Footwear, swimwear, breakfast tableware and stereos: Tchibo develops some 2,000 products a year. These products are presented in weekly changing theme worlds.
At Tchibo a team of product managers, buyers, marketing professionals and quality developers are responsible for the product idea, its planning and execution. They are all experts in their field. For example, there is a team for the areas of ‘Bath & Home’, ‘Women's Clothing and Accessories’ and ‘Children & Outdoors’, to name just a few.
Product managers are constantly on the lookout for fresh inspiration. They do this systematically: first, they explore ‘mega-trends’. Will ‘cocooning’ be the big thing next year? In other words will people want to curl up in the comfort of their homes? Or they will get out more and enjoy the countryside? Will they travel in their own country or abroad? These overall trends need to be identified in the areas of fashion, furniture, travel and services. A product manager therefore always works as a trend scout as well.
Product managers attend trade shows to gather information on upcoming colour schemes, shapes and cuts, materials and assortment trends. They then compile their themes (e.g., denim, linen, nature) on ‘mood boards‘, which serve as the basis for the subsequent development work on the product ranges.
Depending on their field, product managers conduct store checks in cities relevant to their sector. Those responsible for women’s fashion and clothes go to Paris, Rome and Milan; those responsible for designing youth fashions take their inspiration from London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Product managers travel to the major ‘trend metropolises’ for the latest in colours, silhouettes and styles, as well as trends in fashion, technology and lifestyle.
Now what will our customers like? A product manager will carry out field tests on prototypes for new toothbrush beakers into their own bathroom, try out a scarf by wearing it and lug suitcases and travel bags on their travels to see how they hold up to a bit of rough handling. Incidentally, a product manager is typically responsible for one or more product groups, and therefore part of a theme week.
Once the decision has been made to go ahead with a product, and the material and the design have been determined, the individual product traits are specified with the quality management department. Fit, workmanship, practicality and the demands placed on the materials are important criteria.
Which supplier will now produce the item - the scarf, for instance? The material has to be right, as should the price of course, and the supplier should be able to guarantee that they will meet deadlines. Before purchasing enters the ‘home stretch’, the buyer looks for the best supplier for each product. To find a suitable partner, first all of a product’s features have to be specified and described in detail. The various product traits such as material, shape or workmanship are also specified in coordination with the product and quality management departments. The purchasing department can rely on a global network of suppliers and manufacturers. To consistently get fair value for money, Tchibo works with numerous producers around the world and even has its own sourcing office in Hong Kong. After all, suppliers are often highly specialised: some produce only glass products, others only metal or plastic.
Before a supplier is finally selected, we require them to provide us with product samples. We only sign a contract if all our requirements are met. Tchibo only commissions products to be made by suppliers who work according to our quality standards – including those relating to social and environmental standards.
Once we have chosen a supplier, throughout the process we may make changes or order a reworking of the product. With textile products, for example, the fit will continue to be improved; with electronic goods the functionality will be checked. Regularly checking the manufacturing processes at the production sites is therefore essential for Tchibo and is a key tool in quality assurance. How strong are the seams? Does the radio alarm clock light glow the right shade of blue at night? And how does the stereo sound?
Only when all requirements have been met is the product approved for mass production. Depending on the product, in some weeks Tchibo is the market leader for that particular item. In addition, Tchibo is biggest buyer of "Cotton made in Africa" products.
Once we have chosen a supplier, our quality inspectors still have their hands full, as regular checking of the production process - whether by means of product samples or on-site at the plants – is one of Tchibo’s essential quality assurance tools. The arrival of the first product samples from the supplier ensures that our quality inspectors are very busy. At Tchibo ten in-house testing rooms are available where testers wash, iron, cut up and smash products. Our quality inspectors also inspect the sizing with the help of in-house models: Do the sizes fit properly and feel right? If the sample does not conform to the quality tester’s standards, the supplier is sent specifications for optimising it.
If the product meets our requirements, we commission external, accredited testing labs to additionally analyse our products. Tchibo currently works with 20 independent testing institutes, who test product samples for harmful substances among other things.
Each stage of the quality process reflects Tchibo’s high standards for the safety, functionality, workmanship and durability of products. A product is not awarded the TCM seal of quality until the product has been tested for safety and harmful substances by at least one independent testing institute and all the quality criteria are met.
Marketing is carried out in four stages. First a weekly theme is created. Based on the product management department’s briefing on the range, including the highlight products, the marketers specify the core idea of the phase and the basic marketing elements (including theme, key visuals, photography, models) in words and pictures. During this step the "genes" of the marketing concept are established, which will be binding for all parties at the later stages.
The next stage is the design of the packaging. The most important performance characteristics must be defined for each product and condensed into marketing-relevant statements. On this basis, the photos, texts and illustrations necessary for the presentation of the (often complex) added values of the product are created. This is not always easy, as the added value of the product has to be spontaneously appreciated by the customer based on just a few lines and photographs. 2000 major sales campaigns and 1500 test sales per year represent an immense challenge, week after week. In the third stage, the marketer designs the sales magazine. In the magazine layout they establish the appearance, define the number of pages of the magazine and place the products. Based on the product management briefings, marketing experts also arrange photo shoots for the products. Where possible, the theme worlds are photographed in Hamburg. Each magazine is published in different versions optimised for the various sales channels: as a shop magazine, a mail-order magazine and product catalogue for supermarkets. The online presentation is also modelled on the overall look of the magazine.
And finally, our TV spots also follow the master marketing plan. To ensure a high-impact message, they especially focus on the highlight products and on proving, again and again, the claim: only at Tchibo.
Window dressers - Display designers:
Ten weeks before the main sales campaign begins, display designers at the Hamburg headquarters create appropriate showcases for the planned ranges. To make sure that this design is implemented 1:1 in the shops, shop staff are provided with photos and videos for illustrative and instruction purposes. The magazine serves as a guide for the display designers: they get the mood of the theme for the display from the cover.