Afera network contact takes place of tape market data in current “new normal”
Afera’s 3rd webinar in COVID-19 series covers European government support, lockdown statuses and themes of business flexibility, online video conferencing, updated supply chains, collaboration, data and sustainability
The European Adhesive Tape Association continues to offer a platform to our Membership for exchanging experiences, knowhow and best practices during COVID-19 disruption and to determine how best to support our Member Companies. Our 30 April webinar marked the 3rd in the biweekly interactive series “Navigating the COVID-19 crisis within the adhesive tape value chain.” Discussion revealed most importantly that talking to customers and suppliers—specifically utilising Member contacts made within Afera’s community—is currently the most reliable instrument for keeping your finger on the pulse of the tape market.
Key topics covering flexibility and supply chains
With over 40 registrants again, the 30 April webinar covered how companies are preparing for and embracing the opportunities of a post-COVID-19 world. A Member panel of 4 “conversation-starters” discussed their shifting strategies during times of COVID-19 disruption, touching on “the new normal”, agility and resilience, the advent of remote meetings, onshoring and thickening of supply chains, collaboration, data and sustainability.
E.C. programme developments
After a recap of Afera’s 2 and 16 April webinars, Afera Regulatory Affairs Manager Pablo Englebienne reported that some European countries had started addressing how to emerge from the various national lockdown measures, especially those that had experienced stricter situations. “Despite some easing in Member State measures, it is important to note that this does not mean we are going back to the same world of more than 2 months ago,” Mr. Englebienne warned. “For the time being, social distancing and the donning of PPE in public are here to stay.”
In the last 2 weeks, the E.C. has put systems into place which offer additional financial support. These include exceptional measures to support the agri-food sector and a joint statement signed by the E.U. and 21 other WTO members pledging to ensure well-functioning global food supply chains. And Afera Members take note: To encourage innovation during COVID-19 disruption, the E.U. has also launched a new €50 million pilot to develop skills and education across Europe that will support financing for students and learners, enterprises investing in the upskilling of their employees and organisations supplying education and training. MS aid programmes are also multiplying and expanding.
The E.U. information agency for occupational safety and health (EU-OSHA) announced on 24 April that it is preparing documentation on how to return safely to the workplace after the Crisis in multiple languages. Mr. Englebienne noted that the most interesting resource in this area is an OSHWIKI article “COVID-19: Back to the workplace – Adapting workplaces and protecting workers,” at the end of which is a table of guidelines for specific sectors or occupations listed per country.
European lockdown developments
Since Afera’s 16 April webinar, lockdown measurements have been extended through mid-May in several countries, such as the U.K., Spain, the Netherlands and Poland. France, which has undergone very strict lockdown conditions, will begin reopening itself on 11 May. At the same time, Dutch schools will reopen.
While social distancing and wearing PPE is either advised or mandatory in all MSs, some are exploring whether to implement tracking apps to monitor contact between people, and the E.U. has issued a “Common EU Toolbox for Member States” for doing so.
Following our 2nd webinar on 16 April, Afera Secretary General Astrid Lejeune ran a survey of just 4 questions relating to Members’ regulatory challenges or barriers, preparation for the post-COVID-19 restriction period and areas in which the Association can be of more support. Ms. Lejeune explained that she was pleased with the information provided by the 22 respondents. Check here for a full report on our Industry findings, which were used to prepare for this webinar.
Finding “the new normal”
Addressing “future focus” as the theme of the day, marketing strategist Bert van Loon, returning as moderator, explained that we all are looking to a protracted “post-COVID-19-crisis period” of time, pending the introduction of a vaccine or viable drug treatment, during which we have to learn to integrate the risk management of coronavirus in our daily lives, our professional routines and business planning. The shift toward a low-touch and low-travel society has influenced economies wholly and specific industries more than others. Business is changing as we enter what are uncharted territories.
“There are so many uncertainties yet about what the business and economic landscape will look like in the future,” Mr. Van Loon explained. “In many ways, it is too early to strategise in the manner we are familiar with: to define accurately the external and internal factors, then draw up and work according to a plan.”
The 4 panellists, who represent the geographical and value chain spread within the Afera community, readily referred to an elusive “new normal” they were either adjusting to or attempting to establish.
