German kitchen manufacturer Häcker should need no introduction, and neither should Jamie Schneider who was promoted in February from his role as sales director to MD of the brand in the UK. Rebecca Nottingham went to meet him at the brand’s showroom and HQ in central London to find out his strategy for the brand.
Having been in the kitchen industry for over 30 years and having worked in almost every specialist area – from sink, tap and appliance distribution, manufacturing and even retailing – it’s fair to say that Jamie Schneider, the newly appointed MD, is well-placed to manage the Häcker business in the UK. He’s no stranger to the brand or its retailer network either.
“I joined Häcker in 2019 as sales director as the senior management team felt the brand needed someone with knowledge and experience of the UK market on board,” he explains. “I’m obviously extremely proud in my new role as managing director of a brand as big and successful as Häcker is here.”
Family-owned Häcker is one of the big seven kitchen manufacturers in Germany. It’s the second biggest kitchen supplier in Germany and the sixth biggest in the world. In 2020, as part of its 10-year growth strategy, it ploughed €220 million (£182.89m) into a new factory in Venne to help keep up with demand. And, at a time when more and more brands appear to be considering direct selling, Häcker’s unbranded approach – one that emphasises the importance and strength of the retailer as the consumer-facing brand – must be reassuring for independents.
Q: We’ve had the most challenging few years with the backdrop of Brexit and then the pandemic. How did you – as both sales director and, most recently managing director – manage the Häcker UK business through that time?
A: Providing a good service and prioritising retailers are core elements of the Häcker ethos, so in terms of Brexit we took a very proactive approach. We didn’t want our dealers to have to deal with managing import licences and tariffs so, 18 months before Brexit became a reality, we changed how we operated in the UK to give retailers a seamless transition. We implemented a system whereby we used Häcker Own Brand Limited as the UK customer, which meant, as experts in exporting, we [Häcker] took the import red tape away from our retailers. We were one of the first companies to do that, in fact, some of our competitors questioned it, but when Brexit eventually happened, it was seamless for Häcker and our dealers because we’d had the forethought to do it early. It was a really good group decision.
Q: Can you put that into context, how is the brand faring in the UK and globally?
A: Globally, we’ve just reported a 12.5% increase in 2021 and achieved €727m turnover. We [Häcker UK] is forecasting a strong year this year too – in line with global turnover projection of 12% to 15% growth. Obviously, I don’t know at this stage what impact the situation in Ukraine will have along the way, but all I can say is that in the short-term we’re doing phenomenal business and are achieving our targets in the UK.
Q: What do you put Häcker’s success – globally and in the UK – down to?
A: With Häcker you’ve got that dependability, that reliability, but you’ve also got that design aspect as well. The products basically sell themselves, so our job is to understand exactly what we can do to help our retailers increase the profitability of their business. It’s about giving our retailers the expertise and the knowledge to be able to confidently sell and order German kitchens – that’s the service element again and that, I have to say, is what we do really well.
One big thing that’s rarely spoken about is that there is little room for order error with Häcker and that is so important for retailers. Every order that is submitted by a retailer is redesigned by our team in Germany to ensure it will work as a kitchen project. Our theory is that if it’s surveyed right, it’s designed right and it’s ordered correctly that kitchen should be absolutely perfect because all the hard work has been done in the beginning. That care and effort helps Häcker to be the efficient model it is, and our customers love that.
Q: How key is the UK market to Häcker?
A: The UK is a very important market for us. It’s our third biggest export market – behind France and Holland – and one of the highest-value markets we operate in. I feel that Häcker is one of the best Anglophile kitchen manufacturers supplying the UK – and has been since the 1970s. We deal in sterling, which makes it easier for our retailers, and we have this dedicated showroom [40 Harrowby Street, London] for our customers to bring their clients to. I’m proud of our achievements in the UK – both in terms of our team, but also what retailers manage to achieve with the brand, particularly as it’s a unique market. We have a lot more higher order values and more unusual designs – often with a variety of textures and finishes in one order – than our counterparts in Europe.
Q: What about independents, how important are they to the brand?
A: We [Häcker] recognise we are just one supplier to the independent retailer and that it is the name above the door that’s the important one – the one that gives them the value – which is why the furniture is unbranded. The way we work gives retailers the opportunity to emphasise their own brand credentials and gives them the opportunity to tell their own story.
Q: Have you noticed a change in what retailers expect from their suppliers since the coronavirus pandemic?
A: Most definitely. When events like the pandemic come along and the supply chain is interrupted, retailers really test the mettle of suppliers and how they perform. It definitely encourages retailers to look elsewhere. There’s never been a better time to find new dealers – we’ve certainly brought in new partners off the back of the pandemic. The door is ajar now for a lot of dealers and a lot of them do seem more receptive to change, but I think they’re also very cautious.
It’s a huge investment for a dealer to change suppliers and a huge learning curve. It’s also a huge investment for a supplier like ourselves to take on a new dealer. The products sell themselves, but it’s about how you work together, the rapport you have and how we integrate in each other’s businesses that takes the time. We must work very hard to understand their needs and the focus of their business and work with them to achieve that.
Interest, hunger, and enthusiasm for new products is obvious among retailers at the moment.