Edouard Ducerf: “This crisis has not affected either our vision or our objectives, and we stand with our clients!”
“It’s clear that this is going to be an unusual year for us, but our intention is to stay positive!” While the Ducerf group, like the rest of the economy, is having to deal with the consequences of Covid-19, CEO Edouard Ducerf and Industrial Manager Jean-Marie Ducerf talk about the last few weeks, go through the group’s strategy and look to the future... with a clear message: the wood industry will have a major role to play in the post-Covid world!
How has the Ducerf group handled the health crisis we’ve been facing?
Edouard Ducerf: Overall, and considering the unprecedented nature of this crisis, I would say that it’s gone rather well. Like everyone else, we have had to react, to take measures—sometimes on a daily basis—and to adapt to the situation. Our administrative staff have not been idle, and we have continued to ship orders and maintain services for our clients. However, working from home has been a big challenge, particularly for roles like the accounting department who have never had to do that before... Production, on the other hand, stopped for two weeks, and we very quickly designed measures that would allow us to continue, as we had orders to fill. Across our various sites we have resumed work in “reduced service mode”, with fewer staff, so that at-risk employees, those who are looking after children or people who would prefer to say at home, can gradually regain their confidence.
Jean-Marie Ducerf: Yes, for production, we have consulted with representatives of the Social and Economic Committee (CSE) from the various companies within the group, which has allowed us to adapt our sites to meet the measures set by the government (wearing face masks, hand sanitiser, distancing at workstations, floor markings, etc.). We have assigned a point of contact at each plant and everyone has played by the rules and respected the guidelines. In fact, we very much felt that everyone was happy to go back to work under the conditions that have been put in place. When we resumed work in early April, we had 70% of production staff at our 1st and 2nd transformation sites, and today we have 95%, as schools are not yet taking back children as they normally would.
YouTube videos to stay connected and choosing local when it comes to masks and hand sanitiser
How did you stay in touch with the group’s employees during this time?
Edouard Ducerf: It’s true that being able to share information is key at a stressful time like this, where everyone is left to their own devices. In addition to the increasing number of video conferences, as in many companies, I made a series of short videos and posted them on YouTube every fortnight to keep workers informed about developments. This allowed everyone to receive the same level of information, and our in-house employees have appreciated this approach. Another initiative that has helped us to stay connected, this time with the local economy, and to promote the region's expertise, was our choice to use local distribution networks when sourcing masks and hand sanitiser. In terms of masks, after initially looking for major, remote exporters, the solution was finally found 5 km away in Charolles, where a tailor has made us around 500 masks. As for hand sanitiser, a company in Bourbon-Lancy, which usually makes perfume, supplied us with 30 or 40 litres overnight. These alternative solutions have enabled us to swap classic distribution networks for those who needed work the most, it’s also a small source of pride for us!
“The diversification strategy of French markets - These days, export is profitable!”
Now that the lockdown is coming to an end and business activity is gradually resuming, what is the sales situation looking like?
Edouard Ducerf: This year is probably going to be more difficult for us. March and April were very quiet for the French sales team. Things have picked up over the last few weeks now that our trade and industrial clients are resuming business. Even so, we haven’t yet returned to a normal level for June. Not all work sites are open yet, some sales work still needs to be done remotely and sectors that are the most dependent on end customers, like flooring and interiors for restaurants and renovations, are going to feel a lasting impact. At Ducerf, our intention is to stay positive. We’re supporting our clients over the phone, we’re active on social media and we’re still attending the Architect@Work trade show in Paris (24th and 25th September), as well as the Carrefour international du Bois trade show, which has been postponed to early February 2021.
And what about exports?
Edouard Ducerf: Luckily, the strategy of diversifying the Ducerf group’s markets, which include exports, is profitable in this kind of situation. While the most impressive growth last year was in France, over the past few months, major exports to China, India, Vietnam and Malaysia have helped us to maintain good levels of business. Nevertheless, the message we want to send to all our clients is that this crisis has not cast doubt on our vision or our objectives, and we are standing with them!
“Wood is viewed as a kind of magical material, which is lucky for the industry”
People often talk about the post-Covid world. What does that look like to you?
Edouard Ducerf: Although we’re very touchy-feely in France, we might have to lose the handshaking! On a serious note, I’m sure that, particularly in the way work is organised, there will be a before and an after to the health crisis. The period we are living in has accelerated digitisation for all workers, even the most reluctant ones. It has dictated new ways of communicating, particularly in meetings, and it has made it necessary for sales representatives to review their sales methods in light of the distances that have been imposed on them. We now have to work it all out and get organised. But afterwards, in a more general sense, it will have an influence on the group's strategy, its vision and its investments over the next few years. That’s because we feel that there’s general discussion and awareness around the need to localise production and take product transformation to the next level...
Has the wood sector been weakened or strengthened by this?
Edouard Ducerf: Like many sectors, I think that the wood industry on the whole has still suffered a good deal during this crisis, which is not over yet. Many businesses, whether due to their structure or their dependence on markets hit by the crisis, are going to find it hard to recover. But the organisations that represent us have stood together, which is important, and we are lucky that there’s still this kind of magical view of wood as a material, and the attachment that goes with it. Wood will always have its place, and we know full well that business will return to normal in the coming weeks and months.
For the new generation at the head of the Ducerf group that you—Edouard and Jean-Marie, along with Catherine—represent, it's still quite the baptism, isn't it?
Jean-Marie Ducerf: Yes, we didn't think it would be like this! Indeed, it’s a situation that previous generations never experienced and one that we have had to handle with vision and sensitivity, and we have been given a lot of support to get through this period. The next few months are definitely not going to be easy, but by staying united and in solidarity, the group will grow from this.
Edouard Ducerf: Exactly. It’s interesting to think that this is an opportunity that we need to seize in order to work differently and bring about the necessary change for a 135-year-old company that's looking towards the future. We’re just happy to see that no one in the company has fallen ill. On the contrary, we’ve had three births during this period: Jean-Marie has had a little girl, our doctoral student Benoît has had a little boy and Cédric, an operator at the Bois Profilés plant, has had a little girl!