After the personnel changes of recent years the industry had been eagerly waiting to see how the new management of PF Concept International would present itself. And the time has finally come: The reorganisation phase is completed and CEO Ralf Oster’s management team is launching an ambitious, big-scale “Go2market strategy”. After having restructured the product portfolio into four product worlds, with a printing and logistics centre in Poland and a corporate policy that is relying on central marketing and transparency, the multi-specialist is repositioning itself on the market.
Since Michael Bernstein provisionally took over the management of PF Concept International in May 2012, everyone has been asking what course the company would take in the future. Bernstein, Chairman and CEO of the Polyconcept- Group, which PF Concept also belongs to, had explained he would only be taking over the reins until a successor for the former CEO had been found. Of course, PF Concept didn’t disappear off the face of the earth during this period – on the contrary: the company was represented at trade fairs all over Europe – and yet the odd rumour about Europe’s biggest import company still cropped up within the industry. However, after an intensive phase of restructuring the company is coming up with all the answers.
“A lot had to be changed and first of all we had to do our homework, before making things public. After all, we wanted to make sure that the changes we had introduced also had the right effect,“ explained Ralf Oster, the new CEO of PF Concept International. Oster looks back on a 27-year career in international business: After founding, expanding and selling the shares of his own company in the mid-1990s, he was employed by international companies all over the world, including among others Avery Dennison, Edding and Newell Rubbermaid. Finally, from 2008 to 2012 Oster was able to gain comprehensive know-how in the promotional products business as board member of Berendsohn AG. So, when Michael Bernstein approached him in 2012 with the offer of taking over the position of CEO of PF Concept International with the goal of reorganising it in line with the requirements of the Polyconcept board, the branch of industry was not new territory for him.
Oster runs the company from its headquarters in Roelofarendsveen, the Netherlands. The pan- European management team also includes Pieter Boonekamp, Vice President Sales Europe, and Rodolphe Normandin, Product Development & Marketing Vice President. The 13 European sales offices will continue to operate as before. However, the corporate culture has changed: “For a long time PF Concept was an autocratically run company, whose national sales companies however frequently operated very autonomously in terms of their strategic approaches and marketing,” explained Oster. “We have now changed the company’s philosophy, centralised the marketing and have bundled the processes at the headquarters. With immediate effect, the guidelines that are drawn up at the head office are binding for the individual sales offices: Brand structure, corporate image, the marketing strategy and policy will in future be homogenous. At the same time, each office can fall back on the full support of the marketing team in Roelofarendsveen. Contrary to in the past, the company management itself is not based on hierarchies, but instead works more like a ‘European Leadership Team’. The capabilities and potential of each member of this team are to be promoted.“ Boonekamp added: “In summary one can say that all existing resources and sales offices will remain intact, but they will be put to more efficient use.“
Synergies within the Polyconcept Group are also to be exploited to a greater degree than hitherto: “PF Concept International and Polyconcept North America operate independently from each other and the restructuring here in Europe is – contrary to certain criticism – not an ‘Americanisation‘ of PF Concept,“ Oster pointed out. “However, since the merger with Polyconcept in 2005 there is an incredible amount of potential, for example in the sourcing area which is not being utilised. The advantages of a global integration have not been exploited sufficiently so far, and we will be addressing this issue more closely in future.“
Externally, the restructuration will be noticeable in the form of the company’s changed image. This includes a new logo and a radically changed brand structure: PF Concept has divided its portfolio, which is considered to be the most comprehensive full-range assortment in the industry, into four “worlds” (see box), which each cover different market segments: Bullet (giveaways and budget items), Avenue (premium gift items), Label (textiles) and WorldSource (custom-made designs). PF Concept has integrated its comprehensive lineup of own and licensed brands into the Avenue and Label worlds. This enables the customers to achieve their goals and find the item that fits their respect budget and purpose from among the approx. 10,000 products offered faster.
“Each of the four product worlds not only consists of a specific portfolio, they also comprise of tailor-made marketing tools,“ explained Boonekamp. “Because the primary aim of the reorganisation of the product assortment is to make our customers‘ jobs easier.“
New catalogue concept
This is why the company has developed a new marketing concept: In line with its four product worlds, PF Concept is now working with four different catalogues instead of one main catalogue. The publications that are designed in a compact format will be delivered in a practical folder from 2014 onwards. Each catalogue presents the respective range of products in a specific visual language that corresponds to the respective segment. “The new concept underlines the individual product worlds, while at the same time following a uniform approach,” explained Senior Marketing Manager, Nina Coopmans. Furthermore, the four catalogues allow plenty of leeway for high-class product presentations and comprehensive explanations about the individual products, testing methods and customising options. “What we want is to create clarity, while at the same time describing the products in detail,“ added Coopmans. “Because the added value often lies precisely in the details.“
The respective publications are enhanced by end-of-the-year issues, which present selected highlights for the year-end business in printed form, as well as several special catalogues for instance on individual brands and themes that are available in digital format. “Initially some of the customers feared that the new concept would be much more complicated than the old method,” remarked Boonekamp. “However, the new catalogues proved to be the ‘moment of truth’. We have held extensive dialogues with the customers and many of them understand the advantages, because it is actually easier working with four catalogues. We have been able to convince more and more of our partners of this.“
In total, PF Concept prints over 1.5 mil. catalogues a year, starting from 2014 onwards it will be significantly more and these are sent out European- wide to over 9,000 recipients. Boonekamp is certain that printed catalogues are still an extremely vital tool: “Catalogues are still important – as a means of information and as a sales and marketing tool. The number of copies per customer has declined slightly, however the same amount of customers ask to have catalogues sent to them.“
Supporting the distributors
In addition to the catalogues, the headquarters provide the sales teams with a comprehensive marketing package comprising of POS materials such as displays and flyers, which since they are also available in neutral formats can be passed on to the resellers. The completely revised website, which has been adapted in line with the new structure, acts as an additional digital service tool. The entire range of products is presented on the web divided up into the four product worlds; furthermore, the users can search for items according to product categories, brands and themes. “Whereas the catalogues go into in-depth detail, the website offers a fast overview, quick call-up times and is totally up-to-date,” explained Boonekamp. “The website is constantly updated and the catalogues are available online in digital format.“ Of course, the promotional products distributors can also order items directly via the web portal – which is a safe, reliable and user-friendly way of doing business.
