Expert advice as the key to success | by Alessandra Ferretti
Boy Meesenburg, CEO and sole shareholder of Jacob Sönnichsen AG, discusses the strategies of a group that employs 500 people and generates revenues of €170 million.
When was your company founded?
Our company was founded back in 1902, a time of growing interest in ceramic tile and natural stone. We benefited from our strategic position on the Baltic Sea, which enabled us to make use of port facilities and sea transport.
How are you structured today?
Our company currently has 18 branches throughout northern Germany – in Berlin, Flensburg, Lübeck and Hamburg to mention just a few locations. In each of these branches we offer customers advice on choosing the right ceramic tiles and sanitaryware for their new construction or renovation projects.
We have around twenty showrooms of various sizes and a large number of warehouses. In addition to ceramic tiles, we also sell products for floor and wall tile treatment and for the bathroom and living room, with a constant focus on the latest trends.
What are your company figures today?
We have a total workforce of around 500 employees, 250 of whom are directly involved in sales. Our total turnover stands at around €170 million, most of which is generated by tiles.
What is the main strength of your company’s sales network?
We can boast many years of experience and expertise, as well as high quality and an all-round service. Over the years we have earned a reputation throughout the region for the service and high quality we offer our customers, who know they can count on the support, advice and suggestions of our highly trained experts.
What prompted you to begin selling ceramic tiles?
I was not personally involved in the decision. The company was owned by my family and it was my grandfather who decided to start selling tiles. But I suspect that our history of selling ceramic tiles dates back even earlier than that.
Who are your main clients?
Our main clients are specialist tile installers and their customers, as well as property developers.
How are your stores organised?
Only a few of our stores are devoted exclusively to ceramic tiles. Generally we prefer to showcase a complete range of products, so we also stock interior doors, wood products, stoves and so on.
Compared to the past, what is the most important aspect of the relationship between the seller and the customer today?
In this respect nothing has changed. It has always been important to offer customers sound advice, and this remains as true today as ever. Customers come to showrooms looking for expert advice and to see the latest new products, so showroom displays must be kept constantly up-to-date in terms of stock.
What do you expect from your Italian ceramic suppliers?
We expect exactly what the Italian ceramic manufacturers have given us in recent years, namely high-class, technically sophisticated products at competitive prices. We also expect to see a clear commitment to sales distribution and to deal with professional, conscientious people who are known to our company.
What do you think is the difference between Italian manufacturers and those from other countries?
I think that Italian manufacturers have regained the leadership in design and technology they had lost for a while.
What could or should Italian manufacturers do to improve their position in the German market?
First of all, they could work a little on their delivery times. That’s an area where there is certainly room for improvement. Moreover, I can’t stress enough the importance of the relationship with distributors.
What is the current state of the construction market in Germany?
The German construction market is doing well and is currently at full employment. We expect the situation to remain unchanged in the near future. The main problem is the lack of specialist and highly qualified manpower.