Deloitte: How has your company coped with the coronavirus crisis?
Martin Lorenz: We are still in the middle of the pandemic. As an e-commerce company, we are in a business sector that has benefited from higher sales. However, we do not regard this as a sign of the superiority of our business model, but rather as a reason to be grateful. We are grateful to our staff, who do a great job, and to our customers for sticking with us in the spring, despite some disruption in our supply chain. In the last few weeks, we have approved several new job opportunities, so that we can start the Christmas business with even greater capacity. However, the limited logistics options currently available because of a long-standing objection to our logistics expansion plans have naturally hurt us. We would have liked to put the extension into operation this year. This was originally planned for 2019 and will now offer us significantly more capacity starting in summer 2021.
Deloitte: Customers’ shopping habits have changed since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis. In particular, the lockdown in the spring encouraged many customers to do more shopping online or to try it for the first time, for example in your online shop, BRACK.CH. Which of the changes do you think will be lasting in nature?
Martin Lorenz: We believe that the current trend will continue. The crisis has simply accelerated an existing move to online shopping that had already been occurring over the previous few years. Of course, there have been one or two exception cases of higher demand, such as for disinfectants and protective masks, which we hope will drop off in future when the need is no longer so acute. However, we do not expect a reversal in the overall trend towards online commerce. Many of the advantages of the online channel are simply too obvious and we have certainly been able to convince customers of the benefits.
Deloitte: How were you able to cope with the sharp rise in demand in online trading and in your role as CFO, how did you keep costs under control?
Martin Lorenz: We were able to cope with the increase in demand only by recruiting additional staff and through the hard work of all our employees - even at weekends. The question of cost simply did not arise. Our aim was to keep our delivery promises and to maintain service to our customers to the best of our abilities. The question of rising costs was a secondary issue and remains so today. We were totally unprepared for such a big increase in demand, so we are facing new challenges every day, even though we have taken on additional staff.
Deloitte: Expanding and differentiating the product range are an important element in online trading. You have recently added food products to your range. Why have you decided to compete with the big grocery retailers and discounters?
Martin Lorenz: We do not regard this as competition. We believe that online grocery retailing has yet to take off. This is evident from online sales in other countries, and I am aware of it from personal experience. Why not enjoy the convenience of having food delivered to your home? Because our logistics operation is geared towards e-commerce, we are able to distribute food products with a long shelf life together with other types of product. As we stock all products in a single warehouse, customers receive all the products they buy in the same delivery. However, by adding the supermarket range, we also aimed to increase the frequency of contact with our customers.
Deloitte: You are both CEO and CFO at the Competec Group. Which role has been the greater challenge this year?
Martin Lorenz: It is hard to separate the two. In the final analysis, both roles carry a high degree of responsibility for the business as a whole. In these extraordinary times and given the diversity of the tasks handled, the role of CEO is probably more demanding. However, at the end of the day it is all about the efforts of all our 820-strong team. I am just a cog in the wheel, like everyone else, and I am proud that we have been able to develop the Competec Group together and are continuing to do so.
CFO & CEO of the Competec Group
After an early career in the banking and fiduciary sector and training as a business economist at HWV, Martin Lorenz worked for eight years as group controller of at COS. After completing a master’s degree in corporate finance, in November he became head of Finance at the Competec Group and in December 2015, he was additionally appointed as head of the Operations Division. Martin has been CEO and CFO at the Competec Group since April 2018. The Competec Group includes the online retailer BRACK.CH, the wholesale companies Alltron and Jamei, logistics service provider Competec Logistik AG and Competec Service AG, which handles central services. The group has over 820 employees (as of mid-2020) and turnover in 2019 was over CHF 811 million.