“We are slowly moving closer to a post-COVID-19 world, but it will never be the same as it was before,” commented Melanie Ott, a chemical engineer and global business manager of tapes and labels at H.B. Fuller (Germany). She said that as we begin the process of opening up the economy again, in addition to focussing on safe business processes, now is the time to be studying and setting your longer-term strategy. “Now is the time to revisit various strategies, read market research and learn as much news as you can from your end-customers to get an idea of whether you should adapt your business plan.” Ms. Ott explained that within the multinational manufacturer of adhesives, she owns the strategy for PSAs, which she is working on together with a team from marketing.
İbrahim Hatipoğlu, from an entirely different company both in the value chain and geographic location, Turkey, said much the same: “It is a difficult period for everybody, and going forward things will have to be done differently—they will never by the same.” Mr. Hatipoğlu, who is managing director of Egebant Zımpara ve Polisaj Malzemeleri San. ve Tic. A.Ş., which converts adhesive tapes, continued, “We are trying to adapt our company to a new way of doing business in the near future, especially concerning how we do things between home and office, and between office and customers and suppliers.”
“We have to learn to live the new normal, but what that is is something we are trying to understand, anticipate and embrace,” added Matthias von Schwerdtner, who is the corporate vice president at tesa SE (Germany), a multinational tape manufacturer. “Every company, as well as our local, regional and federal governments, is trying to inch ahead, and because of safety measures, we will not work as we did before.” He described the accelerating change to not only working from home but purchasing more online in general: “What this acceleration means to our organisation and how we manage has changed.”
Flexibility in meeting new challenges
How are you preparing your business for a post-COVID-19 world or one with substantially extended low-touch?
“The thing that I have stressed to my management team as the most important capability at the moment is to be agile,” offered Mike Ayres, chairman and chief executive of Advance Tapes International, Ltd. “Whereas previously we might have been able to come up with a strategy which we could communicate to everyone, and it would stay largely unchanged for a long period, now we have got to recognise that things can change very rapidly and frequently.”
He explained that they really value people in the organisation who can adapt quickly and make changes as needed. “One way of describing that would be: We used to feel our dream was to develop a Formula One car. Now we’re realising that the best kind of car is a rally car, because the road is bumpy and altering in direction, and we need people who are able to respond to those changes.” Advance Tapes’ employees were quick to embrace social distancing and other standards, and then, for example, at short notice they had to move production staff to lines where demand for their products was higher rather than sticking with the ranges they already had that were based on previous sales models.
Transition to online video conferencing
When discussing the organisational changes at tesa brought about by COVID-19 disruption, Mr. von Schwerdtner emphasised that flexibility is closely linked to an increasing reliance on online communication in everything related to business. “Being online more makes you more flexible in a certain way—more agile—you can react more quickly,” he explained. “It’s exciting to some degree, but it is also exhausting in a different way, so agility matters.”
“One thing that has been quite good actually is that we have much more immediate meetings with video conferencing than we do by physically getting people together,” shared Mr. Ayres, whose company is based in both the U.K. and France. “We had a board meeting yesterday, and within 30 minutes we had all the managers together up on the screens to brief them on what we had discussed, whereas in the past we would have spent a few days having physical meetings.”
“Because of travel restrictions and social distancing measures, it is not possible to visit suppliers and customers right now,” Mr. Hatipoğlu added. “So we are focusing on video conferencing and have received training for managing meetings, as this is new for many people in our company.”
Onshoring and thickening supply chains
A future trend set for potential strategic change involves geographical focus in terms of easier, quicker and assured access to materials necessary to keep supply chains functioning optimally. Mr. Ayres reported that he is seeing a tendency toward onshoring, i.e. moving business processes to a location in the same country as the buyer. “People are shortening their supply chains by wanting to source more products locally rather than necessarily from producers in countries far away from Europe,” he described. “I have seen many strong examples of this in the U.K. and more recently in France and Belgium, where customers are saying, ‘We used to buy this product from Asia, for example, and now we are looking for a more local supply.’” Mr. Ayres added that perhaps they are prepared to trade a little bit on price for having a more secure local source with products for delivery only a day or 2 away.
Ms. Ott expects that “companies will be looking to have more than one supplier qualified all along the value chain.” She thinks in previous years there was a trend toward sourcing the cheapest suppliers, e.g. those in Asia, but the current situation exposes the Industry’s dependency on single suppliers: “There will be a move toward multi-supplier strategies.”
