On The Blue Sofa

Har­ald Holzapfel: The “Cus­tomer Whisperer”

On The Blue Sofa: Harald Holzapfel

It was love that led Josef Umdasch to the con­cern in the ear­ly 1930s. And in the same way it was also love for his wife that brought Har­ald Holzapfel to the Amstet­ten region in 1981. Born in 1952, the man­age­ment expert retired from Umdasch Shop­fit­ting at the end of 2017 – after work­ing for the com­pa­ny for almost 37 years.

Har­ald Holzapfel joined the firm on 18 May 1981. Under the Direc­tor Friedrich Lipp he soon became Export Direc­tor for the coun­tries of the Near East. It was a time of re-ori­en­ta­tion and change. Aus­tri­an for­eign trade del­e­gates were part­ly respon­si­ble for access to the mar­kets at the time, and Holzapfel was in reg­u­lar con­tact with them. Har­ald Holzapfel explained dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion that they also approached the com­pa­ny when they learned of major projects in the var­i­ous regions and thought that the ser­vices and prod­ucts of an Aus­tri­an com­pa­ny might be in demand there. The con­tacts led to a num­ber of major orders in Sau­di Ara­bia and Qatar and else­where and result­ed in the com­pa­ny gain­ing a foothold and estab­lish­ing itself in these mar­kets. This was to prove worthwhile.

The markets in the Near East were just being built up; there was sufficient money there – and investments were being made. We were successful there because we discovered that there was a demand within this new, booming market and we were able to satisfy it rapidly with our enthusiastic team of employees.” 

Har­ald Holzapfel’s career at Umdasch led him from a posi­tion as Export Man­ag­er to that of Office Man­ag­er at the branch offices in Munich, Moscow and Vien­na. From mid-2009 he worked once more at our Amstet­ten loca­tion, where he super­vised acqui­si­tions in Fin­land, Nor­way and the region of South­ern Bavaria.

The limbic system

… is a func­tion­al unit of the brain which is involved in the pro­cess­ing of emo­tions and the devel­op­ment of instinc­tive behav­iour. Intel­lec­tu­al per­for­mance is also attrib­uted to the lim­bic sys­tem. It is also respon­si­ble for the pro­duc­tion of endor­phins (gen­er­al­ly known as “hap­pi­ness hor­mones”). The term was first used in 1878 by Paul Broca.

The shop­fit­ting sec­tion (today: Umdasch Shop­fit­ting) was formed in 1956 when the com­pa­ny began to spe­cialise in the busi­ness areas shop­fit­ting and form­work tech­nol­o­gy (Doka). It was a time still over­shad­owed by the Sec­ond World War, in which many goods were still in short supply.

At that time the demand in shop­fit­ting was for the pro­duc­tion of sim­ple and robust prod­ucts like shelves and dis­play units. It was not yet a mat­ter of being recog­nised as a shop brand. The main con­cern in the first instance was that the prod­ucts were avail­able and that the con­sumers could pur­chase them, because short­ages were still com­mon­place. Thus shop­fit­ting was sim­ply a means to an end.

That changed rad­i­cal­ly from the 1970s and even faster dur­ing the 1980s and 1990s. Har­ald Holzapfel describes this tran­si­tion from the “com­pe­ti­tion of the prod­ucts” to the “com­pe­ti­tion of per­cep­tion”. The trend pro­gressed from meet­ing a demand to arous­ing a demand. In this way “Store Brand­ing”, still a very top­i­cal con­cept, was developed.

The aim of Store Brand­ing is to focus the pre­sen­ta­tion of a brand accord­ing to the emo­tion­al motive struc­ture of the tar­get group in order to posi­tion it as accu­rate­ly as pos­si­ble in cus­tomer perception.

Umdasch Shop-Con­cept – and Mag. Arndt Traindl and his team in par­tic­u­lar – have analysed this in metic­u­lous detail with the help of numer­ous mar­ket research stud­ies and with the help of brain sci­en­tists. It is known that only a small frac­tion of what our sense organs encounter actu­al­ly pen­e­trates our brain so that we can per­ceive it and become aware of it. The small part that pen­e­trates through our lim­bic sys­tem into our brain depends on our emo­tions and the sit­u­a­tion in which we find our­selves. It is, then, a mat­ter of influ­enc­ing this.

Belonging to Umdasch gives you strength; the company has backbone. The name of Umdasch is very well known and stands for an international approach and safety. It is a workplace where the employees are taken care of.”

Har­ald Holzapfel was active­ly involved in the com­pa­ny for almost four of the company’s 15 decades of exis­tence. He knew Josef Umdasch and worked with him, and he accom­pa­nied Hilde Umdasch on var­i­ous busi­ness trips, includ­ing the jour­ney to Japan to the “Japan Shop” shop­fit­ting fair. He expe­ri­enced and con­tributed to the devel­op­ment of the busi­ness area shop­fit­ting as it became the suc­cess­ful inter­na­tion­al play­er “Umdasch Shop­fit­ting”. Har­ald Holzapfel was present in 2001 when the com­pa­ny acquired its com­peti­tor Ass­mann Laden­bau, the mar­ket leader in the “food retail” sec­tor at the time. He was also present in 2012 when the joint brand Umdasch Shop­fit­ting was formed and in 2014 he accom­pa­nied the struc­tur­al change from the more or less loose­ly con­nect­ed region­al con­cept to a divi­sion­al struc­ture with its focus on the sec­tors Food, Lifestyle, Pre­mi­um and Digital.

The “Dig­i­tal Retail” divi­sion is the lat­est baby and focus­es atten­tion on dig­i­tal busi­ness. The suc­cess of the unit shows clear­ly how nec­es­sary it is to face up to trends and to see fur­ther devel­op­ments with­in soci­ety as opportunities.

When Har­ald Holzapfel speaks of his work you quick­ly notice that he is some­one who knows what he is talk­ing about and who was ful­ly com­mit­ted to his job – and still is. He super­vised inter­na­tion­al large-scale projects and trav­elled on busi­ness to some fifty coun­tries all over the world.

In his work he always saw com­mu­ni­ca­tion with his cus­tomers as a pri­or­i­ty. A col­league described Har­ald Holzapfel as “the cus­tomer whis­per­er”, which he saw as con­fir­ma­tion of his col­le­gial approach to his work with cus­tomers. But here too Har­ald Holzapfel imme­di­ate­ly cre­at­ed a link to the com­pa­ny: “But I can only do that because I have a fan­tas­tic team behind me that will ful­fil what I promise.” Har­ald Holzapfel always inter­pret­ed a customer’s sig­na­ture as a sign of trust, but also as a won­der­ful expe­ri­ence of success.