Welcome on board with Compass


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2016)

Compass is Europe’s largest mail-order company for motor boating and sailing sports. Ever since its foundation in 1979, the company is independent and family-run. Together with his wife, owner Michael Dehler is the second generation to lead the company in over 25 years. Today, with over 30,000 articles for sale, the mail-order company presents a virtually unlimited selection of products relating to water sports. Optimal customer service, personal advice on special and custom-made orders as well as perfect ordering and delivery service constitute the basis of its success. How to perfectly and efficiently combine sales and logistics under one roof, that is what Creative Director Bettina Hilleke tells us in this interview.

Mrs Hilleke, in 1979, Compass launched its first catalogue with 24 pages. Today, your main catalogue includes over 450 pages. How do you keep finding new and innovative products for your product line?

 Every year, it is a real challenge to fill a catalogue with new products. Our philosophy is to choose only the best products in each individual area to test and offer them to our customers. Therefore, our purchasing agents are constantly travelling the world to find new and innovative products which can be offered at unbeatable prices thanks to bulk purchases and direct importing. Time-tested articles are also constantly reviewed and improved in dialogue with customers and professional sailors. We are regularly awarded the first place in market tests. Compass shows expertise built over decades, especially in the development of our own products and of exclusive articles.

Anyone who is active in the field of water sports must be able to rely on his equipment and the quality of its materials to one hundred percent. How do you make sure that your products live up to what you promised?

One big advantage, of course, is the fact that our Managing Director, Michael Dehler, is himself a passionate sailor who often spends his free time with his family either actively sailing or on a motor boat. He is also a successful international regatta sailor. From his own experience and expertise, products can therefore be judged, new ones discovered and put to the test. As an experienced skipper, he knows what he is talking about when it comes to quality, reliability and practicality of equipment. In addition, many of our employees are active water sports enthusiasts. Our personal passion and the expertise of each individual ensure that our products keep living up to what we promised.

To what extent do you work to that effect with experts from the water sports scene?

The exchange of experience with professional sailors is, of course, not to be underestimated and very important for us. The cooperation with sailing experts is not only useful to determine optimal products but also to test our products under the toughest conditions. The results therefrom are directly incorporated in article optimisation.

On top of leafing through the print catalogues (over 6,000 pages annually), your customers can browse the Internet as they please. How do you reach an updated and market-oriented offer on all your channels?

For this, a crucial aspect is central data storage. This means that all product information and related assets (media data) can converge at one point. In addition, this organised data structure allows us a target-driven publication, despite high data volume. For example, the flexibility of an online channel (web shop) can thus be used optimally to always bring the latest products on the market quickly and, at the same time, to offer a huge assortment of products of over 30,000 articles.

To control your print and online channels more efficiently, you have started a joint project with apollon in 2013, of which you are still the head manager on behalf of Compass. On what did you focus? What would you change and why?

Since 2001, our house uses an electronic database which was then more of a “mini-PIM”. At the time, the focus was still clearly on the print area, but this database allowed us to efficiently produce multilingual catalogues with a very small team. In recent years though, the online shop has become more and more important. In addition to the number of articles, the data volume of (high-quality) product information and media data has simultaneously and dramatically increased. The focus was therefore on uniting all departments and channels with an omnichannel system. Another objective herewith was to digitalise as many processes as possible, to manage more extensive advertising and online product lines with the same number of employees. So nowadays, procurement already works with the software in order to control the future product assortment.

What was important for you on the subject of media data, especially relating to print and the online shop? What has been optimised?

A critical factor that has been reached with the new system is the improvement of data quality, since only one system is now used both for maintenance and control. But then, the issue of data security is also important, because properly functioning data publication on all channels is key to efficiency. However, the issue of speed was crucial too in order to meet the increased requirements. That is, to produce a growing number of pages and advertising media — but with ever-greater quality. The premise was that all data are always available and can be reused, in order to be able to fill the web shop as quickly as possible, for example.

Online Media Net accompanies and supports you since then in most of your business processes from the beginning up to the publication on all channels. What are the benefits of this partnership in your daily business?

One of the great advantages certainly is the central use of the software that I just briefly outlined. As for the cooperation of individual colleagues and departments, it has many advantages in daily work. So, individual activities such as the maintenance of new article information, for example, directly intermesh, which in turn minimises parallel tasks or duplication of work. The digitally mapped processes are another positive aspect. They allow us to view the status of individual workflows or of the entire production at any time. At the same time, we can constantly optimise and streamline individual work processes thanks to software support. Moreover, other projects help us to always improve our offer on the market, so since the beginning of the year, we use 360-degree pictures of our articles on our web shop. These are created and made available directly from apollon via lean processing.

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Bettina Hilleke has worked for Compass for 20 years and is Head of the Creative Department at both Compass and Sealand. Her focus is on catalogue production in the print sector. In addition, she is responsible for the project management for PIM systems.


The apollon GmbH & Co. KG offers integrated and holistic solutions in the areas of product data management, cross media publishing, omnichannel commerce and online marketing.

apollon GmbH & Co. KG 


Compass Yachtzubehör Handels GmbH & Co. KG

Picture credits © Mink Mingle/unsplash

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