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.

 

 

Swede-Wheel has certainly not sat back and done nothing. Full steam ahead seems to have been the motto. Inspiring!

Andreas continues, there is really no indication that we will slow down with investments going into 2021 either. Of course we need to be humble, but despite the challenging situation in the world we believe in the power of development and are looking forward to continue working in some incredibly exciting and challenging projects going forward.

Okay, but, if you have to predict future trends. What can we expect when everything returns to "normal"?

- We shouldn’t underestimate the physical meeting, which will continue to be an important part of our business going forward. But it will also be exciting to see how digital behaviour is going to change the way we do business in the future, and what digital tools are developed to help us, as salespeople, in the future.

- Increasing e-commerce is nothing new, but it has completely exploded in 2020, which is of course easy to explain. But the trend started long before 2020, and we see that this consumer behaviour is here to stay and can only develop further. This is something we look forward to and that goes hand in hand with our ever increasing efforts in material handling, where we are constantly improving and extending our range of offers for these type of products and customers. As a result of this, we’re also seeing that there is increased need and development of AGVs, which will entail further demand for trollies and therefore wheels, something that we are of course also ready for.

- In addition to the new, or perhaps rather shifted need for wheels on the market as a result of increased e-commerce, we are constantly trying to feeling the pulse, monitor and follow the effects that come with the increasing digital maturity of consumers. We are adapting and are working with an agile mindset when preparing for the possible effects this development can have on the traditional B2B buying journey. Something we look at with excitement and hope to be prepared for every step of the way.

- If we take a look at something more specific, that we see as a hot-selling product, and especially when it comes to our institutional wheels, it’s lacquer-coated brackets, – for the most part completely black, which have won over many people, and which are always easy to work with in terms of design. 

I would like to end by mentioning another trend that we’re also involved in, i.e. backsourcing from Asia to Europe. We are developing/expanding production in Sweden all the time and are aiming more for our subsidiary in Ningbo, China, to become a market leader in the Asian market, rather than to be a supplier of Swede-Wheel AB.

I hope and want to believe that both new and existing customers in Europe will remain happy with us as a partner and that the locally-produced manufacturing we offer will continue to help towards customers being offered sustainable and intelligent wheel solutions.

Our motto is, as you know - Makes it easier.

Get to know Andreas Stillman, Sales and Export Manager

How long have you worked at Swede-Wheel?

23 years.
 

Why have you stayed for so long? You must really like it there?

I’m very happy! At Swede-Wheel, it’s very open, the work environment is superb and I have extremely good colleagues. My work tasks have also changed over the years. I’ve worked in all the company’s departments, ranging from assembly and storage to planning and purchasing, and then everything in our sales department, and most recently as sales manager.

 

What does a normal workday look like?

I have about 70–80 ongoing projects at any one time, so there are a lot of emails to deal with and answer. But generally speaking, a workday usually involves evaluating new products, sales support, customer conversations, strategic planning, meetings with colleagues and project reviews.

 

What do you like most about your job?

Supporting colleagues and helping customers. I am driven by helping customers to solve problems. That’s usually what a deal looks like. It’s seldom a question of simply buying. Usually the customer has a problem that they need help to solve.

 

When you’re not working, what do you do?

I have a family with a wife and two daughters that I really enjoy spending my free time with. We live in Kungälv, to the north of Gothenburg. Otherwise, I spend my free time pottering around the garden and house, riding my mountain bike, taking a break with the caravan and discovering new places, but the best thing of all is going out to sea in a small boat and catching crabs on a fine spring or summer day.