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Question Time - Ballauff

Olivier Cointement, managing director of Paris-based Ballauff answers the questions from Blinds & Shutters. On the issue of ethical sourcing of materials he explains: ‘Some people soon forget their principles when times get tough but some others, and myself, know this will become a bigger and bigger issue’

Olivier Cointement, managing director of BallauffEstablished in 1872, Ballauff is the major European manufacturer and supplier of high quality woven wood fabrics and blinds

What got you started in this industry?
Ballauff is a family business, it has been in our family for five generations and as such I have woven wood in my blood. I couldn't do anything else.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

My father. He had an enormous influence in my childhood and, as MD of Ballauff, an even bigger influence on my working career.

What are your customers looking for from Ballauff?
Our customers are very varied throughout the world but, like most clients, they expect a balance of good innovative product with competitive prices, supported with a commitment to service and marketing.

The ethical/sustainable sourcing of materials is very important to Ballauff, what benefits does this offer the company and your customers?
The investment in sustainable sourcing and working with bodies like FSC and PEFC has not really born fruit yet. Some people soon forget their principles when times get tough but some others, and myself, know this will become a bigger and bigger issue and we have done all the necessary work to ensure we meet the very strictest criteria in this important area.

Ballauff now offers a custom colouring service, is this a reaction to customers’ changing demands?
Colour has always been an important feature of Ballauff pinoleum. Our factory is geared to applying paint in a number of ways and hence we can cope with both high and low volume demand.  As blinds in general have become a more fashion/trend dominated product, our ability to produce colours and change with trends has become more important too.

What do you feel was the company’s big breakthrough?
In France we traditionally use our timber material for external blinds. In the 70s some architects such as Terence Conran through Habitat stores  made us understand that we could use it also as an alternative for interior window decoration.

What do you feel is the greatest threat to the industry today?
The market tendency in difficult times to commoditise its products & services and give ever more importance to lowering prices. When times get better, increasing margins which will certainly be necessary to invest in manufacturing equipment. Do the market & consumers agree?

Where does your company draw inspiration from for its products?
With colour, we have launched a range of 120 colours which refer exactly to the range issued from The Little Greene Paint Company.

Ballauff pinoleumWhat advice would you give someone entering the industry today?
Be honest and trustworthy and draw your courage to make decisions based on the needs of the future whilst not forgetting what has happened in the past.

How has the industry changed over the years?
Like every industry,  communications and reactions around the world are so instantaneous that when something changes now it is normally very, very quick. We have to have a company that will cope with these changes and demands.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
The industry could be more open to innovation and added-value which opens up new markets.

How do you unwind away from work?
Attend a rugby match, France vs England with a victory try in the last minute for... France!

Who do you most admire in business?
Gerald Arding for his perfect and comprehensive understanding of the industry.

What is the best thing about your job?
Establishing deep and friendly relationships with people all around the world.

What do you think will be the future big changes for the industry?
The ability to be flexible and work with different products in different ways, though we will always keep our products in the confines of wood and weaving and ensure the tried and tested name of Ballauff will provide confidence for our customers.

What has been your worst business decision?
I have tried to develop some diversification in high value venetian timber slats. We have failed because of a very high loss in raw material.

What has been your best business decision?
Generally these occur when I listen deeply and follow customers' demands.

‘Live to work’ or ‘work to live’?
Work to Live. I'm a true frenchman after all.

Is there still room for innovation in terms of product offering?
Yes, there is always room for innovation. When times get tough, there is a strong arguement for this, more so possibly than in easier times. The difficulty at the moment is finding the courage to follow your convictions and persuading your customers to do likewise.

What can we expect from Ballauff in the future?
Ballauff isn't Nasa or Microsoft but in our own way we will be supplying what the market needs and also introducing some new and interesting products we hope will give our customers the chance to do better in their own businesses in the coming years.

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