Create stores which focus on experience, fit to your brand values, and make people feel comfortable to indulge.
Connect your on- and offline offerings to a seamless consumer experience.
Never be satisfied, keep innovating! Celebrate success, but have a “start from zero” mindset the next day.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Johannes Läderach, Chief Executive Officer of Läderach Group.
Johannes Läderach (born in 1986) and eldest son of the owner family completed his Master’s degree in business management at the University of St. Gallen in 2011. He then joined the family business, first managing the B2B sales department for Germany and then taking over the management of “Läderach Deutschland GmbH” as a whole. After five years, he returned to Switzerland in May 2016 to become Läderach’s global head of business to business sales within the group management team. Since March 2018 he has taken over the operational management as Läderach’s group CEO and has also been a member of the Board of Directors since April 2018. Johannes Läderach is married and father of three children.
Operating since 1962, Läderach is a family-owned premier Swiss chocolate company. As the largest chocolate retailer in Switzerland with 100 stores worldwide, Läderach is renowned for creating the freshest, responsibly sourced artisanal chocolates in Switzerland, if not the world. Product quality is reflected in Läderach’s complete control of the entire value chain and its guarantee to use only the best ingredients for their products. Läderach produces over 100 varieties of chocolates, including over 20 varieties of FrischSchoggi™ (fresh chocolate in Swiss German), over 50 different pralines and truffles, dozens of confectionery specialties, and a large selection of seasonal creations.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I literally grew up on top of our chocolate factory — a little bit like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My father never forced me to join in his footsteps but awakened our appetite to work in the family-owned company by showing us how much fun it can be as an entrepreneur, especially when your job is to share “the joy of fresh chocolate.” So I worked in the company part-time alongside my studies and joined fully-time after graduating. After working ten years with my father, he transferred the operational responsibility to my brothers and myself.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I am reminded of a memorable experience, though not necessarily a mistake. At the age of 12, my brother and I got the opportunity to work in a subsidiary abroad. The local managers were kind, but very demanding “teachers”. They made us dig out foundations for a new building in a swampy field and sell chocolate off a vendor’s tray at a dog exhibition. My brother and I often were at the brink of leaving, but we persevered, and we were able to grow and learn from the challenges.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have had numerous, very helpful advisors and teachers, many of them among our long-time employees. For example, as a young teenager I did the washing-up in our factory in the Swiss Alps. The employees kept bringing dirty vessels so that my kitchen was soon overflowing with dishes. I was getting more and more desperate, when finally the elderly department head had mercy on me. He joined me, forbade any further “deliveries,” and helped me catch up and organize myself more efficiently.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I am often amazed and inspired by messages and leadership advice out of the Bible such as Philippians 2:4 Parallel Verses: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Additionally, I like Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
It is definitely our employees who live the “chocolate family” spirit, as we like to call ourselves. We are proud of everyone’s entrepreneurial attitude. We have started an internal program, which we call “chocolate fitness” where employees can bring up ideas for economical, ecological or social improvement and implement them within their teams. Thus our employees have achieved more than 1000 improvements in the first year of this program.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find out what your passions and skills are and focus on the corresponding tasks. For all other tasks compliment yourself with a diverse team of people who are better than you and give them a lot of room and responsibility.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
People might not be willing to go out to shop anymore, but they will always want to go out for experiences. Successful retailers cater to that need and offer their customers a unique experience for all senses.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
As a small company, we would never try to win on price competition. So we decided to offer an exclusive product, an excellent service, and a one-of-kind brand experience both on- and offline. We can only win by creating a differentiated experience from Amazon and other low-price brands.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Entrepreneurs who are good at making a product often overestimate their retail skills and know-how. They should hire experienced retail managers and advisors who can help them create a winning retail formula, adapted to the local circumstances. Also, retailers usually need a critical size in a relatively short amount of time in order to distribute cost for management, innovations etc.
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
Most small and mid-sized companies need to change the game to stay relevant to consumers. In our case, we excel with delicious, fresh chocolate, customer experience and service to create a differentiated offering from low-price competitors. We can ensure our freshness, because we have control over the entire value chain, from bean sourcing, chocolate making, to the retail experience. There are no low-price competitors which can duplicate our level of operational excellence, which results in an incomparable taste experience.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
To offer excellent customer experience takes a lot of effort from the employees (though it is rewarding and fulfilling in the end). In the everyday life, both managers and sales people are tempted to choose the easy way instead of going the extra mile for the customer. Moreover, companies are often functionally structured instead of process-oriented with the customer in mind. Providing a great customer experience is just part of the expectation for our sales associates in their performance.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Customer complaints are of the best opportunities to “wow” someone. When we once delivered a large amount of chocolate presents to a corporate customer, a logistics company made a mistake so that the products were damaged. The customer was furious, but his anger turned to amazement and positivity when we not only made up for the damage, but also sent an individualized 1 kg chocolate slab to the customer, with a hand-painted chocolate message on top reading “we are so sorry.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
The same purchasing manager called me many years later. He had now made a terrible mistake with his boss and wanted to appease him. Remembering our surprising gesture he ordered a similar chocolate surprise which coincidentally I am bringing near his hometown just in the next few days.
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
We like to describe our retail formula as the “fresh chocolate experience” for all five senses: the consumers see the open chocolate presentation, the luxurious store and the imagery. They smell the fresh chocolate when they enter our boutiques. They hear our friendly staff when they are greeted. And most importantly, they can touch and taste our fresh and artisanal chocolate specialties because we generously sample.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Offer a unique product or service and create an appealing brand story. With all the valuable marketing talk, never forget that the essence of your offering still is your product or service.
2. Hire people who passionately represent your brand and your purpose. As retailers our brand is first and foremost represented by our people and only secondarily by fancy video productions, in-store décor, or websites.
3. Create stores which focus on experience, fit to your brand values, and make people feel comfortable to indulge.
4. Connect your on- and offline offerings to a seamless consumer experience.
5. Never be satisfied, keep innovating! Celebrate success, but have a “start from zero” mindset the next day.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
One of my personal leadership principles is “giving is more rewarding than receiving.” It is associated with our company purpose “creating sweet moments of joy”. I think all people, but managers especially, should spend much more time on giving than on receiving. We can give so much to others. Not just material things, but we can give time, appreciation, empathy, advice, connections and so much more. And it is especially fulfilling to give where and when you cannot expect much in return!
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!