This month, KARAG’s Export Manager gave a full-length interview to Money & Tourism magazine in Greece, which was released just a few days ago.
Ms. Eleni Karagianni from the position of Export Manager of KARAG, a position she has held for several years, has the opportunity to know very well the international trends in the industry and the unique needs of consumers worldwide. Thus, through her interview extensively analyzes the image of KARAG, all its activities, and gives advice, while answering every question of the journalist about tourism and in particular the hotel industry.
You can read the interview in Greek by flipping through the magazine electronically at the end of this article, otherwise it follows:
q1. Mrs Karagianni, give us a brief and comprehensive profile of KARAG 2021.
KARAG is a purely Greek company founded in 1996. It deals exclusively with the wholesale distribution of a complete range of home and hotel bathroom equipment.
It is based in Thessaloniki in state-of-the-art facilities of 25,000sqm while the production of bath and shower cabins (an essential object of the company) takes place in the owned facilities in Serres with a total coverage of 12,000sqm. After all, we are the ones who started the production of cabins in special dimensions on an organized scale in Greece and as a result a large part of them is our production. Along with the cabins, we have showers, all types, porcelain, acrylic & synthetic, faucets, bathroom furniture, acrylic baths and whirlpool, bathroom accessories, SPA, mirrors and radiators as well as wall and floor tiles. All activities of the company are handled by a total of 85 employees, our KARAG People.
q2. What differentiates you apart from competing companies?
With one thought, I can say that the points that differentiate us from the competition are very specific:
First, we always maintain an adequate stock of materials that we have so that we can support our customers directly and consistently. It’s something that costs us and lately with the outrageous increases in shipping it has become even more difficult. Nevertheless, we remain firmly committed to our policy to always keep our warehouses overcrowded and to ensure the uninterrupted flow of materials to our customers.
Secondly, we offer a -I would say unique for the Greek data- range of bath and shower cabins which can cover almost every aesthetic and technical requirement. At the same time we produce cabins in special dimensions and materials in collaboration with the customer and we undertake the technical part in case of need (measurement and installation). For what we have, we offer a 5-year written guarantee and a 10-year guaranteed availability of spare parts, something very important for the hotelier.
q3. The unprecedented event of the covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown and the collapse of the market, especially of the constructions, led many companies to turn (even temporarily) to new items and new markets. What alternative steps have you taken to address this new crisis?
The pandemic has highlighted e-commerce in all areas. This development found us ready, because early (and without obviously “guessing” this pandemic phenomenon, but estimating that e-commerce will develop in the future) we created an e-commerce department in the company staffed with very worthy and capable executives dealing with the support of our customers who make sales online. I clarify that KARAG does not sell online via internet and does not sell at retail. The e-commerce department provides our customers with all the tools ready and taken care of, as well as the technical assistance that an online store owner needs in order to promote KARAG products perfectly and beautifully in his e-shop. We had predicted this growth, but the pandemic accelerated it at an outrageous pace. Today KARAG products are available in more than 100 e-commerce stores in Greece and in more than 150 abroad in the countries where we operate, with the number constantly increasing.
We have not expanded to different types of products other than what for us is the core business, ie sanitary ware and tiles, because we firmly believe that what we have we must “own” it fully and support it globally, so the opportunistic glances right and left do not is for us.
q4. What percentage of the company’s turnover concerns the hotel industry?
About 30% of our turnover concerns hotel equipment. I use the word “approximately” because as you know we serve hotels through our network of customers-partners (more than 800 stores throughout Greece). Loads of materials are made daily and eventually many of these materials are intended for hotel use.
q5. Which items do hoteliers prefer and why?
The spearhead of our spear is the bath and shower cabin. We recently launched our new EFE series in chrome, matte silver, matte black, matte white & gold matte profiles, which is available in a variety of dimensions but also in special dimensions upon request. We combine this series of cabins with built-in batteries and accessories in the same color that create elegant, luxurious and functional spaces with very competitive costs. The shower tray “Pietra” also has a very good course, a revolutionary technology of modern synthetic material which resembles the texture and technical characteristics of real stone (non-slip matte surface) but can be easily cut and adapted to the most special space. . Available in 4 colors. Also, the bath accessories we have made of stainless steel AISI 304 18/10 have a very good course, which we accompany with a 20-year warranty and are the ideal solution for all coastal areas where the atmosphere is loaded with moisture and salts…
q6. Give us a typical sample of your clientele in terms of Greek hotels.
