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.
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