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Thermoplan AG: Inspiring customers in mature markets with innovative products

Starbucks supplier Thermoplan AG from central Switzerland has a lot to offer: Adrian Steiner, CEO and keynote speaker at the Aussenwirtschaftsforum, talks about growth concepts for fully automatic coffee machines in particular and Swiss products in general in the world’s mature markets.

Adrian Steiner CEO Thermoplan AG
Adrian Steiner CEO Thermoplan AG

Thermoplan is known for its nearly twenty-year history with Starbucks. This explains why the USA is one of the Lucerne-based SME’s main markets. In addition to the USA, the company operates in over 70 countries Primary markets include England and China, closely followed by Germany and Scandinavia.

Success in mature markets?

The company can look back on many successes in mature markets. Thermoplan’s success in markets such as the USA, England and Germany is strongly driven by the respective partnerships, says CEO Adrian Steiner in the interview. 

“We operate in very different markets and are successful wherever we have strong local sales partners. Our task is to sense needs in the individual markets and to adapt products and processes to customer requirements flexibly and quickly. Of course, we are very active in the markets and at many trade fairs, which enables us to tailor our developments to needs and the right trends, especially in mature markets,” says CEO Adrian Steiner.

Strong competitive pressure in mature markets

Stronger competition and competitive pressure is already evident in mature markets, says Steiner. Nevertheless, the general conditions for Thermoplan are still very good in his opinion. Coffee consumption is still growing strongly in mature markets, so the company can continue to grow in saturated markets. Thermoplan has a detailed strategy to set itself apart from the competition in mature markets.

Inspiring customers with the product and its functions

The product itself is a central aspect of the strategy:

“The ability to inspire customers with products and functions is crucial in a saturated market.”

To ensure this and stand out from the competition, Thermoplan employs 20% of its 334 employees in research and development and works on new innovations and technologies on a daily basis.

An optimized sales structure benefits both the customer and the company

Another cornerstone of the strategy is to optimize sales structures. “That has been a major challenge for us in recent years, but digitization affords us considerable support. Especially in the field of intelligent coffee machines, for instance, which are connected to the Internet and thus allow information to be exchanged in two-way communication.” Through constant development, the company is working to enable attractive and increasingly digitized after-sales services so that service can be offered faster and more cost-effectively.

Swiss quality as a clear customer advantage in mature markets

In addition, the company is focusing strongly on its own brand and brand image. CEO Adrian Steiner explains: “We focus on communicating Swiss quality strongly, including Swiss crosses on our machines. This is something that has become more and more important for us in the B2B sector as well. In many markets, the Swiss cross is an important symbol of trust, something we also have to cultivate. This isn’t just an empty promise for us, but one we also stick to: We buy 82% of the components in Switzerland.”

Staying competitive by investing in Switzerland as a business location

Adrian Steiner also underlines the importance of staying competitive in terms of pricing in mature markets. “The framework conditions in Switzerland bring many advantages, such as loyal and well-trained personnel. Despite these conditions, we must ensure that we are well positioned today and in future and invest in Switzerland as a production location.”

The keyword here is automation: Thermoplan is working on automating selected processes so that qualified personnel can be used for value-creating activities. This results in clever, easy-to-use and more attractively priced machines. Optimized processes, short assembly times and easy procurement are the key to Thermoplan remaining competitive in saturated markets. 

Saturated markets are a challenge that can enable companies to grow

Adrian Steiner sees business activities in mature markets as a welcome challenge: “I’m always happy working in saturated markets as they are a challenge for us. They help us develop as a company. So, as an SME or a family-run business, it’s nice to be in an industry where growth is possible, but it’s also important to have demanding markets that challenge you and help you develop. Both are important; otherwise you become sluggish and slow.”

Tips for Swiss SMEs

When asked what advice CEO Andreas Steiner has for Swiss SMEs active in mature markets, he recommends that they should not pursue a me-too strategy. It is not enough to model oneself on competitors and do the same. It is extremely important to be able to respond quickly and flexibly to the special needs of the markets. Companies should focus on innovation and use Switzerland’s know-how in a targeted manner in order to be able to set themselves apart from the competition.


About Adrian Steiner

Adrian Steiner has been CEO of Thermoplan AG since 2009, where he is responsible for its operational management. He has been with the company since 1998, where he was initially responsible for technical customer service and later moved to customer care. As part of the Starbucks project, Adrian Steiner spent two years with the US giant starting in 2000.

About Thermoplan AG

Thermoplan AG, based in Weggis, Lucerne, manufactures fully automatic coffee machines, which are used in all catering segments, including at the well-known US coffee house chain Starbucks. The company has subsidiaries in Germany, Austria and the United States and has an extensive global dealer network.

Get more tips from Adrian Steiner first hand!

Visit the Aussenwirtschaftsforum 2019 and hear the keynote address of the CEO of Thermoplan on the topic: “An SME from Weggis cooperates with international market leaders and grows in mature markets.”


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