Last, but not least, PF Concept seeks the personal contact to the trade. “We are a product supplier, so the customers have to be given the opportunity to find out about our products,” commented Normandin. The huge showroom in Roelofarendsveen is always open to the visitors and exhibiting at trade fairs is always on the agenda. PF Concept won’t be exhibiting at the PSI Show in Düsseldorf in 2014, however the company will be present at many local shows again. After all, they not only want to promote the new product concept, but also their increased level of service competence.
Logistics centre in Poland
A vital component here is Logo Express: The 20,000 m² factory in Poznan, Poland is a logistics and customising centre. The entire warehouse stocks will soon be located there. Furthermore, the ISO 14001-certified (environmental management) factory offers the opportunity to customise products directly in-house within extremely short lead-times. The customising assignments in Poznan are processed by a multi-lingual team. All of the modern-day technologies are available and soon brand-new individualising methods such as both digital print and lasering on textiles will also be possible. Concentrating the activities in one location enables fast turnaround times and the processes are constantly improved. Oster gave an example: “By increasing the manpower, process optimisation and qualifications of the employees we have succeeded in reducing the time it takes for the whole process – from picking the product in the warehouse through to the embellishment – by 60%. Our recently introduced express printing method, SureShipTM, guarantees the delivery of products from the Bullet series embellished with a one-coloured imprint within 24 hours. This makes us pretty unique,” commented Oster. “One-stop models with faster delivery times are going to be a further priority in the near future. At the moment, we deliver around 40% of the orders customised, in a few years the share will be 70%.“
Product development and sourcing
The product line-up is going to be further expanded parallel to the improved service offer: “Whereas in the past the share of novelties contained in the annual catalogues was seven percent, today it is 18%,” reported Normandin. “The fastest growing sector is the sound & technology products, but we also place a high degree of importance on innovations in other product categories too – and on the development of own models that are oriented on the current trends.” Which is why Normandin‘s department employs several trend scouts and product Designers.
The number of brands among the product assortment constantly increases too: On the one hand the number of own brands is being successfully expanded: Just last year PF Concept received two Red Dot Awards for example for products of the Elevate brand as well as a Red Dot honourable mention for Marksman. On the other hand, the multi-specialist continues to be able to convince retail brands to cooperate with them in the B2B sector. For instance, they recently introduced the five new brands Compagnie de Provence, GoTravel, iFidelity, Seasons and Thule. “It is often the case that brands contact us, because our brand structure corresponds with their concept of professionalism,” said Normandin.
Of course the launch of a product starts with the sourcing – and here PF Concept profits greatly from the fact that it is part of a multinational corporation, which according to own accounts disposes of the biggest purchasing platform in the promotional products industry. In addition to sourcing products in China an “Out of China“ team is responsible for procuring goods in alternative locations.
Product safety and corporate social responsibility take top priority here. “I don’t know anyone else who pushes the improvement process as intensively as we do,” stated Oster. “In the scope of our compliance process we have reduced our number of manufacturers in China from 680 down to 350. What personally interests me when I travel to China is not the flood of new products at the trade fairs, but rather more the progress that the manufacturers are making.” All testing processes are accurately documented.
Continuity and transparency
This is also part of the course that PF Concept is pursuing, which will be driven by consistency and transparency. “Our new sales structure is geared up for continuity,” explained Boonekamp. “We don’t want any short-term fluctuations or insecurity anymore and we want to communicate this to the retailers as well.” The latter is still the company’s sole sales channel. “It is a well-known fact that the Polyconcept Group has an agency branch, adm, which serves major international brands,” remarked Oster. “That is totally transparent and has nothing to do with PF Concept.”
PF Concept is open to all types of customers – regardless of whether they work with catalogues or via a website: “Of course there are completely different types of distributors on the market – the ‘new‘, online-focused entrepreneurs, who are predominantly looking for speed and availability, as well as the ‘classic‘ distributors, who work in a more traditional way and who are regionally oriented. We don’t differentiate between our customers, we strive to provide each of them with the services that suit them,“ assured Boonekamp. The forecasts that Oster is making for the coming year are stable: “PF Concept should grow by 15% by the year 2017. However, how high the turnover is, is not as important as being able to register growth in Ebitda. Ultimately, everyone profits from the latter. Of course, we would like to further increase our market leadership in Europe. Nevertheless, our message is no longer: “We are the ‘biggest’, but instead ‘We offer the market participants many advantages to do business with us.‘ If the distributors accept this, we will automatically remain ‘big‘.“
Bildquelle: PF Concept