The converter in the panel, Mr. Hatipoğlu, expressed his agreement that “we will have less competition from [foreign] parties, and this is an important advantage for us.” In Turkey, he explained, customers may need to solve problems by changing suppliers, and they need quick service and reliable, high-quality products from a strategically well-positioned company: “We should all focus on this right now: meeting our customers’ needs by consistently providing flexible solutions.”
“Collaboration is going to be very important to our success in the future,” commented Mr. Ayres. “That may be with people in very different businesses where we didn’t think there was a connection before, but we discover that there is actually one, and we can develop some useful, potential products and services by working together.” He also thinks that in terms of sharing and onshoring between Afera Members, there may be some opportunities there where various companies have spare capacity that could be of use to peers in other adhesive tape businesses.
Mr. von Schwerdtner added that with the increasing digitisation of all business processes, including product development and innovation, “for tesa, joint development between suppliers and customers, all the way up and down the value chain, becomes quite relevant and interesting.”
Afera network supplements or takes place of market data
“We are continuously updating and renewing our data strategy,” Mr. von Schwerdtner continued. In all tesa’s processes, whether product development or customer service, “data is imminent, and for that you obviously have to have a huge and important backbone, which is your IT system.” He explained that digitisation only works when you have that base, and they are accelerating their efforts especially now to build that up.
Increasingly over the past few years, one part of data systems that companies have also been developing for strategic purposes is market figures. “Obviously, if a company wants to be flexible and responsive, either you need to have a brilliant gut feeling as an entrepreneur or you need the data,” Mr. Van Loon pointed out. Whereas getting your hands on accurate market data is already difficult under normal circumstances, it is nearly impossible during COVID-19 disruption.
“The picture is changing so rapidly it is very hard to have data that remains valid for a long time, so people may have to start being a little bit more intuitive,” Mr. Ayres admitted. “It’s going to take a while in this post-COVID-19 world for things to settle down so they are understandable by conventional means.”
Likewise, Ms. Ott said “relevant data does not exist at the moment, neither for coronavirus nor for the economy.” Market research and studies which may be used within a normal economy to take decisions and set strategies are irrelevant during times of COVID-19, because they were prepared in the past and will arguably differ greatly in the future. She suggested that this is an area in which Members’ personal networks in Afera can help: “Where you get information at the moment is through communication with your peers in the Industry, people who you know and can chat with simply because you have met them within Afera’s network. Our industry collective’s platform on which we can meet and share information with our peers is probably the most reliable information that you can get at the moment.”
“Yes,” Mr. Van Loon concurred. “I think increasing your contact with peers in this network has huge potential which has not yet been utilised to its maximum.”
Sustainability is in our future
Lastly, panellists agreed across the board that the trend toward sustainability will be further fuelled by COVID-19 disruption. Mr. Ayres said it best when mentioning that the Crisis has caused us to look at every part of our lives, including our business processes and end products, and question, Is this necessary? Do you have to visit this person or company, or can it be done remotely? Do you or a product have to make this long journey? Is this packaging necessary? This thought process flows into considerations of sustainability.
There is also the fact that the lack of economic activity, especially traffic and production, has benefitted the environment in many ways, perhaps setting a benchmark at which the sentiment will be, We don’t really want to go back to how bad it was. “This reminds us that the world is not only about business and the economy,” Mr. Hatipoğlu said. “This has changed our mindset in some ways.” Ms. Ott added, “Right now the world has the chance to move more towards sustainability. The real question is, will the world take advantage of this opportunity or not?”
“Sustainability is a big topic,” Mr. von Schwerdtner concluded. “It is the theme for Afera’s next Conference, and I think every company is working on it. The writing on the wall is that we cannot keep on doing things the old way—change is imminent—so we may as well embrace and tackle sustainable ways of doing things now, looking closely at what opportunities are there for us as companies and an industry.”
Ms. Lejeune said that Afera’s community will grow even stronger with additional networking, information exchange and collaboration opportunities in the works. She encouraged any Member with an idea or who would like to participate in a panel discussion to contact her here.
Next webinar – register now!
Afera’s next exclusive Webinar on “Navigating the COVID-19 crisis within the adhesive tape value chain” will be held on Thursday, 14 May, 14.00-15.00 CEST. Please register here.
The recording of the 30 April webinar is now available here using the password 1S@.8.8!
COVID-19 resources for Afera Members
Afera’s team has also created a dedicated COVID-19 resource page, including practical information, advice and links to other important institutional bodies and stakeholders. Members should check this page regularly for updated material.