Over the past six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the world’s economy, and the HVAC&R industry is no exception.
To shed light on the effect of the pandemic on the Japanese HVAC&R industry, Accelerate Japan (published by shecco, publisher of Accelerate and Accelerate24.news) is conducting a series of interviews with Japanese HVAC&R suppliers on how they are adjusting to “the new normal” as well as the opportunities that have arisen for the industry.
In the following interview, Armin Schnell, Managing Director of ebm-papst Japan, the Japanese subsidiary of German fan manufacturer ebm-papst, discusses how his company is dealing with the challenges posed by COVID-19.
// Accelerate Japan: What impact has COVID-19 had on ebm papst’s business operations?
Armin Schnell: During the first two months, we mainly had difficulty keeping the supply chain from Germany stable. This was due to the drastically reduced air-freight space and soaring air-freight costs.
At that time, many of our customers were concerned about securing their deliveries. Therefore, we decided to communicate very openly with our customers by initiating regular email and phone updates about the supply chain and delivery situation.
Currently, this situation has now stabilized and there are no longer any delays. However, everyone’s focus has now shifted to what the long-term economic consequences will be and how long it will last.
// Accelerate Japan: How about on sales?
Armin Schnell: For us, the impact on sales hit us with some delay. I believe this is typical for component suppliers such as us. Due to our order backlog we did not see any drop in sales at first. But since June, new orders have seen an overall decline.
This has continued until today and we cannot really predict when it will pick-up again. However, we think that within Q4 of 2020 the situation will become clearer.
// Accelerate Japan: How has the pandemic impacted your office environment?
Armin Schnell: Since the end of February 2020, ebm-papst Japan separated ourselves into two teams, alternating between one team working from home and one from the office.
By doing this, we ensured business continuity by keeping our office and warehouse open every day and running until today.
We have seen that this has also had a positive effect on our team and reduced stress. This is because everyone has the option of changing their working environment daily rather than being “stuck all the time at home”.
For sure, we have also adopted new internal communication tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom because these are the tools that are being used by all our international colleagues as well as the majority of our customers.
We’ve seen that the pandemic has actually opened the door to this more flexible work style, which we think will ultimately have a positive impact in the long-term on our team’s work style.
// Accelerate Japan: How has the pandemic impacted your marketing activities?
Armin Schnell: Due to the crisis, many of our projects have been delayed or postponed. For example, we planned to launch an EC fan motor series, specially adapted for the Japanese building market. However, the cancellation of HVAC&R 2020 and MACS2020 trade shows in March made it very difficult. So, we had to switch almost overnight to the use of online marketing and promotion.
Beginning in March, we began publishing a new monthly email newsletter. We’ve also begun hosting educational and interactive online webinars for our customers on EC Fan Technology and product specific topics.
// Accelerate Japan: What are your priorities at this time?
Armin Schnell: At the moment, our top priority is to minimize our costs and stay in close contact with our customers so that we can weather this storm.
However, we are not letting our guard down and aim to use this down-time productively and wisely. You can see this in our team’s ability to develop the new capabilities for hosting online webinars, and we are also spending our time training some recent hires.
ebm-papst Japan’s attitude is that you should not sit idle during this time, but take advantage of the opportunities presented to grow. I believe, if we adapt quickly, we will become stronger than before. But this is not easy and requires courage and a joint effort. So it is important to openly integrate everyone’s input and ideas in order to move forward and find new solutions.