This crisis is much worse than September 11. As to my own company, we have realized that we must increase our digital transformation efforts and support marketing, communications, service, e-commerce, and smart working practices. We are Italians, from Bergamo, and we are businesspeople, so we never give up. In our region, so many people have died that I cannot even remember how many messages of condolence I have sent, but I am sure we will make it!”
Stefano Mauri is Co-owner, GIARDINA GROUP, specialising in automated spray lines and with equipment in Australia. Stefano said, “Most of all, we have learned that emergency management, for any type of emergency, should be one of the top skills in any company. The costs of this ‘crisis’, if you want to call it that, must be borne by everyone: governments, which will have to do their best to support citizens and businesses; companies, that will pay a price, they must dare to invest and look ahead. And there will also be costs for individuals, people, families. I wish we can develop new capacities to understand, share, act like a community.”
Franco Tanzini is Co-owner VITAP (Poggibonsi, Siena). He said, “At first I was thinking about me being an animal in a cage, the paternal relationship with the company interrupted, and all sorts of thoughts like these. In reality it was like a ceasefire in what is a perennial battle of protecting the company, finding new markets, making new products and all the subjects that daily are on your desk. Everybody had to stop and stay in a time suspended in the clouds. From a very personal point of view living in the countryside with all my family around has helped me enormously and I have been focused on the family much more.”
Katarina Partic said, “The Weinig Group (Australia) sales team was grounded at home but worked diligently over the phone and video conferencing calls. Weinig used the downtime to develop staff with further training (online/video) with our German product managers. The service team continued visiting customers for breakdowns, training and installs, however the customer did need to sign off that they are a safe workplace, in line with COVID safety guidelines (e.g. no one on site is sick, travelled overseas etc). During this time, we developed new OH&S guidelines to incorporate increased hygiene measures and we will continue to do this for as long as necessary. As far as we are concerned, it was business as usual and we all continued working 5 days a week to be there when needed.”
We are incredibly lucky to be living in Australia or New Zealand and while there is some dissent over the measures taken to keep us safe, both governments have done a great job. In times of crisis, creativity will flourish, and the coronavirus pandemic will unleash a new era of innovation. The comments from our suppliers have reinforced the recent industry direction of digitalisation and in many ways, we were already prepared for what most believe must happen for our industry to prosper. Those that can learn and adapt will survive to take advantage of better times in the future. Survival will make way for more profitable times for both manufacturers and workers as circumstances improve.
Story by Philip Ashley