Manuel Hofer’s role as Managing Director at TOP-TEAM Zentraleinkauf is all about customer service. Manuel often refers to the company as “something of a hidden champion”, adding that no one besides their suppliers usually knows of it.
“The partners for whom we work are in retail, wholesaling, beverage wholesaling and on-the-go consumption,” he says. “But we are always the ones behind the brand, never up front and centre.”
It may sound low-key, but the business, which is held 50 per cent by Transgourmet Switzerland and 50 per cent by UNIGRUPPE GmbH in Austria, boasts around a billion euros in turnover each year.
While the company’s core business revolves around purchasing and negotiation of products for brands, Manuel says they are also growing a private label management and data management arms.
Innovation as critical
Having been with TOP-TEAM for nine years, three on the executive board for Transgourmet, as well as many previous high-level positions before, Manuel was well placed to deal with the challenges presented over the last few years.
Unsurprisingly, he nominates availability and price of goods as two predominant challenges for the business.
It was a situation where some people in the organisation saw it to be critical to come up with something completely new.
But even with these challenges in the mix, he says the company developed a completely new organic brand in the middle of the crisis – Natura – and managed the launch of these products across Austria, Germany, France and Switzerland.
“It was a situation where some people in the organisation saw it to be critical to come up with something completely new, and organic products, which are usually at a more expensive price level, were an amazing opportunity,” he explains.
Sticking to the strategy
Sustainability management is a key strategic goal for the whole group, and another challenge for TOP-TEAM, who have been charged with managing the development of these goals as well as the collection of the necessary, and sizeable, data required to inform and assess it.
“One of the main challenges is to find a system, into which the suppliers can put all their product data – for example, let’s say, the amount of plastic in a product – so that we can analyse this.”
For Manuel, the management of all challenges have a common strategy thread.
“I have had several really good mentors and what I’ve learned, and what I try to focus on, is to develop a really fundamental strategy, a strategic position for a company, and then to focus and to stick to it.”
Longevity is key
Manuel says with special products coming from outside the main areas of Austria, the company’s strong relationships with suppliers are ever more important given the logistics can be complex. One way they maintain these relationships is engaging supplies in long-term contracts.
“Within these long-term contracts, of course we negotiate prices based on raw material, but they usually are very stable partnerships,” he says. “They have made it easier for us to have the products available in critical situations.
We have heard from suppliers that they don’t support other wholesalers in Austria because of their strategy of switching from one to the other, in short time frames. And that’s why we don’t.
“We have heard from suppliers that they don’t support other wholesalers in Austria because of their strategy of switching from one to the other, in short time frames. And that’s why we don’t.”
The next step for TOP-TEAM is not within Austria, but broader Europe. Manuel says they are talking to potential partners in Germany who are interested in what they do in Austria with respect to private label management.
“I think we have a really competitive advantage in that area as we have acquired a lot of knowledge in that field – both private label management and quality management. We’re also just a straight service organisation, so we can offer our services to several partners always with, in terms of, let’s say secrecy.”
I have had several really good mentors and what I’ve learned, and what I try to focus on, is to develop a really fundamental strategy, a strategic position for a company, and then to focus and to stick to it.
He credits the company’s reputation and success with its speed and tells The CEO Magazine it has been commended on the professionalism of its processes and labelled as best in class in purchasing a private label management.
“I think all this together could be advantageous for mid-sized companies who want to do something in that area but don’t want to hire 40 people to work for them in terms of purchasing or private label management or quality management,” he explains.
“They can develop it themselves and gain competitive advantage in a field, but we can be there, by their side, to help them with everything.”