Think globally – act locally at Emka


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2018)

As the global market leader for locking systems, hinges and sealings, Emka has an enormous range of products, which presents a unique challenge in terms of product information management due to its worldwide subsidiaries and customers. New forms of product presentation are creating additional pressure, while implementing a PIM system suitable for this situation holds its own particular obstacles and tasks. We spoke about this with Markus Panofen, Head of Digital Marketing at Emka. 

Mr Panofen, as a manufacturer of fittings, Emka supplies a variety of different industries. Where does your company position itself exactly, and what does your range of products include?

Our locking systems, hinges and sealings can be found in almost every single switch and control cabinet. This is our core business where we are the global market leader and we are undoubtedly one of the many hidden champions among German medium-sized enterprises. However, Emka also has countless clients in the climate technology, train and caravan industry, a figure which is growing rapidly. Our entire range of products is comprised of well over 15,000 standard products, the majority of which can be combined with one another as modules. Individual customer product requirements are precisely developed by over 30 of our constructors and designers together with the client before going into production. There is no such thing as impossible at Emka!

Protecting the environment is of great importance to your company. Can you explain what “green production” at Emka is about?

Protecting the environment in general and the considerate use of resources is part of our fundamental company philosophy. Visible consequences of this environmental awareness include the continuous implementation in the planning and execution of production processes as well as changes to building technology. It starts with the use of solar thermal energy for our modern heating facilities and is reflected in our closed-cycle cooling system or the predominantly paperless office environment, for example. Alongside adhering to RoHS I+II as well as the WEEE Directive, Emka has been continuously certified in accordance with the DIN ISO 14001 international environmental management standard since 2007. Our “green production” is serious about protecting the environment.

Emka is represented in many European countries with subsidiaries and production sites. What challenges does such an international alignment present to your product information management?

Our motto for our international alignment is “Think globally – act locally”. We provide support to over 30,000 customers across the globe through individual subsidiaries. This presents unique challenges for our product information management. Our customers in Europe expect product information in their own languages, as do customers overseas. This is why we use a modern Translation Memory System (TMS), through which we target all our marketing channels in the countries’ respective languages. Speaking of “overseas”:
The Great Firewall of China means we have to host our Chinese online offer locally.

The company was founded back in 1932 and has heavily expanded over the past decades. Can you describe how product information management requirements have changed over the years?

The requirements are growing exponentially. At the time when our Managing Director and company owner strategically orientated Emka, which was still a small company at the time, towards the new market for locking systems for switch and control cabinets in the 1970s, personal contact with the customers including a small number of technical product catalogues were the be-all and end-all. Increasingly detailed descriptions and a growing range of products led to more comprehensive catalogues, industry- and customer-specific brochures, web catalogues and trade fair presentations. And all of this in a multitude of languages and country specifics. Experience has shown that new forms of product depiction do not replace old forms, instead they are an addition. Without a system solution for our product information management this multitude and quantity would be insurmountable.

Which partner are you working with, and what was it about the solution that convinced you?

Akeneo convinced us from the start as a PIM system. It combines a broad intrasystem service portfolio for the description and classification of products with high interface compatibility to connected systems such as our ERP or our webshop software. Because Akeneo is an open-source solution, we were able to incorporate a variety of expansions to the PIM together with our system integrator, The PIM Company. These expansions depict the relationships among the individual products in the modular product area in particular. Akeneo in cooperation with The PIM Company were always prepared to incorporate our suggestions into the software development. The range of services combined with transparent communication and, last but not least, the comparatively attractive price were ultimately the deciding factor.

What does the implementation of a PIM system involve, and what challenges does it present?

In general, it makes a significant difference whether you are changing PIM providers or whether there are pre-existing subordinate systems as an isolated solution from which data can be taken over, or whether you are starting with a clean slate. Emka did not have any central product information management beforehand. Product information was located in various departments in different formats and levels of quality. The main challenge not only lay in transferring core data, but also in newly developing standards, categories and relationships. It also wasn’t always easy to generate enthusiasm internally for what often involved painstaking core data maintenance. But because the results now stream into various channels, this has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for product communication. The spirit of optimism has brought in a new tailwind for the sales and marketing departments, as well as for development and construction.

Apart from technological prerequisites, what values must a software provider bring to the table for a joint project to be successful?

As a medium-sized enterprise we tend to work in small teams with a broad range of tasks. Agile processes are on the daily agenda, and tasks are often worked on in short sprints before other daily assignments take up employee time. I expect the same level of flexibility from my system integrator. The PIM Company has always reacted and delivered in a reliable manner. Our motto “roll up your sleeves and do it yourself!” only works when the software we use works just as flexibly while being stable. We have found and implemented a solution that suits us with Akeneo.

Your website’s product search provides impressively detailed results. What was the idea behind this, and how does it benefit your customers?

Our strength lies in our broad range of products which we have set up in our production facilities. In order to meet increasingly demanding customer requirements with the right solutions we require a simple and targeted yet broad search function. A growing number of customers prefer to inform themselves about the possibilities offered by our products before seeking personal contact and individual consultation. This requires a high-performance product search as well as customer-friendly navigation and intuitive filter functions. Our sales department and sales representatives are the best points of contact for customers who prefer personal consultation. Customers who prefer to exclusively carry out a search themselves or to do so ahead of time can do so 24/7  through our website’s new product database. 

Which prerequisites did this search function require, and how difficult was its implementation?

Our product information was targeted towards customers for years through personal contact combined with product catalogues that became thicker and thicker. We therefore completely reorganised our entire product world and created new categories, filters and search terms in order to depict them in our new online database. Each item was given a photo-realistic product image with multiple function and installation images as well as designs, drawings and 3D views. Every product had to be described with over 30 item characteristics such as dimensions, materials and the product names themselves. This also required the depiction of product relationships within the modular product programme. A herculean effort for our small team.

What objectives are next up on Emka’s agenda in terms of digitalisation? 

We are currently launching our online product database complete with data from the PIM as the first complete channel. Next, we will translate this database into all the languages of our subsidiaries before publishing corresponding country variants. We will soon provide a locking system search help function using the PIM data and the product relationship data in particular – a first in our industry. Once these goals have been achieved, we will see whether e-commerce is profitable for us in a test market such as the Netherlands, for example.

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Markus Panofen has been advancing the digitalisation of product information as Head of Digital Marketing at EMKA for three years. As an online marketer, he has been coordinating various digitalisation products for the industry for over twelve years. The marketing expert has a degree in politics and business administration and lives in Essen with his wife and two daughters.


The P.I.M. Company specialises in PIM as a strategic business concept that unites processes, software, PIM systems and products, consequently making high-quality product information available. As the open-source PIM pioneers, we are one of the leading integrators within the German-speaking region.

The P.I.M. Company GmbH

Picture credit © t_kimura/Getty Images

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