When I asked Sean Debnath, VP of Sales and Marketing, Viega, about the short-term economy earlier this year, he said, “The uptick in business that we all experienced gradually through Q3 and Q4 of 2020, seems to be continuing in to Q1 2021. But we choose not to take that trend for granted with all that is happening around us, and deal with it a month and a quarter at a time. Viega has taken steps with frequent testing and tracing to ensure we keep our factories and distribution centers running.”
Through all of this uncertainty and one month-at-a-time mentality, making the transition to a new CEO can be difficult enough. But through a pandemic? Mechanical Hub recently talked with Viega’s new CEO, Markus Brettschneider, about his vision for the company, and navigating through these uncertain times.
MH: How has Viega navigated through the pandemic and what does the path moving forward look like as we start to normalize?
Brettschneider: Since the beginning of the pandemic, the health and safety of our people has come first. We put into place regular testing and safety measures at the facilities where in-person work was required. Moving forward, health and safety will continue to be our focus. Our other big focus is our customers, and we have done all we can to keep production and distribution as normal as possible. With all of the challenges in the logistical side, it’s a tense period. But we haven’t shied away from spending money to keep things running smoothly. We hope in the coming months to get colleagues back to the office and find new ways of working in various setups. We very much look forward to meeting our customers once again face-to-face, while at the same time being very careful and keeping everyone safe. So far this year, the outlook is positive.
MH: Has the company learned anything during the pandemic that will be implemented more into the business plan (virtual trainings, less travel, etc.)
Brettschneider: I think we have learned that virtually, a lot is possible. There are even certain benefits when it comes to training as well as new ways of engaging with customers. It will be interesting to see how things like trade shows and other events evolve in the future, but in 2020 we reallocated most of those funds into other channels to make the most of what we could. We didn’t cut any funding. Instead, we trained our own people to be capable in this digital environment, and have excelled with virtual education and customer events. We know there have been changes in buying behavior in the past year, and we remain open to this ever-changing business landscape.
MH: What are some of your top initiatives for the company?
Brettschneider: Our biggest priorities right now are safety and supply to the customers. We’re looking at things like raw materials, logistics and the availability of workforce. We are continuously investing in our company footprint through automation, digitization and robotization. This is all important to help drive growth with our customers. We also know how important it is to invest in virtual and online marketing, as well as launch additional customer training activities.
MH: What has impressed you the most since joining the company?
Brettschneider: The people—our colleagues, the customers and the Viega family ownership. I’m extremely impressed with the products as well as the relationship we have with our customers and the opportunity to grow in our space. I’m also impressed with the commitment of the Viegener family to the company globally as well as its strong commitment to Viega LLC (the North American market) specifically. I’ve found the company is willing to constantly invest in order to grow the business, and the ownership’s passion and commitment is impressive.
MH: Explain Viega’s commitment to the supply chain and wholesale channels.
Brettschneider: We have proven our commitment to the supply chain, especially over the last few years . During that time, we grew the manufacturing and distribution presence in McPherson, Kansas, and we invested heavily in the workforce within the supply chain. We hired additional people to ensure our commitment in the U.S. is as strong as it always has been, and will continue. It’s important for us to invest for continual growth, and we know that our distribution and logistical centers are a key part of the business.
A good example of our commitment was after the record cold snap in Texas and other southern states. We prioritized shipments and looked at unique ways to get products to the area that was so desperately in need of help. We are eager to work with our partners to drive growth, and are currently adding points of distribution throughout the U.S. We are a strong believer in wholesaler business and remain absolutely committed to our wholesaler distribution setup.
MH: What are some things you’ve learned throughout your career that will help you in your new position?
Brettschneider: Simply put, there is nothing more important than your own people and building great relationships with customers. Those ideas are central to a successful business.
MH: How do you see the short-term economy?
Brettschneider: Between the Covid relief package, some of the American population having more disposable income than ever, lower fixed-interest rates and potential infrastructure packages, we’re optimistic. We’ll see bumps here and there, I’m sure, because of the uncertainty of a global pandemic, but the fast-pace rollout of the Covid vaccination is giving us all a more positive outlook for the short-term U.S. economy.
MH: Provide an update of the McPherson locations — expansions, new innovations, etc.
Brettschneider: We have invested heavily in that location over the past few years, in both infrastructure and people. This year we are focused mostly on hiring people. It’s important to recognize we are investing not to just maintain, but to grow. Our plan has been to build for significant growth so that we are ready when there are sudden spikes in demand (such as the Texas cold snap). In terms of infrastructure, the expansion in logistics was completed early in 2020 and is fully operational. The new ProPress building is completed, with some machines in operation, while others will be arriving later this year (delayed due to Covid).