Creativity spawns in the wake of the pandemic
After almost a year in the wake of the pandemic, most sectors are observing rising raw material prices and runaway transport costs. How is Swede-Wheel’s business impacted by the world situation?
In a two-part interview series, Sales and Export Manager Andreas Stillman talks about this and much more.
In March 2020, the outlook was very bleak. It felt like all of Europe was going into lockdown. At Swede-Wheel, we prepared for hard times, and we were geared up for large-scale layoffs as we went into April, says Andreas Stillman, Sales and Export Manager at Swede-Wheel.
But something happened? There were no long-term layoffs?
During March and April, new orders fell sharply. We really didn’t know what was going to happen. We started laying off the production staff in April, and this went on for a few weeks, before there was a sudden turnaround. Orders started to pick up we experienced strong demand right up to the holidays. As a result, production staff layoffs were halted.
The increase in orders was due to the fact that Covid-19 changed people’s shopping habits around the world. E-commerce gained. Not only for consumer goods, but also for essential, everyday products. Consumers visited physical stores less but instead let the stores pack what they wanted. In the Nordic countries, we could also see how the building materials trade experienced a more or less explosive gain. People who had been laid off were focusing on home and garden projects.
Increased consumption via the Internet and more do-it-yourself enthusiasts as a consequence. In what way did Swede-Wheel benefit?
Via retailers and wholesalers, our wheels sized between Ø15–400 mm are sold to different sectors. In the building materials trade for example, separate wheels and castors are sold to end consumers. For home decorating and DIY, Swede-Wheel comes into the picture. The wheel turns a heavy object into something that can be shifted smoothly and easily.
When products are ordered via e-commerce and need to be handled, a complete logistics chain is set in motion. Suddenly, you need more trollies and rolling containers, more unpowered roller conveyors and other material handling equipment to be able to deal with all the shipments. Material handling is a sector that we are investing in and we will continue to do so.
Have you ever had any production problems?
I can’t say that we have. This is one of the advantages of having production in Sweden. We have the advantage of producing a large part of our products at the Hillerstorp factory. Our automated presses produce retaining brackets and, using both new and recycled plastic granules, wheels and components are produced by injection moulding.
We work hard to maintain a high-quality service. Our express warehouse is an example of this. Our most popular items are shipped within Sweden on the same day if your order arrives before 14.00 (shipment to Europe within 1 week).
We are also able to make to order. Together with the fact that we stock up on these items, including different models, we can continue to offer fast deliveries.
You have a subsidiary in Asia. Has this caused any problems?
Our Chinese subsidiary, Swede-Wheel Ningbo, closed down the entire factory for a few weeks when the situation was at its worst in Ningbo. Swede-Wheel Ningbo does indeed supply us with some products, but they mainly produce wheels for the Asian market. At present, we are investing heavily in both machinery and staff in Ningbo, to strengthen our Far-East position and better serve our customers there.
The products that Swede-Wheel Ningbo produces for us are stocked in Hillerstorp. In order to better assure both deliveries and service, we have therefore increased our stock levels of these items.
It sounds like the situation hasn’t been so bleak after all for Swede-Wheel. How do you see 2021?
No, our turnover for 2020 reached the same level as in 2019, and we are grateful and humbled by the fact that, so far, we have been lucky.
We even chose to make investments during the current pandemic. Investments that provided direct benefits, but also investments that will pay off in the long term.
2021 will bring with it costly circumstances beyond our control. The shortage of raw materials will lead to price increases. The same is true for the shortage of containers, which will result in higher transport costs.
In an attempt to make life easier for our customers, in 2020 we have:
- launched our new website with both search functions and content that make it far easier for our customers to find what they’re looking for.
- invested in 2 additional injection moulding machines for production in Hillerstorp, in order to continue to deliver quickly to customers in Europe.
- trained the staff to create better understanding and further increase the quality of service offered by our talented teams.
- increased our storage capacity.
- both designed and are currently installing a completely new automated assembly machine to further enhance the automation level in the factory.
- started making similar efforts with large investments in production at our subsidiary in Ningbo to make life easier for our Asian customers.
To be continued in part 2..
..were you'll have the posibilty to get to know Andreas better in a personal profile and Andreas talks trends and what he thinks 2021 will bring to the table.