AEG: We are there to support our retail partners
Chris Braam took over as the head of AEG Electrolux in Europe last July. Chris Frankland asks about progress so far and his plans for the future
During his 12 years at Electrolux Group, Chris Braam has been a senior vice-president for sales and service in Europe and a member of the European leadership team, responsible for establishing a more consumer-centric approach, driving profitable growth through e-commerce and strategic partnerships and increasing sales across all European markets. He took over as head of AEG and Electrolux in Europe just over a year ago. Here he talks about how his key goals in his new role are to increase sales in the premium sector and drive sustainability and smart capabilities in its MDA ranges. He also acknowledges the key role that kitchen studios have to play in driving sales of AEG’s built-in appliances and how, through its Premium Partner programme, it is committed to doing everything it can to support them.
Q: You took over as CEO of Europe in July last year, what were your main aims and objectives for AEG and Electrolux?
A: Those are the two brands that we will absolutely focus on in terms of brand building and innovation, that is where the investments will go. First, we are on a journey of further premiumisation, which stems from the innovations that we want to bring to market. Then there is our sustainability roadmap.
We want to make sure that with both brands we talk about resource-efficient appliances that we can make come alive for the consumer. And last, but not least, it is all about the consumer experience and products that are easy to use. We have a good track record and we want to build on that.
Q: You have been with the group for 12 years now, what important lessons have you learnt along the way that have helped shape your career so far?
A: Electrolux was a good fit for me and before that I worked for Nokia for 12 or 13 years. It is about transparency, being objective and data-driven and I think in the end it is taking those elements and driving accountability throughout an organisation and building an atmosphere of trust. It is not about punishing people, it is about seeing how we can improve together, which is a completely different type of dynamic. That is why I felt really at home with Electrolux, as I saw those ingredients were there.
There was a bit more focus and steering needed on a couple of topics. For me, it’s about looking at the facts, not sugar-coating things. Sometimes I don’t like the facts, but that’s OK. You have to take responsibility for addressing those topics. Then we can look back and say, this went quite well, take the learnings from that and say, we need to do more like that.
But if it didn’t work out, we need to ask what happened and what are we going to do about it?
Q: Have you made any mistakes along the way that have shaped your management style?
A: Of course. We are all human and no one is perfect. The trick is what you learn from it and not to do it again. If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that you need to pace things properly. It is about phasing and pacing. You can always be one step ahead and share where you want to get to, but you have to make sure that you are taking the team with you. Because it not about you. It is about all the team members. An HR person at Nokia once said to me, ‘if you do 5% extra, it is only 5%, but if you have 500 people doing 5% extra, you do the math’. And he was right. That is the power of the organisation and you have to leverage it wisely. I had to learn that, because sometimes, when you are young and a bit naïve, you like to go too fast.
Q: And so the team around you is an important part of your future strategy?
A: We have a multicultural team, because it needs to be representative of who we are in Europe. We have a couple of Brits, a couple of Italians, a couple of Frenchmen, someone from Spain, Poland, a Dutch colleague and of course a
And when you put it all in the mix, this multicultural and diverse team is key to who we are as Electrolux.
You have to be expert in your field, but it is important to understand how you contribute to the bigger picture. People also become more creative because they know they will be heard and so they push the boundaries further than they otherwise would.
Q: So how has business been recently for the AEG brand?
A: Covid was challenging of course for everybody, but we were open and transparent in terms of product availability, although we have had our issues. But the feedback we got told us that we were doing better than others and that our openness and transparency about what they could expect was appreciated.
It has been a good journey. We have had a good run and we can see it of course in the numbers, especially with the kitchen specialists, who are particularly important for us as AEG. We are still expanding our business with them.
Q: So are kitchen retailers an important channel to market for AEG?
A: As a channel, we absolutely want to work even more with kitchen specialists and we also need their expertise. They are the ones selling and recommending the appliances they stand for.
They can sell that dream of a new kitchen to fit in your home. And it has to fit. They will design the kitchen using the right materials, with the right colours and the right look and feel and show the consumer what their dream can look like.
Of course, they then need appliances that are reliable and fit in.Our built-in sales have been increasing for the past three to five years.
When we look at our figures at the middle-to-high end of the market, they are driven by the kitchen specialists.
That is why we are so keen to serve them well.
It is critical for us to really understand their needs and provide the right service levels in terms of deliveries and servicing, training and best-in-class easy installation, because that means productivity for the retailers. Instead of doing it in three-and-a-half hours, you can do it in two-and-a-half – and that saves money.
