MFN had the pleasure to talk to Mojca Andolšek, managing director of FerroECOBlast® Europe.
The family-owned company FerroECOBlast® Europe is a leading developer of specialized solutions and manufacturer of surface treatment machines. With an extensive breadth and depth of knowledge going back more than 57 years, they provide their customers from around the world with highly professional research services, solution development, engineering and manufacturing of special-purpose machines for surface treatment applications. In the years since their founding in 1964, they have faced quite a few global as well as local crises: from the specific conditions at the outset of their operations in the former country, to changes in the socio-economic system, Slovenia's declaration of independence and the difficult years before Slovenia's joining the European Union, to the last global financial crisis, which only further consolidated their strength and thoroughly prepared them to face the latest challenge, the COVID crisis. In the period since the last financial crisis, they managed to complete important new projects, further expanding the company's market reach to embrace other, propulsive industries such as medicine and additive manufacturing technology. This time around, MFN hosted Ms Mojca Andolšek, managing director of FerroECOBlast® Europe and head of the company as part of the third generation of the Črtalič family. We were curious to know how they experienced the time of the COVID crisis, tackled the challenges, took advantage of the time when it was not possible to travel and maintain personal contacts with customers, and what progress they managed to make during that time.
(?) MFN: Do you still remember what it was like before the arrival of the "black swan"?
(!) M. A.: How could I forget? Christmas and New Year holidays 2019–2020. People are rejoicing all around! Shops and shopping malls are teeming with people rushing about their holiday shopping. Getting a free table for two in restaurants, just by walking in, is practically a miracle. Travel agents are offering the last available slots for a holiday break somewhere warm …
The economy is closing another successful year. Both on the domestic and global scales. Our company had reached a new record and a new milestone in sales figures. The plans for the coming year 2020 were even more ambitious!
Higher! Further! More!
But somewhere far away, on the far side of the world, is where it all began. A virus.
Something that seemed so far away at the time, so minute, so insignificant, rocked all the world's economy, countries and societies virtually overnight, at their very roots.
The "black swan" was here! And it came without warning, silently, fiercely.
(?) MFN: How did you experience the sudden onset of the pandemic? Were you prepared for it?
(!) M. A.: Two of my colleagues from sales went on a business trip abroad for a few weeks at the end of January 2020. They were successful in closing several big deals, one deal was practically near completion, only the signing-off from the chief decision-maker was needed, and their visits to other customers were also quite promising. Most of the customers came directly from or had links to the aviation industry, which was one of our main focuses over this past period. We were looking forward to a great start to the 2020 business year!
Soon after that, a shock! It was like someone splashed you with a bucketful of ice-cold water. The virus was here! In Europe, in our neighbouring countries, at home. First deaths were reported… One after another, countries declare a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
(?) MFN: How did your company respond to the emergency situation?
(!) M. A.: At our company, we responded to the new situation quickly, thoughtfully and quite effectively, I'd say.
As the first news of the virus came from nearby countries, well before an epidemic was declared in Slovenia, we took the earliest preventive measures such as restriction of business trips, restriction of visits to our facilities, disinfection of hands and premises, use of face masks, etc. Soon after, careful consideration was followed by a series of business-specific measures: cost minimization, focusing sales activities on industries that we estimated would be less affected, strengthening digital marketing activities, and digitizing our operations. The main goals were twofold: to ensure the liquidity and financial survival of the company in the period ahead and to keep the staff structure unchanged. All the other activities conformed to the two main goals as outlined above.
(?) MFN: Due to the need for social distancing, the COVID crisis also shook relationships at places and caused a rift in communication between people (co-workers, partners, and so on), and in some places, a lot of work was done remotely, from home. At FerroECOBlast® Europe, how did you manage to maintain the required level of communication and how did you react to the constant changes?
(!) M. A.: Well, in fact we met with our closest colleagues, as well as with other people we work with, even more often than usual to talk about the situation that was changing on a daily basis, about adapting our way of work to it, utilizing positive and important state incentives to mitigate the negative effects of the crisis, and we solved problems related to the implementation and completion of acquired projects, looked for ways and channels to sign new contracts, dealt with supply chain issues, and the list goes on.
But something else was important as well… We never reacted recklessly and never allowed the situation – that was extremely difficult to bear at times – to bring us to our knees psychologically. Throughout, we have consciously maintained a high level of optimism, willpower and commitment to what we like to do best – solve complex surface treatment challenges for our customers!
