German textiles success depends on customer focus and niches
14th June 2012, Chemnitz
Future materials in the shape of technical textiles and composites for the mobility sector and lightweight engineering were the major focus in Chemnitz from 8 - 10 May 2012 when more than 1300 visitors attended this year’s combined mtex - LiMA trade fair and symposium.
Chemnitz Trade Fair Centre also invited visitors to another premiere, the 1st mtex informal discussions at the historic Wasserschloss Klaffenbach on the evening of the second day of the fair.
More than 50 interested parties enjoyed an entertaining discussion session on the subject of ‘The future in sight – success strategies under scrutiny’, an evening was chaired by Kirsten Schönharting.
During the discussions, Dr. Stefan Topp, Dr. Peter Hartwig, Marc W. Lorch, Dr. Stefan Engelhardt and Karlheinz Siegert unanimously supported the idea that success at a company is always based on a clear corporate strategy, which needs to be seasoned with innovations and supplier and customer relations that are characterised by trust.
Even if the growth markets are clearly not in Germany and Europe at the moment, there are some interesting niches in the domestic market. One major problem for Dr. Hartwig is the fact “that no more innovations are taking place in the fibre field in Europe anymore and very many developments are now taking place in Asia”.
But Karlheinz Siegert said he believed there was enough room for interesting niches in Europe in the yarn sector. “The need for more individuality and the issue of sustainability make room for this,” he said.
Dr. Engelhard introduced another interesting aspect into the discussions. In his view, innovation does not just relate to new ideas for products, but also processes. He quoted the specific example of the launch of the Columbus strategy concept at Hugo Boss in 2004 which is said to be very successful today.
It involves harmonising and adapting corporate processes to the changing general conditions. “We no longer think of sectors either, but of clusters, i.e. networks consisting of manufacturers, suppliers, research institutes and other institutions near each other in geographical terms and along the value added chain,” Dr. Engelhard.
According to Dr. Hartwig, a “presence in the world market is the top priority” for the non-woven fabrics sector. The main markets for Ziegler’s non-woven fabrics are Asia, Turkey and Hungary, he added. But many medium-sized family companies lack the necessary capital to be able to assert themselves in the face of global competition.
Marc W. Lorch took a bold step almost ten years ago in order to make room for this. He sold the family business and provided support as it was merged with two other firms to become what is now Gruschwitz AG. He still believes that he made the right decision, for “it is almost impossible to face up to global competition as a small medium-sized enterprise without any financial support. Relying on the banks is very dangerous, because loans are only granted if they can be serviced.”
Anyone who thinks that the production of technical textiles is a panacea for every ill is ill-advised in the view of Dr. Topp.
“In the end, proximity to a customer, the niche and the business model are the crucial factors for any corporate success story”.
It also makes sense for a company to set up a second mainstay alongside its core business. Marc W. Lorch believes that there is plenty of potential to be tapped, particularly in the Swabian Alb region in south-west Germany.
“There are still many textile companies there, which have modern machinery, a high degree of expertise and well-trained specialists.”
“As technical textiles continue to be a growth market against all the odds, it makes sense to orient companies towards them,” he added. But it is necessary to have the relevant raw materials and suppliers nearby in order to be able to provide the relevant quality for functions and the availability demanded by the market.
“Made in Germany still has great significance for me, but this needs to be both challenged and developed,” said Marc Lorch.
“Like Dr. Engelhardt, I am just as convinced that networks involving several companies can play a role in preparing and successfully introducing strategies in the field of technical textiles. But this requires long-term thinking and acting and integrating the customers and partners along the value-added chain.”
An internationalisation strategy will continue to be an important element and contribute to a company’s success – this particularly applies to the automobile industry, where the growth markets are now in Asia and no longer in Europe.
Because the OEMs and systems integrators in this field are moving their operations abroad, companies operating in the technical textiles sector will increasingly have to internationalise too.
So it is important for German manufacturers that politicians improve the general conditions for successful operations abroad. Innovative answers also need to be found to the growing problem of a shortage of specialist workers.
According to the organisers the evening could be summed up as follows:
“the textile industry needs to reposition itself in a better way in people’s minds and be better portrayed at the textile job colleges and the textile sector. We all have a responsibility to act as ambassadors for the textile industry.”
Author: Billy Hunter