We try to understand all of those needs in order to serve our partners in the best way possible.
We have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, and that is what you can expect from us.
Q: Smart tech is a strong trend in the market. Is AEG committed to developing that sector?
A: Yes, we are. But since there are so many stakeholders who have an interest in the kitchen, it is first and foremost about interoperability. Making sure that you enable a seamless experience. It is frustrating if there are five different interfaces in the kitchen.
Of course, we are not there yet. But we are part of the right alliances to drive this. We are building that smartness into our appliances, but it is a question of making it come to life for the consumer.
By category, it varies a lot and we have different levels of smartness. We have sensors in our induction hobs that let people cook in the best way possible and avoid pans boiling over. Then there is hob-to-hood communication. In the kitchen and in the wider home space, consumers are expecting more and more from smart technology and we are ready for that.
Q: Retailers tell us people still aren’t coming in asking for sustainable or smart appliances, so is there still a job of education to be done?
A: I believe so. With sustainability, people need to be made aware. It is not only about having the right appliances, but also how you use them in your daily lives and people need to see the benefits. If you see the benefits coming back in your energy bill, it is easier.
With smartness it is similar, people need to see those benefits in use that make sense for them. Apps can update consumers on the status of appliances, when they need to change a hood filter, which helps to get across the true benefits of these appliances. Only then will people embrace it.
With sustainability, research from GfK tells us more people are actively looking for sustainable products. People can see and feel the climate impacts and it brings it closer to them. The question then is for them, what can they do about it? And if they have an appliance that is coming from a trusted brand that is working in a sustainable manner, I think that helps. But how can you make sure, when you need a new appliance, that you select the right one? That is why we came up with AEG EcoLine, which highlights across all categories our most resource-efficient appliances. We make it easy for people to choose.
And last, but not least, the consumer needs to put it into practice in their usage. It’s not our job to tell consumers what to do, we want to enable them. Nudge them to be more sustainable by selecting the right program with the help of displays that show more or less ‘green leaves’. That is the way to impact behaviour, because 85% of a product’s carbon footprint during its lifecycle happens in the usage phase. By making it easy to use, there is a greater likelihood that people will start to change their behaviour.
Q: What are your top tips for retailers selling AEG appliances?
A: They need to leverage as much as they can our Premium Partner programme. That is our vehicle to engage with them. We have best-in-class installation times, service levels, the right promotions, the right visibility on availability. To engage through that programme is the right way to go. They get single-minded commit-
ment and focus from us.
Chief executive, Business Area Europe, Electrolux Group (Stockholm / The Netherlands)
July 2022 – Present
Senior vice-president, sales, mobile phones, Europe,
Middle East & Africa, Electrolux Group (Stockholm)
2011 – 2022
Vice-president sales, mobile phones, Middle East & Africa, Nokia (Dubai)
General manager, mobile phones, Middle East & North Africa, Nokia (Dubai)
Sales director, mobile phones, Saudi Arabia & Yemen/UAE, Nokia (Dubai)
Key account manager, mobile phones, Benelux, Nokia (The Hague)
Product manager GSM/Mobile Data, KPN Mobile, Netherlands (The Hague)
In the end, it is people committing and finding each other, but you have to walk the walk.
We offer retailers ‘easy switch’ – if they have two or three brands in their showroom, we can change the full display when they are closed, overnight or at the weekend. That commitment shows we understand our retail partners and are there to support them.
Q: The supply chain. Is it finally back to normal?
A: I would say that for sure it has normalised a lot. That does not mean that every now and then there will not be a challenge on a specific product in a category, but across the board we are quite close to getting back to the old days. What has helped is that at the moment there is a bit less demand.
Q: How important is the UK for your premium built-in products?
A: Especially for that premium built-in business, in kitchen retail and the projects market, the UK is an extremely important market for us. We put a lot of focus on it. We started our Premium Partner programme in the UK, that is the heart of it. That’s where it was born. At the same time, there is a still a lot of potential. The beauty is we are not greedy, but hungry, and we are keen to do more in the UK.
Kitchens are about selling the dream and I am seeing the trend for the kitchen to become more and more the heart of the home and so consumers are willing to invest more in enjoying that space. So there is more scope to premiumise and we are on the right path to service and cater for that trend.
Q: What are your objectives for the AEG brand going forward?
A: To continue to grow structurally with the best partners in the market. It is about those who can deliver value, because that is what we stand for. We bring a win-win attitude to business. We want retailers to be successful, to earn a decent margin, because when they are successful, we are successful too.