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Interview

The Werne identity

Werne has always been a member of the close-knit satis&fy family, but like a sibling on a remote island, it has led a life apart. It’s not just the location deep in Westphalia’s outback that made Werne the lone wolf of our pack. With the rock & roll circus being a mainstay of its business, this branch marched to the beat of a different drummer. But then the satis&fy Group reorganized its structure to better integrate all the ­affiliates and adopt a more global outlook. Werne was deemed to be a ‘mature’ location and has been going about its business with two captains at the helm, Anita Helmig and Jörn Busch, since October of 2015. True Colours met up with the managerial twosome between sessions on a day of marathon meetings
at Karben. 

Anita, Jörn, the company’s realignment surely brought many changes and new tasks for you to tackle. So let’s take it from the top: Do you feel at home yet in your new position?
Anita: It was a logical step for both of us in view of our career paths, so there haven‘t been any big surprises, at least not yet.

Anita and Jörn, the affiliate un North Rhine-Westphalia was established in 2002, initially in Ascheberg. You’ve both been on board since day one.
Anita: Yes, I was responsible for accounting and the back office, which I later headed up. When Andreas Drees left, Jörn and I took over as provisional managers.

What’s your story, Jörn?
Jörn: I left a competitor in 2002 to join satis&fy as a project leader, and I went on to head up corporate project management in 2011.

So both of you bring a great deal of experience to the table. What’s the division of labor like with two of you at the helm?
Jörn: First I have to say that we do collaborate very closely. There’s no rivalry between us, we complement each other well, and it’s in the nature of our day-to-day business that there’s often no real separation of duties. However, in strategic terms, our responsibilities for business development and operations have been split up in accordance with goals set out by the Group: Anita is Operations Director and I am Managing Director with a focus on BD.

Speaking of goals, revenues were down when you took over. How’s it going now? What’s the plan?
Jörn: First let me point out that it’s not surprising that revenues are slightly lower after the good year we had in 2015 at Werne. But it’s also true that competition is fierce. The market is oversaturated with live entertainment equipment that can be bought cheaply these days because of low interest rates. And a price war is raging. On the flip side, fixed costs are high, and you’re not going to last long if you don’t keep an eye on them. We’re focusing on returns on investment to ensure sustainable success.

And that’s all it takes?
Anita: Of course not. Live entertainment has been one of our main sources of income for more than 15 years. The industry’s old guard is gradually being replaced by a younger generation, and satis&fy started preparing for this change quite some time ago. In fact, we’re making the most of it.

How’s that?
Jörn: We’re out there scouting for talent in three areas. Instead of waiting for up-and-coming acts to come to us and ask for tour support, we get out there, see what’s happening, and look for promising newcomers. This is working out rather well, as our Wilhelmsrock project would attest. Wilhelmsrock has become Hamburg’s go-to place for young bands looking to rehearse professionally for the first time or prepare for a tour. We’re there on location to observe, assist, and furnish the basic gear. We provide the space, help with the equipment, and give advice of a strictly technical nature. There are two rehearsal rooms with 115 m² total floor space; they provide the perfect real-world setting for bands to get their live acts together.

Are there any well-known artists that have benefited from this ‘live aid’?
Anita: Several. Social Distortion, Jan Delay, Donots, Jupiter Jones, Roger Cicero, Stanfour, Klangkarussell, The Subways, von Brücken, Johannes Oerding, Tonbandgerät, Rakede, Ingo Pohlmann, Cäthe and more have been guests at Wilhelmsrock.

What about Studio 20/20 at Werne?
Jörn: You could say that Studio 20/20 takes this to the next level. With this soundproof, acoustically dry hall, we offer perfect conditions for rehearsals on 400 m² floor space with a life-size stage. Acts can set up their entire show in 1:1 scale, try everything out, rehearse, change this, optimize that, and so on. 

As a fringe benefit, they have access to our entire equipment pool to experiment and develop stuff as they see fit. This is our alternative, all-out professional option. The offer stands not only for legacy customers; anyone can rent Studio 20/20. [German public broadcaster] WDR has staged concerts for radio shows and music videos have been shot in this venue. Creative photo shoots are another possibility. Of course, we’re delighted when we can put our skills at clients’ disposal and then develop longer-term relationships, but like I said, it’s not a requirement.

Anita: Studio 20/20 has been around since 2008, so it was high time for a major overhaul, especially in the backstage area where artists can take a break just like in a large venue. Speaking of large halls, artists usually hire the first venue on their tour for several days to rehearse there; in other words, to do all the things they could better in Studio 20/20. The difference is that at Werne, our equipment warehouse and all the experts for lighting, sound, video, etc. are right next door. There’s no waiting, no commuting to and fro, plenty of alternative solutions – it’s all there. And another difference is that hiring Studio 20/20 is lot easier on artists’ budgets than renting a large concert venue.

Thirdly, we can offer something similar with the Fredenhagen hall at Offenbach. With 3,000 m² floor space, it has plenty of room for preparing stage shows, rehearsing sequences and setting up exhibition stands for a trial run.

Who has rehearsed in Studio 20/20 for their live gigs?
Just recently Cro was here to prepare for a tour with a three-tiered stage for a full orchestra and lots of equipment and personnel on top of that.

Are you targeting mainly the Germanophone market when it comes to live entertainment?
Anita: No, we definitely see ourselves as an international player in view of the satis&fy locations in Europe and the USA, especially. They get professional support and equipment from us. At Werne, we now make custom builds for the American market, which are then shipped across the big pond.

Live entertainment is known to be your flagship service. So how does the ‘normal’ event business rank at Werne? Low in the pecking order?
Jörn: The answer to that is another resounding ‘no.’ Again, we will also be expanding our activities in this business. Major industrial corporations are already among our valued customers. The global satis&fy locations have embraced the idea of a living, ‘breathing’ company. Local boundaries no longer exist because equipment and personnel are deployed wherever they are needed, which makes us extremely flexible as a Group. We’re fortunate that the teams at all locations are joining in to contribute to this flexibility; in fact, they’re living by this principle. Now our efforts in recent years to recruit good personnel are paying off. A nice side-effect of being a breathing company is that there’s a lot more know-how sharing than at companies where the traditional division between locations is very much on ­people’s minds.

Anita: Our location at Werne in Münsterland has 16,000 m² of storage space, and its central position in Europe is a major advantage. In contrast to big cities, Werne offers lots of storage space at affordable prices, which has made it the perfect logistics hub. What’s more, we can make the most of the time that Studio 20/20 isn’t booked by hosting corporate and professional training, workshops and conferences in-house without staff having to travel great distances.

Jörn: As you can see, Werne has a lot of potential and we’re determined to keep tapping it in the years ahead to benefit the satis&fy Group.

Anita, Jörn, thank you for this edifying interview.

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