Understanding mail-order as a precision craft
BY SANDY STRASSER
Delighting people with what you do is often precisely the factor that decides one’s degree of success in the catering industry, the food retail sector and the hotel and restaurant trade, among others. In addition to personal commitment, high-quality, visually-attractive presentation is also what counts here – along with the special equipment required for this. So it is important to have the right business partner at your side. Under the umbrella of Hubert® Europa Service GmbH with its sales and distribution units, the company is a B2B manufacturer and wholesaler and is today the market leader in its segment in many countries. Today, the company belongs to the German Takkt Group in Stuttgart, part of the Haniel conglomerate, and has its European headquarters in the Hesse town of Pfungstadt. However, this success story initially began as something quite unprepossessing.
Hubert® was founded by George Hubert Sr in Cincinnati, Ohio, shortly after the Second World War. At the time, the city was developing into a major meat-processing centre. George decided to create a company that would supply meat-processing facilities with everything they might need for their businesses, and the basis for this was personal customer care. He started conducting sales pitches via telephone, supplying his customers personally from the boot of his car. The concept worked – and the company grew.
Just like baker’s shops and greengrocers, classical butcher’s shops were increasingly being integrated into surrounding supermarkets at the end of the 1960s – the age of the Walton family (Wal-Mart) had arrived. On his rounds, George was now faced with a different customer base: the purchasing staff of major corporations, who had their own specific requirements. He adapted to this change and reinvented himself and his company by expanding his product range’s offerings. By the 1990s, Hubert® had already developed into a multichannel business model, selling products for manufacturing and processing food as well as products for so-called food merchandising, using catalogues, the telephone and its field sales service.
In 2000, the Hubert family withdrew from the firm and sold the company to Takkt AG, whose business is based on taking over successful mail-order companies focused on operating and business equipment and furnishings in Europe and North America and rolling them out globally. This kicked-off five years later when a Hubert® sales and distribution office was opened in Toronto, Canada. In 2008, this was followed by the setting up of an office and sales and distribution centre in Pfungstadt, Germany. Operations in Paris and Zug, Switzerland, were established a year later. In this way, the initially small family-run business developed into a multinational corporation over just a few decades.
However, decisive for the success has always been the company’s value added chain, which unites such topics as availability, order fulfilment, procurement, creativity and multichannel marketing. Hubert® offers so-called “best-in-class food merchandising”. This term is the brand core of the company and characterised by Hubert® in North America and Europe. Summarising, it is – on the one hand – about the professional presentation of food at the point-of-sale. On the other hand, this philosophy ensures that the company provides optimum processes and consistent quality during preparation. And both in the past and today, we are all continually searching for the greatest-possible efficiency – regardless of the sector in which we work. And the resulting savings have always been passed onto customers in the form of competitive product and service prices.
To be able to continue doing this in the future, the company has been deploying the expertise of apollon’s Online Media Net suite for its online activities for some time now. Since September 2015, Martin Hepp has been Managing Director of Hubert® Europe and has been responsible for the joint project – with the publication of the first completely self-produced main catalogue – since the beginning of the year.
Mr. Hepp, what world are we delving into when entering your website?
Honestly, currently something of a construction site. Because you will today find our Web shop still in its old, barely-responsive and visually “traditional” form. We have been working flat-out on the relaunch for several weeks now and will be presenting our new platform in the autumn. With their feedback, our customers have been involved in the planning and conception of the new website from the very outset. We listen to them very carefully and feed the results into the current development. Without giving too much away, I would like to say that my colleagues and all our suppliers – such as apollon – are all doing a fantastic job. In the future, customers will find themselves immersed in a very authentic world, one that will not be contrived, but a facsimile of the “working environment”, so to speak. We will assume the position of the host, with this style of consultation being unique within the market. Here, usability and responsive design will, needless to say, play decisive roles.
How important is a successful customer experience to you? How do you concretely ensure this?
No experience, no conversion. In the tidal wave of today’s offerings, fast, focussed decision-making with simultaneously highly relevant contents is decisive, also in the B2B sector. In the future, we will be providing the content through so-called customer education and, above all, directly through the articles themselves. The aim is to successively and more intensively communicate our knowledge externally – through success stories, use cases and testimonials, for example. So that means not just collecting data with features and functions, but creating real values with learning effects in the category. In an ideal world, this information has to be available in real time across all channels. This is what true customer experience is about. And this requires a simple but highly-automated structure.
What “time-to-market” strategy are you pursuing?
The vast majority of business customers have decided to purchase even prior to initial contact. For this reason, it is extremely important to provide potential customers with the right information in advance, while almost simultaneously supplying them with the product development. This is the direction in which we are developing. And this is precisely what I mean by faster. It is not a case of big fish eating little ones, it’s more the faster ones eating the slow. Add to this disruptive business models from sectors that we have not traditionally focused on – Uber, for example. Those failing to remain agile will no longer be players tomorrow.
What corresponding scope of demand do you have with regards to PIM or MAM systems?
Even today, our assortment comprises in excess of 145,000 articles, predominantly stored in warehouses in the USA and Europe. In Europe, we currently stock around 8,000 articles. It must be possible to professionally manage and refine all these stockkeeping units. You can just imagine how huge the demand for performance with simultaneously simple handling is for the user. These kinds of systems must also be easy to integrate into any environment internally and externally, for example a translation agency. For me, clearly a piece of strategic software that – adjusted for the target group – is able to achieve considerably more in less time, while simultaneously requiring few staff.
What characterises an, in terms of content, good and efficient solution?
The market for PIM systems is broad, with most players initially appearing on paper to provide virtually identical services. Here, the vendor’s consultation plays a decisive role. Does the vendor understand what is driving me and my company? The software should be modular and scalable and has to suit the size of the company. Big enterprise solutions do not always make sense and it must be possible to master and support the solution in day-to-day operations. Ultimately, the actual user must be able to navigate swiftly and easily in day-to-day business to be effective and efficient. That all the required standard functions have to exist already without the need for intensive customisation goes without saying.
How do you proceed when deciding on a suitable software partner?
If the above-mentioned basics are right, I personally often start with current benchmark studies and take a closer look at the market leaders and the challengers. Together with the department manager, a request for information is developed. This helps provide structure and limit the framework for the project. With regards to the total cost of ownership, we look at the licence and maintenance models, and the background and creditworthiness of the company, needless to say. This is of course rounded off with a roadmap and open discussion of pending developments and manufacturers’ release changes. At Hubert®, we strive towards long-term partnerships in all areas and – if we take this literally – very few integrative stand-alone solutions and people talking hot air are a fit for us.
In addition to expertise, what basis of trust is necessary to ensure both partners are moving in the same direction?
It is a well-known fact that man is one of the most important factors. Who comes from sales and distribution and consulting, wanting to sell me an expensive piece of software? To put it in a nutshell: are you on the same sheet with regards to the venture? This factor is decisive for the implementation of such a powerful system. Here, nothing works without trust and integrity.
Why did the full apollon package convince you?
Well, if you summarise everything I have said so far, you will quickly end up with the Pforzheim-based professionals if you are operating in the DACH region (Germany, Austria and Switzerland). apollon simply excels with its extremely high concept skills and its broad expertise in our sector. Add to this, they are “the right people in the right place” – it was simply a perfect fit.
apollon GmbH & Co. KG offers integrated and holistic solutions for product data management, cross-media publishing, omni-channel commerce and online marketing requirements.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q3 2016.