The shockwaves that followed Alno AG’s collapse in 2017 have subsided and the brand is back as Neue Alno with a new team. Alison Benson goes to Halcyon Interiors in Wigmore Street and talks to chairman Jason Carley and global head of sales Michael Spadinger
Alno, a brand whose name in Germany was so well known it stretched well beyond the kitchen market, suddenly ceased production at the back end of 2017 after almost a century in business as years of financial problems proved overwhelming.
As Alno AG and its UK subsidiary both collapsed into administration, UK retailers, many of whom had been solus Alno dealers, were left with no product and orders to fulfil.
But now, the brand, which once generated revenue of more than €500 million (£432m) a year, is back, bought by European investment firm RiverRock, and in its second year of trading under a new company, Neue Alno.
With the new firm on the cusp of recruiting a small sales team to rebuild its important UK business, the new executive management is keen to tell UK dealers about the important changes to operations and how working with Alno now is better than it has ever been.
global head of sales,
|Jason Carley, RiverRock portfolio manager,
chairman, Neue Alno
|Graham Robinson, manager,
Q: So, who is the new management team at the new Alno company?
Michael Spadinger: I am head of global sales. I joined last October. Before that, I ran the export department for one of Alno’s biggest competitors and before that I ran buying group MHK’s export department for almost five years. Jason [Carley] is chairman. Thomas Kresser is the chief executive. He joined last year.
Jason Carley: We are really pleased Michael agreed to join us. The manufacturing is core to the business and we had that in place because most of Alno AG’s former workers agreed to come back to the company. But we needed an energetic head of sales to come in and really drive the business forward.
Q: Has RiverRock invested in the KBB sector before? Why did it rescue the business?
Jason: We haven’t invested in the KBB market before. Alno was a unique proposition: an amazing brand, with a reputation even outside the kitchen sector – a real household name in Germany. And that is still very much the case. Its problems were never about the kitchens. It was just completely mismanaged. That’s usually the reason why businesses fail. So, we just saw a great opportunity to step in and bring it back. We are in our second year and things are going great.
Q: A number of investment firms have been burnt lately with investments in the KBB sector, including Warendorf, former Smallbone owner Canburg and Better Bathrooms. Why do you think that is?
Jason: I can’t speak for other investment firms and how they conduct their business. What I can say is that we have a clear plan for Alno. We are supporting the company with real capital. It has no debt and the business is growing. That is all that matters to us. We intend to make money for our investors and we will do that by Alno becoming a great business in the kitchen industry globally. Alno was a very special company. It’s brand was so strong, and its reasons for historical problems unique. Our focus is on Alno, its dealers, and the end customers. In the end it is simple. If you make a good product for the right price, people will want to buy it. We are taking the brand back to its roots. We don’t have to become the biggest kitchen company in the world for our ambitions to be met. We just need to make a profit and help our dealers make a profit. In the past, that wasn’t always the case.
Q: What are your ambitions for the UK?
Michael: We are running the new Alno like a family business, so we have to keep some secrets. But what we can say is we are looking to grow our business with partners. We do not want to spread our product on every street corner. We are being really selective about whom we work with. We want to work with professionals who have been in business a long time. The kitchen business is complicated. It’s not rocket science, but there are many parts to it: design, logistics, installation. We need to protect our brand by selecting the right partners and then work together to create a market for them.
“If you make a good product for the right price, people will want to buy it. We are taking the brand back to its roots”
Jason Carley, chairman, Neue Alno
Q: How are you approaching UK dealers? Why should they put their trust in Alno again after what has happened?
Jason: We have stripped out the layers of bureaucracy in the business. There used to be multiple brands and multiple factories. There used to be a UK subsidiary, but all that seemed to do was increase the price for the dealers, who in turn had to take a hit on margin or increase the price for customers. We now have no UK subsidiary, and just the one brand, Alno. We have the one factory in Pfullendorf. It’s all very simple now and as a result we can be far more flexible, more dynamic, and more customer-focused. That’s ultimately what we are trying to do. This also means we can be really responsive to requests from our dealers.
