WITRON is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its North American business this year.
WITRON began operations in the USA with 42 employees. At present, the company has more than 1,000 employees in the US and Canada and serves as a logistics partner in the food, non-food, spare parts, and medical technology sectors.
Karl Högen, who hails from the Upper Palatinate region in Germany, has served as the CEO of WITRON North America for the past 13 years.
Commenting on his work in the US, Högen said, "I still experience working in the USA and Canada as a great enrichment. It is a privilege to work with people from different cultural backgrounds.”
Customer proximity, trust in the people involved, in the technology, and personal relationships are decisive for success in Europe, but above all in the USA and Canada.
“I have been working with the WITRON family for 19 years and with a little more than a decade of experience as CEO, I am a newcomer to the WITRON management team," Högen added. "Many executives have been with us for much longer. North American customers appreciate this very much.
"They trust us, because when you plan a mothership project together, you are aware of the upcoming fundamental changes for the organisation, for the employees, for the internal and external processes within logistics.”
New Business Model
Kroger, one of the largest grocery retailers in North America, is no exception - the first OPM project worldwide was realised in the USA.
Högen recalled his time onsite and stated, “I stood in the logistics centre with 50 colleagues and we planned (on-site), tightened the screws, and tested until everything was running smoothly.
“At that time, the food retailing industry was looking for a solution to pick cases automatically, store-friendly and without errors onto pallets or roll containers. We presented our idea to Kroger and received the trust of those responsible.”
The Kroger project was the breakthrough for WITRON in the US and Canada and customers worldwide followed the example of the Americans and started to order OPM systems.
In the meantime, more than 1,200 COMs were already sold to market-leading retailers in 13 countries in Europe, North America and Australia.
Projects in the USA and Canada were decisive for WITRON’s development in terms of technology and the business model of the company also changed significantly with the Kroger project.
“All of a sudden, we built up a kind of production environment in the warehouse with an OPM system," said Högen. "We were not only responsible for the realisation, but the complete system operation.
"For this, we needed well-trained technicians in charge of service and maintenance. The customers did not want to do this with their staff. They preferred to concentrate on their core competence - retailing. Therefore, they handed this task over to WITRON specialists who are responsible for the system around the clock and thus guarantee permanently high availability.”
The idea of the 'operator' was born and the so-called OnSite teams were integrated into the United States.
What Moves The North American Market?
Commenting on what moves the North American market, Högen said, “You can time the customer discussions well. Within the first five years, we mainly talked about IT structures, then about machines, then about the ROI, and today we are talking about intelligent automation for people, holistically 'end-to-end' networked in the complete supply chain – from the supplier, over the logistics centre, and through to the store or the end consumer.”
In addition, customers are desperately looking for skilled workers. “Modern, ergonomic systems make the search easier,” he added.