Scope for new business models: an interview with Margit Becker, Soennecken eG

Soennecken eG has its sights firmly set on the future. Margit Becker knows the purchasing and marketing cooperative for office products and services inside out. She started her career there as a trainee management assistant in wholesale and foreign trade. Now, 30 years later, she is driving forward the retail business as area manager. In this interview, she provides us with some insights into strategies that can strengthen retailers in the long term.

What do you offer retailers to help them succeed on their way to a sustainable future? 

Margit Becker: On the one hand, we are focusing on the idea of "securing the future" by striving for the continuous development of our product ranges at LogServe. They go far beyond just paper, office and stationery products and give our members and retailers the chance to generate new sales in their role as an all-round office supplier. Moreover, we are also addressing a lot of current topics – such as the office of the future, digitalisation at school or even coffee service. By doing this, we are deliberately positioning ourselves in an open and broad-based manner so as to open up some scope for new and complementary business models. We will see what the future brings and adapt ourselves to it very flexibly.

How important is sustainability for Soennecken eG?

M. B.: Our entire business model is geared towards maintaining the marketability of our retailers in the long term. From an economic point of view, sustainability is virtually the basic principle. Our corporate culture is designed to create good conditions for our employees to stay healthy and develop further. And when it comes to environmental protection, we come up with new ideas and targets every year. Our ISO certification level alone – which is unusually high for the industry –shows how important sustainable action is to us. We document this every year by publishing a sustainability report.

What digital strategies are you developing for your own organisation or in cooperation with retailers?

M. B.: Digitalisation naturally permeates all levels of our business. Let us take a concrete look at the risks and opportunities, using our retail shops as an example. In order to seize the great opportunities offered, the sensible and beneficial use of digital concepts and measures is crucial for us. People have to be the focal point of our attention. Technology must not become an end in itself. Digitalisation has long been anchored in our corporate strategy and we are implementing it in a targeted manner and with a wide range of measures. In the retail sector, this includes consistently integrating digital contact points in the customer journey, for example through a prime positioning at Google, professional social media concepts, or even price scanners and self-service points in the shop. However, the entire system only creates value through the heart of digitalisation: the SoLution merchandise management system, which Soennecken developed in cooperation with Ortloff and other retailers as well as with Kassaline. Without merchandise management, there can be no digitalisation; without up-to-date, clean and complete data, nobody can control processes efficiently these days.

The coronavirus era is also changing a lot at the moment. Which 3 aspects have been particularly boosted by it?

M. B.: 1 Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of change in the world of work. The most obvious is mobile working and WFH, or ‘working from home’. In our opinion, this would also have happened without coronavirus – but certainly later than the current timeframe.
2. Consumers are increasingly going digital and choosing whatever suits them best. This has certainly led to a digital learning effect. What remains to be seen is how behaviour will settle down in the long run.
3. The awareness of and attitude towards change has increased. Nobody is denying any longer that our world can change quickly and dramatically. The need to accept new things and to be open and flexible is perceived much more urgently now. At the same time, however, dealing with change through one's own experiences is becoming a matter of course, almost normal. Many things that were previously not thought possible are now accepted – and lo and behold: they actually work! 

Covid-19 is posing a number of challenges for the retail trade. But what can the retail trade learn from the crisis so it can develop in a future-oriented way?

M. B.: The pandemic has triggered something, but we are still at the very beginning of this development. It will be an exciting and long journey. Two points are particularly important to us on this path: firstly, customers and their changing habits are becoming even more important than before. We will have to think of our business in a holistic way from the customer's point of view and act accordingly to make sure that we stay in business well and safely. Secondly, we will have to be willing to try things out: testing new things in short cycles in direct contact with the customer and adapting them again and again. This requires guts and the willingness to learn and make mistakes. This learning process is starting now and, if it succeeds, it will eventually lead to a new level of ease in our day-to-day business. 

Ms Becker, thank you for giving us this interview.

Soennecken eG is a cooperation partner of Insights-X. Partnerships can also be established digitally. With Insights-X Online, we are, therefore, offering you the chance to get to know our cooperating trade associations and buying cooperatives.

Cooperation partners

About the cooperation partner:

Soennecken eG is the leading purchasing and marketing cooperative for office supplies and services. The roughly 500 members are medium-sized specialist dealers in retail and B2B business. Via Germany's most modern logistics centres in the industry, its dealers have access to 25,000 branded articles and the exclusive Soennecken brand. Around 530 employees work at the Soennecken headquarters in Overath. In the tradition of Friedrich Soennecken (1848-1919), the inventor of lever arch files and ring binders, the cooperative sees itself as a dynamic and innovative company that acts in a value-conscious way

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