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Italian ceramics is number one for great attention to detail and wide product range

Attention to price/quality ratio and customer service are strategic factors

by Alessandra Ferretti

Mr Heidbrink, when was your company set up and what are the major turning points in its history?
Our company was founded in 1921 as a construction material supply company which had, among its sales departments, a division dedicated to tiles. Marble was introduced later on. In 1970 we stopped tile laying and installation and focus instead on tile retail and wholesale.
In the mid 90s we set up our office in Halle/Saale in the Saxony-Anhalt region, while ten years later we extended our sales area by opening a warehouse in Isernhagen.
In 2011 our subsidiary company Rudolph Richter Fliesenhandel was started, and the opening of other branches (first in Iserlohn and then in Assia/Ruhr) developed the distribution network in Ruhrgebiet.


How many people do you employ? And how many of them actually work in sales?
On the whole the company employs 60 people. Over half of them are in sales – both  in and out of office.

What kind of products do you sell? And where does ceramics stand?

We sell all kinds of ceramics. Meaning, more specifically, wall tiles for bathrooms and living rooms, porcelain stone, cotto, and cement floor tiles.
Ceramics accounts for 90% of our sales. The rest is divided between accessories, chemical products for construction and natural stone.

How did you decide to trade ceramic tiles? And how did you get a place in the market?
Our company has a long tradition with tile trading. The vast range of ceramic products and the way the industry has developed are such that tile trading is our core business. Our specialization in tiles has enabled us to gather a high-end portfolio and to stand out from competitors.


What type of customers does your company have?
Our sales staff mainly supply installers, tile shops and architects. The whole range of ceramic products is at your disposal. Our showroom is visited both by private customers and installers lacking a showroom of their own.

What does your showroom look like?
All three Hermann Heidbrink offices focus on detailed product display. In shop-in-shops we do not only display our product range, but also other materials.
The Rudolph Richter Fliesenhandel’s smallest showrooms show all tiles that are available at our warehouse in Osnabrück. We greatly value the rotation of display themes such as classic marble design, urban loft style, or vintage concept.

Compared to the past, what do you rate more important in the salesmen-customers relation?
Customers expect to have increasingly wider selections to choose from, and may look for the most peculiar and odd designs. Apart from that, the modern customer is more informed today; hence, permanent education and update for the sales staff are called for.

What do you expect from the ceramic products you buy? And what do you especially value about Italian ceramic products?
German consumers particularly pay attention to price, so quality/price ratio is very important to us. We see Italian manufacturers as design leaders in ceramics; therefore we expect further development as far as aesthetics, quality, and value added are concerned.
At the same time, common marketing and merchandising have become increasingly important. Today it is no longer sufficient to print a few catalogues or stick samples on boards. What is all the more important is providing support when presenting the latest products whether online or in the shop .

What is, according to you, the main difference between Italian ceramic manufacturers and tile producers from other countries?
The main difference is a vast selection of diversified products and great attention to detail, which partly explain higher prices. Moreover, we believe it is normally Italy which has the courage to develop and put on the market unusual products.

What could therefore do Italian ceramic manufacturers in order to be more appreciated on the German market?
We would sometimes hope for a more “wait and see attitude” from our suppliers in Italy before launching new products in the market. Our customers are rather conservative and have traditional taste, and would need a little more time to be convinced.
As to product development, it should take place taking into account market conditions. Manufacturers should ask themselves questions such as: what is the point in having an interplay of colours which can no longer be displayed at a showroom? Why are we offered shapes and decorations which are hardly available and which are expensive and therefore almost impossible to sell?


How is the German construction market doing at the moment?
Germany is currently undergoing a process of construction and modernization. This is mainly due to the fact that roads or public buildings haven’t been maintained for years, and today they are in poor state. But investments in real estate are also attracted by low interest rates.
Yet consumers’ willingness to enhance their living conditions remains, in many parts of Germany, rather low. Unfortunately what also decreases is the quality of construction works – which get worse and worse or not done at all.
This issue leads to groundless demands and to some confusion towards private builders.
The fear of a sort of “Pfusch am Bau” prevents many owners from renovating or refurbishing their houses.

Major Italian brands distributed by Heidbrink
Atlas Concorde, Floor Gres, Supergres, Tagina, Piemme, Italgraniti, Antica Rubiera, Rondine, Leonardo, LaFaenza, Marazzi, Monocibec, Cerdomus, CIR.


Together with his father, Lars Heidbrink is owner of Heidbrink group.
Already back at university, while studying Economics, he had focused on external support to customers. After graduating, his commitment in the company has increased and become more demanding. Today he manages the sales and purchase departments, and is in charge of the new plants.
The group has five showrooms and seven warehouses. Of the five showrooms, three belong to Hermann Heidbrink (Osnabrück, Hannover und Halle/Saale) while two are associated with Rudolph Richter Fliesenhandel, a wholly owned subsidiary company with headquarters in Assia/Ruhr and in Iserlohn.