Michael: We have cut down our production and delivery time to between four and six weeks. Even the process of confirming orders is quick. If an order is not confirmed in two days, we will question it. Delivery time is really important to retailers. We brought 99% of the production of doors back into our company. Many other kitchen manufacturers buy them in. But we produce them, which means we can react on any special measurement or remedial within a week, while others who use third-party manufacturers have to wait between six to 12 weeks. Even the high-gloss doors, including drying and polishing – seven days.
We want to get the message out that we are very easy to work with. We are more reactive, and even more focused on quality and product, and we can offer an attractive price range, because we cut out all intermediate structures.
We are actually finding that we are getting recommen-dations, so dealers are approaching us, so we don’t actually have to do a lot of advertising.
Jason: I’ve been fortunate to speak to a number of former Alno dealers in the UK and had very consistent feedback. They want Alno back. They are experienced in it. Their staff are trained in it. I have personally been a buyer of an Alno kitchen recently and the whole process was a pleasure. It was delivered on time and everything just worked as it should. Absolutely no hassles. Ultimately, that’s what customers want.
Q: You speak about being more dynamic because of your lean structure. Can you tell us more about the flexibility you offer?
Graham Robinson: I’ll take this one. So, we had been asking the old Alno company for pocket doors for years. The new company delivered these for us in three weeks. We wanted full-height, one-piece tall doors. Alno improved the range for us. In the short term, they have been up and running again, they have repeatedly shown evidence that they listen to the market. We’ve asked for lots of little details that weren’t in the original ranges, and now they are. Customers these days are so much more aware of, and interested in, the details. They want to know who makes the hinges, and how sustainable the kitchen manufacturer’s factory is. We asked for an improved drawer box and they delivered that as well. These little changes are really important to our customers.
Michael: As the kitchen is the new living room, customers are more demanding about the spaces and the finishes. We now have 16 inside colours for our kitchen cabinets, so customers can match the outside with the inside finish, or mix and match. If anything, we have improved the quality and design of our furniture.
We don’t wait for trade shows to produce new things. We don’t wait for specific days or events. When the market wants it, we can create it on demand. We can make decisions quickly and we do.
Q: Is that why Alno wasn’t at this year’s LivingKitchen show in Cologne?
Michael: We consider every trade show on the basis of whether we will get a return on investment. We invited a lot of dealers out to Hausmesse last September to introduce ourselves and show our new collections and finishes and we were still working for the customers that we took on after that trade show at the time of LivingKitchen. We decided it wasn’t the right time for us to do an additional trade show. We don’t feel we need to do trade shows for the sake of it. We have our own story to tell and we’ll do it in our own way.
“We don’t wait for trade shows to produce new things. When the market wants it, we can create it on demand. We can make decisions quickly and we do ”
Michael Spadinger, global head of sales, Neue Alno
Q: Are you making plans for a no-deal Brexit?
Michael: We export to the world, so we have all the paperwork in place to deal with all our international markets from China to the US. If the rules are changing, they will change for everyone who exports to the UK. This is a situation we are well-placed to cope with. We are export specialists. Even the British manufacturers have to import materials. So, if our kitchens are sitting in a queue at Calais for three days, so are everybody else’s. If there is customs to pay, it will be the same for everyone. If there are supply problems, we will cut down our production times even further to be more competitive. We carry on doing business.
Q: But are you finding the UK market nervous?
Michael: Actually, we are talking to the retailers who aren’t nervous. We work with the people who are carrying on doing business. The UK is a top-five market for us. We have close relationships here. We are like a family business and we stick with family in the good times and the bad times.
Jason: We have to react as things pan out. We leave the predictions to Laura Kuenssberg [BBC’s political editor].