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Opinion: Agility and humanity, and high turnover in its online shop – how Kahla tackled Covid-19

From imposing two-meter social distancing measures to using Microsoft Teams for meetings, Kahla’s MD Holger Raithel tells Tableware International how the company has responded to Covid-19

“We are very happy and thankful that our region in Germany is not as affected by corona infections as other areas.

Luckily, KAHLA has not yet counted a single case among employees or their families. In an early stage of the spread of the virus in Europe, our HR department gave safety instructions to our employees and home office regulations to our leaders for their teams.

Whenever shifts change, we stop the machines for 30 minutes and make sure the presence of workers in changing rooms and showers does not overlap. The safety distance our government asks for is 1.5 meters. We increased the distance to a minimum of two meters. Our offices and our porcelain factory offer a lot of space, so we did not face any problems here. Of course, we had to remind co-workers to also keep that distance during their lunch and coffee breaks.

Most of our workplaces offer sinks with running water, even some offices, or are very close to washrooms and kitchens. Therefore, maintaining good hygiene is probably easier for us than for other companies.

We shared FAQ lists on coronavirus and sent home people who belong to risk groups, shared their households with risk groups and who need to take care of their children due to closed kindergartens and schools. Our meetings with suppliers were replaced by telephone conferences and lately by video conferences via Microsoft Teams.

“Surprisingly, we received requests from importers who experienced problems with getting goods from China and considered buying German tableware instead. On this base, we still produce and ship porcelain, using 100 per cent of our capacities. But we cannot foresee the future. We calculate every day if the existing order backlog is enough to keep running at full power.”

I am very proud to see that my employees seem to cope well with the new work-life blending and have embraced the flexibility we are offering them. The team spirit is stronger and the tolerance towards unplanned situations, such as interruptions of phone calls by children or changes in schedules, is higher than ever. It seems that our project management and our communication have gained agility and even more humanity.

While department stores, furniture stores, shops and restaurants started to refuse deliveries after the official closure, our online sales truly exploded. Last week, week two of the overall lockdown in Germany, we counted the highest turnover in our online shop www.kahla-porzellanshop.de since the beginning of this year. We moved our annual, regional Easter market from our factory outlet in Kahla to our online shop and invited consumers to the first virtual market. They could find attractive offers for tableware, gifts and design objects. We counted 12.000 visitors – many more than our classic market.

While the gastronomy and the classic retail channels sleep, we still receive orders for customized promotional gifts by companies of other industries. It shows that my father was very wise to establish several business departments, four strong pillars of the company. KAHLA offers patented technologies to individualize porcelain from a single piece – lot size one – to a million pieces. Another USP that we had invested in, a long time before corona. Some of our distributors and importers show a high solidarity and place extra orders to support the factory during this uncertain time.

Surprisingly, we received requests from importers who experienced problems with getting goods from China and considered buying German tableware instead. On this basis, we still produce and ship porcelain, using 100 per cent of our capacities. But we cannot foresee the future. We calculate every day if the existing order backlog is enough to keep running at full power.
I believe that many of our classic retail partners will suffer from the lockdown until the end of the year. I am an optimist, but without an online business it will be hard to totally regenerate the lost turnover of four, six or even more weeks. We will all need to adjust our planning and use our creativity. Isn’t it amazing to see how many small businesses switched to face mask production or 3D-printing of breathing filter parts? Isn’t it great how the need of things and social contacts unites global communities? It seems that globalization has failed when supply chains and logistics struggle, but the real potential of globalization is what happens in social and professional networks right now. Hundreds of local charity campaigns in crowd funding networks collect money to help those who suffer the most. Industries and freelancers sign and share online petitions to fight for their interests. The true power of digitalization on a global scale! Patents, ideas, data and experiences are shared among artists, researchers, scientists, physicians and producers. General Motors and Ford, two competing automotive companies, change their business models within weeks to build ventilators for Covid-19 patients.

Speaking from the perspective of a tableware producer, we can profit from people who nowadays discover that staying at home means spending more time with the family, having more time to cook, to experiment, to create and to beautify the nest. Furthermore, I think that sustainability in production becomes high value in a society that learned to care for its health and the health of its planet. Therefore, I strongly believe in a bright future for an eco-friendly, design-oriented, innovation-driven brand like KAHLA.

I wish all readers of the Tableware International magazine good health, patience and persistence to overcome this temporary crisis.”

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