“We must stand together in these difficult times”
Logistics play a special role in the Corona crisis, because supply chains for supplying the population with food, medicines and medical equipment must not be interrupted. That is why Clark Europe, with its extensive distribution network of 168 dealers in 58 countries, is doing everything in its power to be there for customers even in this extraordinary situation: “You Can Count On Us” Rolf Eiten, Clark President & CEO, addresses his customers and business partners with this message. In the interview he describes the current situation in his company as well as the comprehensive measures to minimize the possible effects of the Corona crisis on business operations. At the center of all these steps is the protection of employees, customers and business partners.
Due to the Corona crisis, we are at the beginning of a deep recession. An end is not yet in sight. What does the current situation mean for your company?
The rapid development of the Covid-19 pandemic poses major challenges for all of us. Since the beginning of March 2020, when the first cases of Corvid-19 occurred in Germany, we have been experiencing a drastic slump in incoming orders for industrial trucks and spare parts. Our sales partners throughout the EMEA region are also reporting sharp declines in sales. The Corona crisis is not forcing only us but also the operators of materials handling vehicles to take protective measures for their employees and to reduce expenses. As a result, our sales representatives and service technicians are often no longer welcome on customer premises. Vehicle rentals are also terminated or drastically reduced.
What measures are you taking to maneuver your company through these difficult times?
We have comprehensively adapted our company to the current situation. A crisis committee that we have formed in our company reassesses the situation on a daily basis. Travel activities and all international corporate conferences are currently suspended. Communication now takes place only via digital channels. We are naturally reducing our expenses. Investments are being postponed. There are no plans to reduce our workforce. We want to keep our staff in any case, as we need all employees for the time after Corona. However, we must take the economic situation into account. This means that we will make use of the regulations on short-time work created by the government from April and apply for short-time work for our operations in Germany. Therefore I would like to emphasize all the more at this point that even in this challenging situation, we will maintain our range of services for our customers and continue our work. This means that we will continue to be available to customers and business partners via the contacts they are used to.
Is the protection of employees guaranteed?
We have been taken measures to protect our employees already at an early stage. For example, hand hygiene stations have been set up at all neuralgic points in the company. Employees with pre-existing illnesses and/or employees at higher risk due to age work from their home office. And, as already mentioned, there is no longer any travel for operational reasons. Employees who return privately from holiday trips go through a quarantine period and work from home during this time. Visits from outside, for example from customers or suppliers, do not currently take place. We have also suspended all training measures in our training center until further notice. Employees who accept deliveries and carry out loading and thus have contact with drivers work in protected areas.
How do the processes in the company work, is home office an alternative and how are business areas continued where home office is not an option?
As already mentioned, where it is necessary and possible, we already use the home office as an alternative. During the short-time working phase, we work in two shifts to provide additional protection our employees. Our IT landscape is very powerful and allows both external control and unrestricted communication for employees in the home office. Some areas, such as the accounting department, work in the office, because no posting is made without a receipt. Employees in the workshop or warehouse also have to do their work at their regular workplace. But here our two-shift principle comes into play.
Will production at the plants continue?
So far, production continues at our supply plants in Vietnam, South Korea and China. After initial delays in some sea freight deliveries in January and February, which were mainly due to the Luna holidays and the bad weather at sea, the plants in confirmed March normal conditions from April onwards. The supply chain on the part of our plants is therefore in place. However, there could now be delays due to interrupted supply chains in the sales markets.
Are there delays in the delivery of Clark materials handling vehicles or spare parts?
For new machines as well as for spare parts we are very well stocked in our European headquarters with our large spare parts center and our inventory. We always have direct access to new vehicles in the warehouse in Duisburg and we have a rolling supply of new machines on a monthly basis. The supply of spare parts is additionally secured by our international supply sources, which have so far functioned smoothly, and by inventories at our local dealers. We currently do not anticipate any significant delays in the delivery of new equipment. Rather, we are concerned about whether deliveries to our customers can be made as planned or whether orders may still be cancelled.
What is the situation at your sales partners?
As already described at the beginning, demand from end customers is currently declining sharply in our dealer network. This presents our sales partners with mayor challenges and requires a great deal of entrepreneurial foresight. We are confident that our partners will deal responsibly with the situation and take forward-looking measures.
Is the customer service of Clark Europe available?
Customer service is guaranteed both in our entire region and locally in our local sales area. For our direct sales in the Duisburg region, customer service is available as usual – even during the short-time work phase. Regular customers are served without exception when they request our services. In the case of enquiries from new customers, we check beforehand what the situation is like on site, i.e. whether the service technician can carry out maintenance or repair work safely without having to be in contact with many people. To protect our employees, we have equipped all service vehicles with disinfectant spray and have provided our staff with strict hygiene and behavior guidelines.
What is missing and gets lost in these days?
Unfortunately, personal contacts with customers, suppliers and service providers, but also with our own employees, are lost to some extent. For many people, lightness and openness have disappeared. Instead, everyday life is overshadowed by concerns about one’s own health and personal financial well-being.
How long can a company sustain such a situation?
None of us have ever experienced a crisis of this magnitude. Against this background, I find it difficult to make a really accurate forecast at this point in time. However, I believe that we can survive this situation for a few months if the parties involved treat each other well and pull together to meet this challenge.
What does that mean in concrete terms for the anticipated business development of Clark Europe?
Our original economic planning for 2020 can no longer be implemented. Instead, we are currently dealing with a contingency plan that includes a significantly reduced turnover for the year. The duration of the crisis will ultimately determine how deep the economic impact on our business will be. Nevertheless, I am confident that we can master the crisis.
Do you consider yourself sufficiently prepared overall?
This is a difficult question. In a situation like this, I believe that one can never be sufficiently prepared. However, I can assure you that the Clark management team is doing a very good job and taking appropriate decisions and measures according to the situation, which contribute to the well-being of the company, its employees, sales partners and suppliers.