A good tailor knows his customer
When Jan Christiansen joined Stalatube in 1976, the company produced 1,000–2,000 tonnes of tube annually. When he retired 32 years later, the production volumes had increased dozens of times over. Stalatube had developed into a global brand known especially for its durable structural tubes.
“It was precisely structural tubes that carried us through the recession in the 90s,” explains Christiansen, who made his career as the company’s Managing Director.
However, structural tubes have a lot more to do with Stalatube’s history than just that.
The structural tubes story actually starts with the curse of Stalatube’s early years: poor quality.
“The company received many complaints, especially relating to how the products looked,” Christiansen recalls. “Something had to be done. It was decided that a quality control system needed to be set up, which would be based on the employees’ own control and on open feedback. It proved effective. Quality soon became one of Stalatube’s core values and sales assets.”
The self-critical quality development system created another strength as well. Even though the system had helped to achieve an improvement in the products’ appearance, Stalatube noticed during the process that its tubes didn’t necessarily have to have a shiny surface to compete. Stalatube’s strength lay in its large structural tubes, and it seemed that there was a demand for them. Germany proved to be their first market. Trade relations with the USA also began in the 1990s just prior to the recession.
“I personally took part in opening up markets in 30 countries, including the United States. People were astonished that the Managing Director bothered showing up. They weren’t used to it,” recalls Christiansen.
Precisely that, in other words personal meetings, are what Christiansen considers Stalatube’s other strength, in addition to its structural tubes.
“From the very beginning Stalatube has wanted to show its customers that the company listens to them and values them. That means going to the customer and meeting them face to face,” says Christiansen.
He believes that this is the only way to create a solid customer relationship. So solid that it can even develop into a friendship.
“I just got back from a holiday in the Far East. We were there visiting some old clients,” Christiansen explains.
Trips also offer other benefits in addition to friendship. They provide information about the needs of the customers and that is more valuable than gold to the company, as the story about structural tubes shows. A customer-focused approach has been one of Stalatube’s key principles for decades.
How the company listens to its customers has changed, however. If in the company’s formative years it meant reacting to customer complaints, the next decade was already about finding out for themselves what the customer might require. In the 1980s, the biggest trend was improving delivery reliability. The “Just in time” concept promised fast and dependable delivery times.
The 1990s were all about offering customers cut-to-length tubes in various strengths.
“Many other operators could offer customers small cut-to-length tubes, but we had the equipment to cut large tubes as well. Stalatube’s offering of tubes at that time was already then one of the broadest in the world,” says Christiansen.
The 2000s have involved a more individual approach towards supplying customer needs. An increasing volume of tubes tailored to the customers’ requirements are leaving the company’s plants. Christiansen believes that Stalatube’s old recipe for success will see it through the present developments. Listening to the customer, a solid relationship and personal service have gained an even more important role.
“There’s no point in offering the customer ten cheap suits if he wants one that’s tailor-made. A good tailor is one who knows his customer and his style and then sets about creating the perfect suit for him,” Christiansen draws an analogy.