Some recent of the last two years before covid are the hotels of the ATHENAUM group (GRAND, SMART, PALACE) on Sygrou Avenue in Athens. We also installed cabins and shower trays Pietra in hotels of the Stamatiadis group in Rhodes, we installed Pietra shower trays in RODOS PALACE but also in hotels of the EVITA group (Resort, Bay) on the same island as well as fully equipped the EVITA Asty of the same group in Athens. In Kos we equipped the hotels of the Karathoma group with SPA Systems. In Northern Greece, in Halkidiki we have traditional cooperation with the groups AIROTEL (ATHENA PALACE), G-HOTELS, in Corfu with the group Koronakis and in Thassos with the group Daoutis, while we participate in the supply of materials of the new jewel of Sithonia, “the coast St. Ioannis” of the Mentekidis group. All of them are customers that we serve through partners. In addition to these and some other large clients who honor us with their cooperation, the main volume of our work is the 100-member family hotel companies that trust us by choosing our materials through our local partners.
q7. Are you optimistic about the course of your industry and business for 2022? Do you see a recovery in demand in general and hotels in particular in the near future?
I am very optimistic. We see a recovery in demand which will emerge through the stabilization of our country as a top tourist destination and the emergence of the two main urban poles (Athens – Thessaloniki) as top city-break destinations. All these people who make us the honor to visit us need quality accommodation and services… We all know that we now have quite good hotels but also many “tired” (laughs) which need immediate renovation. If they want to play a role in the new post covid scene they have to renovate. This will create jobs for the whole industry.
q8. The export activity of your company is also intense. Which markets do you target, with what products and what is the percentage of your exports?
KARAG is currently very active in the European markets of the Balkans (Bulgaria, Romania, Skopje) in Cyprus and Malta. Since 2015 we have established in Castelnuovo Rangone in Modena, Italy in facility owners KARAG ITALIA SRL which is active in the wholesale distribution of our materials in the Italian market, in European markets (France, Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia, United Kingdom, Lithuania, ), in the countries of the MAGREB zone (Morocco, Tunisia, Libya) but also in sub-Saharan Africa (Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, Cλεte d’Ivoire). Also since 2016 we have established KARAG SCANDINAVIA AB in Malmo, Sweden, which is active in the wholesale of KARAG materials in the Scandinavian Peninsula and Denmark. Already since 2019, the foreign turnover has exceeded the turnover of Greece.
q9. What are the trends in the field of sanitary ware, furniture and accessories of the hotel bathroom and spa? What innovations and certifications do KARAG products offer?
The trends in this area are clearly influenced by the pandemic we went through and let me say we are still going through it… Great importance is given to the protection and preservation of our health while staying in a hotel. KARAG already has a full range of bath mixers with sensor in order to avoid unnecessary contacts as well as a full range of disinfectant liquid dispenser with sensor that can be placed in any space. What I would like to point out as one of the -in my opinion bad- trend -seemingly better- of recent years is the supply of hotel equipment materials directly from abroad by various dealers who tour hotels with brochures and offer materials at relatively low prices, provided they are imported by the hotelier, materials that are not burdened with the operating and support costs of a local supplier. This is the pleasant part of the business for the hotelier. But, his adventure has just begun… Every day we receive phone calls or mails from hotels that had bought 3, 2 or even a year ago some materials from abroad (batteries, whirlpool columns, spa systems, cabins, etc.) and now they are in need of a spare part that they can not find or a technical advice that one can not give. In many cases, the agent is missing or has changed company and leaves the hotelier to sail alone and look for solutions in companies like ours.
That is why I would like to advise hoteliers friends to be very careful in choosing not only products but also a supplier. Make sure that their supplier will be present and measure the sale by offering after sales service and technical support. We have two service teams in Athens and Thessaloniki which also serve the islands as well as an organized spare parts service department at our facilities in Serres. We undertake where we can service and materials of other suppliers that customers have procured in the way I mentioned above! Each product must be accompanied by a warranty, guaranteed spare parts stock and technical support, otherwise it should be “invisible” to the hotelier, not taking it into account.
q10. Do you participate in exhibitions at home and abroad? And what are they?
Of course! The exhibitions for us, are the pre-eminent space for communication with our partners but also for informing us regarding the industry. We regularly participate in XENIA and in the 100% hotel show as well as in PHILOXENIA in Thessaloniki.
Abroad, before the pandemic, we participated in CERSAIE, the international exhibition of tile and sanitary ware in Bologna, Italy. We have also participated in ISH in Frankfurt and IDEOBAIN in Paris.
q11. In closing, as a KARAG representative what message do you want to send to your hoteliers, partners and customers for 2022?
I would like to wish all the people in the industry, but also to all our fellow citizens to have health and a creative and productive covid-free 2022 for all of us.