SAPELI has had its sights set on foreign markets from the outset. First, the company tested the waters in neighbouring countries, though there was also demand from more exotic regions such as the Middle East. ‘Today we receive orders from the Baltics, Scandinavia, and Great Britain. We regularly do business with Canada. Three years ago, we had a big contract in Kazakhstan; this year it was Malta,’ says SAPELI sales director, Marek Sedlák, in an interview on the company’s ambitions abroad. But SAPELI has particularly big plans for Germany and Austria. At present, the Czech Republic’s largest manufacturer of custom doors exports 13% of its production.
Which of the foreign markets is currently a priority for you?
Historically, Slovakia has always been the strongest, followed by Austria and Germany. It makes sense. Right now, we’re working on a more pronounced entry into Germany and Austria, where we’re preparing a new business model. Focusing on price alone won’t work there. Our strength lies elsewhere – in the breadth of our portfolio and our ability to manufacture large series using the latest technologies and premium materials. At the same time, however, we know how to do atypical contracts with varying degrees of complexity. Often, our doors are literally made to order.
What challenges does SAPELI face abroad?
Our disadvantage is that we can’t rely on the strength of the brand the way we can here at home. Here in the Czech Republic, when you say ‘SAPELI’, customers automatically associate the brand name with doors. I’m confident that over the last few years in the domestic market, we’ve succeeded in building the brand up to where it means more than just ordinary doors – the name is synonymous with an extensive selection of high-quality doors and a thoroughly trained and professional sales team. We’ve already taught Czechs that when it comes to doors, it’s important to look deeper than just the surface. You have to look beneath the surface at the materials and the technologies that go into the doors. Czechs also view SAPELI as a brand that helps them refine their living space and put the finishing touches on their beautiful home.
And you’re aiming to build that association, SAPELI = doors, abroad too?
At the moment, our goal isn’t to build the brand up to that extent. In Germany and Austria, we want to focus on discerning clientele, who often have highly individual wishes and work with an architect or even a designer. We want to appeal to people with demanding tastes who don’t choose standard models but want an interior that matches right down to the smallest of details, including flooring, wall cladding, stairs, and furniture. Atypical solutions are more complicated when it comes to execution, however, and require regular consultation during construction of the building. There are even special nuances to installation.
What do customers in other countries look for most often?
Most in demand among our customers are various designer solutions that often require outsized formats, premium finishes in combination with simple and clean elements such as concealed doorframes and hinges, various degrees of durability and security, and innovative opening systems. Most customers are surprised to learn that we offer a comprehensive programme of glass doors and walls, which we can appropriately combine with traditional wooden doors. We even accommodate some pretty unusual requests, such as using golf clubs for door handles for one customer, or the incorporation of an architect’s favourite work of art into a glass element, for which we use our own in-house glass working technology.
You’re describing SAPELI Unlimited – a brand that’s been focusing on premium clientele in the Czech Republic for a number of years...
Yes, the SAPELI Unlimited sales concept was created to address these special demands. The first unique showroom opened two years ago in Prague’s Karlín district. It makes use of a different form of sales; it doesn’t present individual models but rather attempts to evoke a creative ambience with several intriguing door solutions, including the singular MUTEO system. MUTEO was unveiled at BAU 2019 in Munich and went on to win nearly all the prestigious design awards, including the Red Dot. It’s now sold exclusively at our unique showroom. The showroom in Karlín offers clients and their architects a space in which to meet over a cup of good coffee, and there is also an LED screen on which to project selected door variants in life size and even try out different colour options to complement the floor and walls. Technical details are discussed at a design bar with nearly 400 separate technical parameters for clients to experiment with when choosing doors.
And now you’re taking this concept to Germany and Austria?
Yes. We want to deploy the concept as we expand in our biggest markets – Austria and Germany. For that purpose, subsidiaries have been set up in these countries to oversee local sales. We’ve identified a suitable sales partner in Germany, who approached us at BAU. He was taken with MUTEO, and we reached a cooperation agreement regarding sales of this unique product and other premium solutions. He understands that we’re able to meet even the most exacting quality demands while also providing first-class service for a competitive price. To see for himself, he visited our manufacturing plant, the SAPELI Centre in Jihlava, and of course the SAPELI Unlimited showroom in Karlín.
Are there showrooms already open in both countries?
In Austria, we’ll be focusing on premium clientele namely in Vienna, where we’re planning to open a SAPELI Unlimited showroom. At the moment, we’re looking for the right space. We’ll be opening showrooms in both countries by the end of the year. And we’re also in negotiations with other potential partners, one of whom is from Hungary, and of course we’re also considering Bratislava.