Christian Vollmers, the new president of Stiles Machinery Inc., wants to keep the company on its current course.
“The Stiles concept is very successful,” he told CabinetMaker+FDM during a recent interview. “We don’t want to change it and we want to continue the same path. However, no matter how good you are, there is always room for improvement.
“Stiles has managed to focus on the customer, to listen to them and to identify their demands,” Vollmers said. “And to supply what their customers need, the right range of products and services.”
Vollmers was named president of Stiles in early February, when Homag Group increased its ownership share from 26.7 to 100 percent. Homag bought the outstanding shares from Peter Kleinschmidt, who is retiring after leading Stiles for more than 30 years. Homag sees the United States as a dynamic market with many growth opportunities. Stiles employs 290 people and had annual sales of $158 million in 2013.
Vollmers has been president of Homag Canada. He studied mechanical engineering in Germany and started his career in research and development. But he realized his true love is working with people and for that, sales is a better pursuit.
“So I changed my career to become a sales engineer and worked for several industrial companies,” he said.
Regarding Homag Canada, Vollmers said that an early strategy of one of the founders of Homag was to develop its own sales and service organization in the markets it serves.
“Stiles was so successful and efficient, that it stayed separate,” he said. In Canada, Homag Group founded Homag Canada in the 1980s. Homag Canada is serving the Canadian woodworking industry with 62 employees from its head office in Mississauga, Ont., near Toronto, and other offices and showrooms in Montreal and Calgary.
When asked about the differences between the Canadian and American markets, Vollmers said there are the same segments of the industry and the same drivers in both countries. Canada has the challenge of a vast country and only 10 percent of the population of the United States.
He said there is less specialization in Canada than in the United States in things like component manufacturing. “In Canada, there aren’t enough customers around you to justify the specialization in drawer manufacturing, for example,” he said.
The largest difference remains in kitchen cabinets. The Canadian market does not embrace the face frame and prefers a European style cabinet. Vollmers said there aren’t a lot of differences between Stiles and Homag Canada.
“We have the same intention, and the same agenda, but Stiles has perfected them,” Vollmers observed. “Therefore, Stiles is always the best practice and benchmark for the same thing we want to do. We have the same ideas.”
Vollmers added that there is no plan to combine the two companies.
“Homag Canada will remain north of the border, and Stiles Machinery south of the border,” he said.
Also, Stiles is expected to continue to offer equipment not made by Homag companies.
“As a manufacturer, Homag is looking to market their product. But they have always tried to meet the requirements that come from the customer side,” Vollmers said.
“Whatever our customer needs, we will offer it to them. Stiles has done this successfully, and this will continue.
We have finalized the first round of discussions with the third-party suppliers and so far all of them want to continue. And Stiles would like to continue that successful operation.
Vollmers emphasizes the Stiles focus on the customer and its ability to identify the demands of the market.
“We have a very dedicated and highly motivated team,” he said. “We’re proud of our employees, and in my opinion they make a difference. I think our customers recognize this, they feel this.”
Stiles under Peter Kleinschmidt has been very successful. Vollmers believes there is not much room for improvement.
“We will try to improve every aspect of our business. We will be closer to our customers. We want to improve our product marketing and make customers aware of solutions that are available. And reduce response time and increase the possibility to deliver from stock.
“We will try to improve all aspects. There is nothing specific that we want to change.”
Another goal is to roll out a wide range of products and services to Canadian customers that are already available to U.S. clients. Vollmers wants to use Stiles resources and experience to offer this kind of service to Canadian customers.
“Homag Group and Stiles is also offering solutions for the building industry, and we believe there is a bright future for automation systems in the building industry.”
If you want to meet Christian Vollmers, he is planning to be at the Stiles Executive Briefing Conference April 6-8 in Denver. He will be at IWF in Atlanta August 20-23, and plans to attend other events.
One final advantage of the new ownership would be for international customers that operate in more than one country.
“They can benefit from this worldwide partnership,” he said. “They know they can get the same services, machines and quality around the world. Generally all our customers benefit from a closer relationship to the producer of machines.
“Before it was a good relationship, and now its family.”
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