Radu, your Building Companion platform enables construction managers to find the perfect partner for their project from a wide selection of construction companies. Originally, it was intended more as a voucher platform than as a professional network. How did the change come about?
We found that users were making much more use of the huge pool of contacts in construction than originally thought. That's why the search function was expanded much more, and we made this adjustment right away for the rollout in Romania. We still offer the vouchers for Xella building materials, but they have long since moved away from being the focus of our work.
Since June, you've been managing the platform not just in Romania, but as Head of Building Companion. What is so special about that?
We are a one-stop destination for everyone involved in building a house. The most important thing for us is to connect the building industry: we facilitate a new way for our business customers to find suitable partners with the growing database of builders, architects and dealers, because unfortunately the industry is not very digital yet. So we are penetrating the entire market with Building Companion.
We also offer end customers our "Construction Guide," a guide with all the information you need before building a house - from choosing a plot of land and getting all the permits, to the different materials, to details like choosing wall colors. We've deliberately built the whole thing for laypeople who don't know anything about building yet.
What are the advantages of Building Companion for Xella?
Building Companion it’s Xella’s digital extension for the final consumer market - a digital ecosystem where the professionals in the construction industry (builders and architects) are meeting with the final consumer in a safe and valuable environment facilitated by Xella’s expertise.
The platform means an additional sales market - especially for customers who tend to buy online, we generate a lot of additional business. Not to be underestimated, however, is our own network, which we are continually expanding as a result: with the help of Building Companion, the sales team can easily contact all builders who are registered on the platform and pitch directly. Of course, not all of them are completely unknown - but Romania more than 10,000 active builders, in Poland more than 20,000, you can't know them all. The project management team can also use it to contact architects from their region. It's much easier to approach someone who already knows us, at least via the platform - we even get potential business partners broken down by area of activity and location.
From your perspective, what are the next steps to develop the platform further?
I am currently introducing the platform in our locations throughout Europe. But before we roll it out in another country, we are ranking its potential there: I'm particularly betting on Central and Eastern Europe, where the construction industry for single-family homes is booming at the moment. Building Companion can also be a means of penetrating countries where people have so far tended to build with wood and metal rather than our materials.
Will the functions still change?
Definitely, other functions will be added: we are currently testing in Poland synergies between Building Companion and our franchise concepts. This favors the sale of materials at our site. So there will always be functions that we add or take out - I see this platform as a living organism.
You already seem to know your way around the construction industry very well, even though you've only been with Xella for two years. What was it like for you to be new to the industry?
I actually worked in e-commerce in the fashion industry for almost ten years - as a consultant for various websites in Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. When I started at Xella, I didn't know anything about the materials my home was made of, and I honestly didn't care much. I benefited a lot from this attitude: I was able to empathize well with our users: I found it easier to design the platform for laypeople like me.
With all the knowledge I've accumulated in my two years here, I realize that I should have asked more questions when I was buying my own house. I was missing a guide like the one we now offer ourselves at the time.
Are there also similarities between the fashion and construction industries?
I was around when people still bought almost all of their clothes in retail stores. The change didn't come until the economic crisis in 2010, when people had to start looking for the cheapest possible alternatives.
I think we're experiencing this online boom in a similar way in the construction industry right now, because now the pandemic has forced people to use the Internet more often for construction and repair issues as well. Although the construction industry was actually completely new to me, this change looks very familiar.