(?) MFN: You have made a conscious decision to focus on investing in development despite the crisis. Why do that at such a time?
(!) M. A.: Yes, we did. As early as May 2020, we conducted several workshops where we drew evaluations, had brainstorming sessions, discussed the necessary changes to our current strategy in the light of the emerging situation and new developments. It was perfectly clear to us that it will never be the same again… that the world, along with our societies and economies, would be very different after this epidemic is over. But what would it be like?
Our answer to this question was the decision to go ahead and invest in the development of the company!
(?) MFN: An interesting and bold decision. Could you describe your projects in more detail?
(!) M. A.: Of course. Aware of the severe business and financial situation, we decided to focus on and invest in:
Upgrading the existing testing facilities and setting up our own Service & Testing Centre for carrying out even the most advanced services and testing in the area of surface treatment. Among them is the possibility of conducting robotic shot peening application testing.
The development of, and securing a marketing breakthrough with, a new line of 3D post-processing machines under the brand Addiblast™ by FerroECOBlast® Europe.
Starting a warehouse at a new location and its digitization.
Applying to a tender for two new European research and development projects in the field of surface treatment.
Digital marketing as a key marketing tool in post-COVID times.
Accelerated introduction of digital transformation into the company.
We worked with great vigor in all these highlighted areas, and the positive decisions regarding co-financing only further strengthened our efforts to become even more involved and quicker to act.
(?) MFN: So, have you succeeded? What were the results like?
(!) M. A.: As early as November 2020, we presented and launched Addiblast™ by FerroECOBlast® Europe, a new line of machines for the post-processing of 3D printed parts, at the Formnext Connect virtual trade fair, the most important trade event for additive manufacturing technologies.
We engaged in intensive marketing communications across all digital channels, social media included. We upgraded our online store, started the FerroECOBlast Blog, and launched our social media presence on Instagram and Facebook. Active participation in virtual trade fairs and events has now become a regular occurrence.
We managed to secure support for our determination to enter the demanding field of medicine by winning a European-level R&D project. Building on the already successful marketing of solutions in the field of dental implants, our new line of machines for the post-processing of medical implants designed for the orthopedic and dental industries is getting its final look and feel under the MiBlast™ brand.
The digital transformation of the company, which started with last year's digitization of FAT (Factory Acceptance Test), continues at a strong pace with the digitization of key business processes: warehousing, logistics, manufacturing, quality assurance. The replacement of the e-marketing system, its integration with the existing CRM system and a whole range of interlinked marketing automations are already in the integration phase.
All this is thanks to our outstanding employees, without whom none of the above would have been possible. As much as we possibly can, we continually work towards fostering an inclusive and individual-oriented business culture, in line with our traditional moral and ethical values.
(?) MFN: You have clearly made a big investment in your business. What results do you expect to achieve with your "new" post-COVID-19 company during the period of growth ahead?
(!) M. A.: Today, as the third wave of the epidemic is behind us and we managed to curb and control the impacts of the epidemic and infections on our health (the company was operational all the time during the epidemic, of course taking into account the proper health and safety considerations), successfully weathering the global COVID storm, we are already seeing the rough outlines of the new post-COVID reality: in social, economic and business terms.
The renewed FerroECOBlast® Europe company will be even more environmentally and socially responsible: we are obtaining ISO 14001 environmental management certification this autumn, and ISO 45001 occupational health and safety certification in 2022. We are in the final stages of setting up two charging stations for electric vehicles, which will be followed by the gradual electrification of the company's vehicle fleet.
Digital transformation is already yielding its first results (digital marketing, marketing automation – CRM, digitization of business processes). However, we will not stop here and we will continue to work intensively on the process that is under way. We are well aware that this path will not be a short one, but there is no alternative in our industry either. IT'S GO DIGITAL OR GO OUT!
Our business success allows us to be highly resilient to external shocks and to invest in new areas/technologies such as additive manufacturing technology, medicine, laser cleaning, and more. These will gradually become the drivers of our future growth and business success.
MFN would like to thank Mojca Andolšek for this interview and wish her and her company all the best!
For Information: FerroČrtalič d.o.o.
Sela pri Dolenjskih Toplicah 47
SI-8350 Dolenjske Toplice, Slovenia
Tel. +386.7.38 45 100