How construction suppliers digitize in the corona crisis

Munich Touch and try: the construction suppliers have always presented their customers with new products on site. Because of the corona pandemic, this is hardly possible at the moment. “Sales can no longer visit customers in person as often as they used to. It has therefore become a great challenge to present the innovations, ”says Stephan Schusser from the Keylens management consultancy.

In the past few months, manufacturers have had to adapt faster than ever before. The virus forced them to switch to virtual communication almost overnight. The problem with this: Your customers spend their time on the construction site and are anything but digital pioneers. This forces the construction suppliers to get creative.

Like Klaus Brammertz. “We send the craftsmen samples from the new collection,” says the head of the Swiss parquet manufacturer Bauwerk. The management presents the innovations live on the Internet. And that for all large markets in the national language, sometimes even regionally. “We expect around 500 specialist floor layers for Germany,” explains Brammertz.

On this Wednesday, the “Construction” trade fair starts in Munich in a purely virtual form. Brammertz used to meet its customers here. The entrepreneur is now placing great hopes in the online demonstrations: “We are assuming that we will reach more people than at the trade fair – and that in a short time.”

Corona has forced the leap into the online world. There was no other way than to invest in digital offers. A feat of strength that could benefit the companies for years to come. Half of the companies believe that digital forms of sales will make their field service more efficient in the medium term and work more cost-effectively. This was the result of an online survey by management consultancy Dr. Wieselhuber & Partner.

All industries have to change because of the pandemic. The construction suppliers, however, have a decisive advantage over other industries: business was good even in the crisis year 2020. “In the summer we were absolutely at the limit and produced consistently in three shifts and even on weekends,” explains Marc Köppe, head of the construction chemicals company PCI.

In order to reach the processors despite the contact restrictions, Köppe had training videos made. He offers chats, if you like, samples will be sent to you. It pays off: PCI performed better in 2020 than in the previous year, explains Köppe.

Full order books despite Corona

The heating specialist Vaillant also reported full order books: “Business was already at a high level before then,” says Tillmann von Schroeter, head of Vaillant Deutschland GmbH. But in 2020 things went even better. Thanks to the federal government’s climate package, environmentally friendly heating technology is in great demand.

Homeowners find out more about this on the Internet. Vaillant’s digital offerings are aimed at both consumers and heating engineers. “It was important for us to digitally map the complex decision-making process of the customers,” says the manager. “With little data, buyers can calculate the environmental impact and the costs themselves. Then we support the craftsmen in the detailed planning. ”

Such support is in demand among the processing companies, according to the consulting company S&B Strategy: “If you want to be future-proof as a manufacturer or retailer, you have to support your users effectively in becoming more efficient and faster.” In autumn, the Munich-based company had 300 customers from construction questioned. Two thirds would like more help from manufacturers.

For producers, however, it is not so easy at all to sensibly help their customers remotely. “We spend around two thirds of our time in sales looking after the processors,” explains PCI boss Köppe. This is where PCI should find out what exactly the customers want.

construction site

Construction sites are one of the few places where construction suppliers have unhindered access to processors.


(Photo: dpa)

But that’s not always the case. Because PCI only sells its grout and tile adhesive through specialist dealers. Therefore, the group does not know “what our processing customers really buy”, says Köppe. In the future it will be important to get a deeper insight into what is actually in demand. So ultimately it’s about data.

Bauwerk has it a little easier. Because consumers who are interested in a new floor usually start searching on the Internet themselves. On the homepage, the company from St. Margrethen on Lake Constance offers to request offers from up to five craftsmen. “We have accelerated such online offers extremely”, says company boss Brammertz.

Form a “community” from craftsmen

In a pandemic, however, things cannot go completely without personal contact. Some visits to the customers take place in the fresh air. “It remains important for our customers that we can also provide on-site support on the construction site, for example,” says PCI boss Köppe.

The manufacturers do not want to do without showrooms either. “Up to a certain point everything can be shown virtually. But ultimately the craftsmen want to touch the products, ”says Schroeter’s Vaillant manager. The company runs training centers where processors can familiarize themselves with the latest technology. At the same time, Vaillant is increasingly offering webinars, i.e. seminars on the Internet.

Like consumer goods manufacturers, construction suppliers are also trying to turn their customers – i.e. processors – into fans with digital means. “It’s about building a community,” says von Schroeter. It’s not easy, Corona or not. “The construction industry is rather conservative,” says PCI boss Köppe.

There is also a lack of great economic pressure to drive change even further. Keylens boss Schusser expects the upward trend in the industry to continue in the new year. The consultant has just had extensive discussions with 20 top managers for a study. His conclusion: the majority is expecting an increase in sales of around five percent.

More: This is how retailers are preparing for lockdown

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