etNOW #96

"The industry needs to be more agile, faster and more flexible than ever before"

The Corona pandemic has "spoiled" the anniversary for many companies - including Cordial. Now that a solution finally seems to be within reach: How does Cordial plan to move into the future?
This and much more in the interview with Cordial CEO François Rousies.

Be honest: there must have been a small celebration...

No - of course we didn't celebrate our anniversary - not even internally, among ourselves at Cordial. It would have been inappropriate. On the one hand, because of the hygiene measures in force, but on the other hand also because this year, due to the situation, the focus was on costs, as it was everywhere. And we would have had so many reasons to celebrate...

Which ones, for example?

Besides the 25th anniversary itself, there have been many small and big events in recent years. For example, I fondly remember the introduction of our "Road Series" in 2008. We designed and reinforced this family of cables so robustly that they continue to transmit pure signals even in the harshest use - without showing any traces of kicks, rolling flight cases, etc. The last big step in summer 2018 was, of course, the move to a very large building complex that was newly built according to our ideas and can even be expanded.

In light of the past year, have the company's goals changed?

As with all other companies in our industry, we had to pay increased attention to costs. But we did not save in the wrong place - rather the other way round: our online presence, which has grown strongly in recent years, was even increased due to the lack of trade fairs, congresses and personal visits, which are important for us. In addition, we have invested even more in storage capacity and doubled the size of the small parts warehouse. We also laid the foundation for Cordial in the USA and Canada with our new partner Hal Leonard. In addition, we invested in a fourth product line, which we will launch in early 2021. We acted and invested anti-cyclically during the crisis.

That does not sound like waiting and drinking tea.

In times of crisis, many bury their heads in the sand and wait until the storm has passed. In my opinion, it can be very difficult for such companies not to miss the boat. For me, one thing was clear from the beginning: we wanted to do exactly the opposite and still see our forward-looking approach very positively.

From Cordial's point of view, how important are professional associations like VPLT, ISDV & Co. or campaigns like "Night Of Light" or "Alarmstufe Rot" (Red Alert)? In addition, there is criticism that the industry does not speak with one voice, but that too many people position themselves in the foreground without coordinating, which leads to confusion for all outsiders, i.e. also the funders of politics? Is that the case? How could this be remedied?

Rallies and movements such as "Night of Light" or the diverse actions such as "Alarmstufe Rot", "Kultur verhungert" (Culture Starves) and "Ohne Kunst & Kultur wird's still" (Without Art & Culture, It Will Be Quiet) are very helpful in making the desolate situation of the sector clear. Of course, we fully support this.

As far as the association is concerned, I got involved with SOMM (Society of Music Merchants, the largest German industry association of manufacturers and dealers of musical instruments and equipment - editor's note) very early on and have even been on the board for years. Our industry is partly made up of very small businesses. Whether dealers, manufacturers, event organisers or installation companies.

Many of the demands of our time can hardly be met by individuals, such as compliance with DSGVO, Reach, ROHS, product liability or recently applications for Corona aid - to mention just a few topics. An association like SOMM helps enormously. I would like to see many more companies join associations and make their contribution there as well. In the end, everyone benefits from the results of the association's work. But to represent our industries to politicians in Berlin and Brussels - the well-known lobbying - we need associations. I welcome current alliances and cooperations of associations to speak with one voice with even more emphasis.

Many companies are additionally looking for alternative fields of activity in order to at least partially absorb impending losses. How creatively is Cordial facing the crisis?

In the past nine months I have developed a lot of respect for companies that have used ingenuity to build up different, new clientele and open up new fields of activity. The motto "anything but wait and see" deserves appreciation and makes me feel positive for the future. At Cordial, however, the motto is "cobbler stick to your last". We will fight our way out of this crisis thanks to our strengths. Due to our competence in cable development, we have launched many new cables in 2020, especially in the area of data cables CAT 5, 6 and 7. In the area of communication, we are very forward-looking in our orientation towards the new conditions.

For example?

One project worth mentioning here is the construction of a completely new media room including modern furnishings and equipment at the highest technical level for the implementation of optimal online external communication. All scenarios are conceivable, from live streaming, video interviews with experts on site to online workshops and webinars. In addition, we will soon have our own dealer and press area on our website, where we are already quite far along with the realisation.

Apart from the general decline in orders, what were/are the biggest difficulties these days? Were there delivery bottlenecks or unexpected drastic price increases or...?

The problems were certainly diverse. On the one hand, there was an enormous drop in sales in the "live sound" sector, on the other hand, the demand for other cables increased significantly. This circumstance made production control all the more difficult.

Freight is a big issue these days. All freight forwarders and shipping companies are fully booked. Some capacities have been put on hold, ships in dry dock, and prices for sea containers have tripled compared to 2019. The planning uncertainty is, in my opinion, the most difficult for all companies. Questions like "Which products will be running in six months?", "Which customers have not survived the crisis?" or "Will there finally be concerts again from spring 2021?" are difficult or impossible to answer at the moment. As a result, we have to be more agile, faster and more flexible than ever before.

In retrospect, which products have turned out to be bestsellers, which are experiencing a decline?

Many things have shifted. At first glance, multicore loudspeaker cables with thick cross areas or DMX lighting control cables, even long-distance CAT cables, are less needed when no events are taking place in front of an audience, but event technicians are increasingly using this material to transport broadcasting projects from the venues to the screens of the viewers in their own homes. The much-discussed drive-in cinema events were also a consumer of such signal lines in the summer months.

Furthermore, there was and still is great growth in recording and home studios, private rehearsal rooms or streaming connections at home. Many customers have discovered or rediscovered music making as a new hobby and are now replacing their old equipment with new. All this has helped us considerably during the crisis. And so we are adjusting production and stocks accordingly. Products are not discontinued, however, but are ready as soon as live music is allowed to take place again.

The field service is currently (still) more of an inside service. How does Cordial manage customer care (by phone, Zoom, with webinars, via mailings, social media price campaigns)?

We want to stay in contact with our partners - wherever possible - and the field service continues to be an important issue in this. Therefore, in compliance with all regulations, there were also field visits this year, although significantly fewer than before the pandemic. But both at home and even more so with our international partners and distributors, discussions, training and action planning mostly take place online with all available tools - and this works much better than one would have expected a year ago. But many things don't work quite as well digitally as "face to face". When it comes to creative brainstorming, spontaneous discussions at a meeting, etc., digital platforms quickly reach their limits. We are therefore very much looking forward to meeting our customers, business partners and friends in person.
Do you come to an understanding "behind the scenes" with your competitors, or does everyone go their own way?

We don't have agreements like in other industries. Our motto is "Integrity", we do not orient ourselves to the competition, but to our customers. "What is needed - technically, in terms of price, logistically?" - that is the central question and always remains our focus with a view to the technological developments of the market. That's what has made us successful, and we certainly won't change that.


Interview published in: etNOW #96 (December 2020/January 2021)