INTERVIEW WITH PETE HOFFMANN, CEO OF HOFFMANN FRERES
You are the head of Hoffmann Frères, a company based in Mersch. What products and services does your company offer?
Today, our company specialises in the marketing of timber and timber products. Our range includes mid- to top-end doors, both internal and external, solid wood parquet flooring and laminate and engineered flooring. We are also specialist suppliers of timber products for outdoor use, such as decking, children's play structures, balustrades, pergolas, and car ports etc., and of construction timber for the carpentry, joinery and structural building trades. We also sell fitted kitchens, fitted wardrobes, windows and staircases. Customers wishing to fit or assemble our products can find all the tools they need in our hardware shop.
Hoffmann Frères is a fourth-generation company. How has it kept up with changes in society and in consumer demand?
We are a family-run firm founded in 1917 by four brothers with a passion for wood as a raw material. The company originally started doing business as a sawmill, processing timber from Luxembourg's forests and turning it into a range of marketable products such as boards, planks and battens, and producing high-quality flooring. Its founders chose to use state of the art machinery and electricity - both extremely high tech for the time - to operate the sawmill. Clean (compared to coal-generated power) electrical power was independently generated by means of a small hydro-electric dam. Today, we are the only supplier of private electricity for private individuals and SMEs in Luxembourg.
By the end of the Seventies, more and more companies specialising in the processing of wood, and in particular parquet flooring manufacturers, were making their way onto the market. Consequently, the decision was made to halt the company's flooring manufacturing business, which in the face of growing competition was no longer profitable. The advantage of this decision was that subsequently, Hoffmann Frères was able to offer a wider range of flooring products, thereby responding to consumer demand for greater choice. In the Eighties, we also grew our business in interior doors so that we could deliver up-to-the-minute products to our joinery customers.
It was around this time that we shifted to being a specialist timber company marketing a wide range of processed products but no longer producing its own.
With the consumer society setting the pace, the need to present our extensive line-up to customers became obvious, which led us to build a huge showroom in 1990.
In 2012 we decided it was time to refurbish, extend and revamp our commercial premises and part of our storage area. We converted our old building into a door and parquet flooring showroom that is almost unique in Luxembourg. Sleekly designed, it highlights more than 120 doors and 400 samples of parquet flooring, bathing them in light. Our old warehouses have been converted into mezzanine floor offices and a DIY shop, together with a show house showcasing our timber facades, exterior doors and windows. The front of this new building is covered with solar panels, underlining our sustainable approach to the environment.
Over the years, we have also grown into a company delivering added value for customers, in that we provide end-to-end service, from advice in the early project stages through to professional assembly and fitting.
You recently initiated the process of repositioning and revitalising your brand. Why?
Our sector is becoming more and more competitive, with companies from both the Grand Duchy and the greater region operating across the market. Clear positioning is therefore crucial in conveying effectively the uniqueness of a tradition-steeped yet modern business on the constant look-out for improvement opportunities.
What are the different stages of a project like this?
The first step is to analyse your current positioning and ascertain its strengths and weaknesses by means of a SWOT study, which summarises your strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in chart form so that you can make the right decisions.
Then, you need to define your "Promise", or "Unique Selling Proposition (USP)".
This is a means of differentiating a product or service in a competitive market and making it unambiguously "unique".
Assistance with these analyses is provided by professionals who guide you towards well-informed choices.
Once your choices have been made, you move on to the preparatory phase, in other words to conceptualization and the design of visuals, graphics and texts.
When working on a project of this type, you also have to make sure you bring your employees on board, because in the end, they are the ones who have to put across the USP and bring it to life when face-to-face with customers.
You have to bear in mind that a "Personal Branding" process is something that delivers results in the long term.
When will the general public start to see the changes you are making?
At the moment we are in the "go-live" phase of the Personal Branding project, i.e. rollout of the strategic and marketing tools that will best convey our identity and expertise.
The general public will be informed by means of a major publicity campaign before spring 2016.