André Richner founded the sole proprietorship Richner Blachen in 1988. In 2005, the company merged with AS Print AG to form Richnerstutz AG, which André Richner now leads as Co-CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors. One of the leading companies in Switzerland, Richnerstutz transforms communication into a three-dimensional experience by applying its knowledge of interior space and architecture, temporary structures, events and trade fair construction, outdoor advertising and digital signage. After investing in India Zelt & Event AG in 2016 and Movingposter AG in 2017, the company acquired Netvico GmbH in 2018. In 2020, Richnerstutz celebrated the groundbreaking ceremony for its new premises, which will unite the entire company under one roof in Villmergen. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Richnerstutz developed a gamechanger – the digital people counting system CountMe®.
Watch an extract from the interview
How has the way of working changed at Richnerstutz?
We quickly realized that we’d have to put employees on short-time working hours. I’m glad we had this tool at our disposal, though, because it meant we didn’t have to lay anyone off. But we also had employees whose good basic digital skills could be put to use in developing the counting system and, of course, we had people who were already working entirely in the digital arena before Covid. We even took on some new employees such as programmers. Logically, some of our people also worked from home, and continue to do so. This is only possible to a limited extent, though. Our production employees work with machinery and they need to be on site for that. All in all, we benefited from the flexibility of our company and our people.
How did this flexibility on the part of your people help you during the COVID-19 crisis?
Without the energy and adaptability of our entire team, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We built what was essentially a start-up – with a new product, new production line and new sales department – within around two weeks. Before the crisis, we were almost exclusively a Swiss company. There are many hurdles when you suddenly go international and have to set up a global distribution network. Topics that may seem trivial for seasoned international operators, things like different levels of VAT in each country, were completely new territory for us. We had to acquire new skills extremely fast, and that takes the right mindset – people who are innovative, committed and adaptable. Our employees had this flexibility.
We built what was essentially a start-up – with a new product, new production line and new sales department – within around two weeks.
What does the new normal mean to you?
In live communication, there’s really no such thing as normal. Everything’s very dynamic. The market and customer demands shift extremely quickly. Coronavirus has changed and normalized some things, of course, as we see in the example of working from home. But the traditional trade fair market was beginning to collapse even before Covid – the development has been under way for a while. We were already aware of the decentralization trend two years ago, and of the shift toward promotions and hybrid events, for example. Covid-19 has accelerated this tendency, of course, and it will continue in the future.
For you, what are the lessons learned from the crisis?
I believe that the coronavirus crisis has been a catalyst in many respects. It’s been known for some time that the live communication sector will undergo digital transformation. At the latest since coronavirus, it’s been clear to me that communication will be even more digital, even faster and even more interactive in future. At the same time, I’m certain that personal contact will always be a priority for people. You don’t want to have zoom sessions all day, you want to be able to look your counterpart in the eye and get a sense for that individual. It’s vital to strike the right balance between analog and digital. And as I mentioned earlier, it’s also hugely important to be flexible and able to react quickly in a crisis. On a personal level, this exceptional situation has reminded me that you shouldn’t take the important things in life for granted. For example, it’s been enormously rewarding to spend more time with my family.
Personal contact will always be a priority for people .
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