The board of directors in talk

A conversation with the management board of Knaus Tabbert on the 2021 financial year, the current situation in the industry, the challenges presented by strained supply chains and the outlook for Knaus Tabbert.

Mr. Speck, how was 2021 for the Knaus Tabbert group?

Speck: If I had to describe it using just five attributes, I would say that it was a varied, work‐intensive and challenging year, which at times was difficult to plan, but was nevertheless satisfactory.

Why satisfactory?

Speck: Our sales clocked in at EUR 863 million on 31 December 2021. This represents an increase in revenues of 8.6% compared to the previous year. 2021 thus marks the best result in the history of Knaus Tabbert. We have achieved a lot, but could have achieved much more in terms of revenue and earnings if our supply chains had been fully intact. With our existing capacities, we were aiming for revenue growth in excess of 20%. Despite this challenging environment, we have continued to drive forward our business development: with regard to capacity and technology, our four plants have reached an unprecedented level of maturity. Our product range is generating immense demand, and our five brands are delighting retailers and customers alike. Our order books cover a production period of nearly 18 months.

Stepping on the gas while keeping a foot on the brake is an art that only the best in racing can truly master. After 2021, I can confidently claim that we are among the best!

How is this reflected in the numbers?

Hundsdorf: In the first half of the year, which only had a limited impact on our operations due to disruptions in the supply chains and the effects of the pandemic, we generated revenues of EUR 442 million, which is 23% more than in the previous year. At EUR 45 million, EBITDA was even 33% higher than in the previous year. Furthermore, with an adjusted EBITDA margin in excess of 10% for the first half of the year, we have shown where the company’s run rate lies in the steady state. This stands in stark contrast to the second half of the year, which was difficult to plan and held many surprises and challenges in store. While our incoming orders continued to soar, our supply chains were not able to provide production with sufficient resources to meet this demand. Given these circumstances, we unfortunately had to adjust our targets for the year. Nevertheless, we have shown respectable growth with an 8.6% increase in turnover.

How did the individual segments contribute to growth?

Hundsdorf: Our two segments developed quite differently. While sales of our MORELO brand in the Luxury segment increased from 452 to 501 vehicles, that is by 10.8%, revenue in this segment grew by as much as 13.7%, reaching EUR 122 million. The development of our Luxury segment is impressive, and is just a foretaste of a more far‐reaching trend. The Premium segment, which we serve with the brands KNAUS, TABBERT, WEINSBERG and T@B, delivered a total of 26,588 motorhomes, caravans and camper vans. That represents an increase of 11.3%.

However, revenue increased by only 7.8% to EUR 741 million, compared to EUR 687 million in the previous year. This reflects the temporary shift in production from motorhomes to caravans, which were less affected by supply bottlenecks. As my colleague has already pointed out, under normal conditions we could have achieved much more in the supplier markets, both in terms of sales and earnings.

Difficulties along supply chains worldwide are also impacting Knaus Tabbert's production figures. What is lacking in particular?

Vaterl: The supply of basic vehicles in the motorhome sector was one of our main concerns in 2021. You can compensate for a missing side window, but you cannot produce a motorhome without a chassis. This has recently led to repeated production line downtimes and reduced output.

Last‐minute changes to schedules and programmes by our chassis suppliers have also caused many disruptions in our plants. If you receive information only a few days or weeks in advance about how many vehicles will be delivered, and this status keeps changing, then production planning and control enter a state of emergency. Occasionally, only small components such as hinges or metal parts were lacking, which caused the completion of vehicles and thus their delivery to dealers and customers to be delayed. Any retrofitting process inevitably leads to unplanned and significant additional expenses.

What measures have you initiated to reduce future bottlenecks?

Vaterl: We are trying to reduce our dependency on individual manufacturers by finding new suppliers for basic vehicles in the motorhome segment, and for chassis in the caravan segment. We thus only recently gained Mercedes as a new supplier for our area of motorhomes, for instance.

In addition, we will be sourcing more vehicles from MAN. In autumn, we will be integrating another partner for panel vans into our supplier network. Furthermore, we strive for continuous and detailed analysis of our internal procurement processes, to identify starting points for improvements, and to find solutions together with our suppliers to ensure that the procurement of materials runs as smoothly as possible.

Mr. Adamietzki, how have dealers and customers reacted to the supply bottlenecks affecting vehicles?

Adamietzki: The supply bottlenecks affected the entire manufacturing industry worldwide and, unfortunately, continue to do so. Knaus Tabbert has responded to these changed conditions with the greatest possible flexibility in logistics and production.

At the same time, we have increased our inventory levels and flexibility in production to ensure that temporary fluctuations can be progressively levelled out. Nevertheless, supply bottlenecks still occur from time to time, which are likely to keep us busy this year as well.

In such situations, it is important for us to communicate openly with all stakeholders. We provide our dealers, customers and investors with transparent information on current developments through relevant channels.

Overall, customers have been patient and understanding. We received hardly any cancellations; on the contrary, our order book continued to grow last year.

When will you be able to resume deliveries with customary waiting times?

Adamietzki: At the moment, it is generally difficult for everyone involved to predict when things will get back to normal. However, with our new chassis suppliers, we will be able to speed up our operations again, and therefore expect an improvement in our delivery situation for the first half of the year.

Since the beginning of the year, we have observed a slight easing of the situation in certain areas. In terms of capacity, we are all set for further growth. Last year alone we hired 500 new members of staff. We have adjusted logistics and procurement to enable production to respond even more flexibly to disruptions.

What impact has the pandemic had on business?

Vaterl: Needless to say, we were also badly hit by the pandemic in certain areas. There are many reasons for this, one being that we were confronted with the supply problems mentioned before. On the other hand, we also had to continuously adapt measures to protect our employees. In retrospect, I would venture to say that we had, and continue to have, the situation well under control. To date, we have had no operational interruptions in the entire Knaus Tabbert Group as a result of the pandemic. This is due not least to a comprehensive and rigorously implemented package of safety and hygiene measures as well as ongoing staff notifications to protect our workforce and their families, which was of particular concern to us.

The measures range from social distancing concepts and the distribution of free tests to in‐house vaccination lines. For us, governmental regulations probably presented us with the greatest challenge, not only financially, but also due to the fact that measures were mostly announced at short notice and had to be implemented within a short time frame. I would like to draw attention to the fantastic achievements of our employees during this time. This goes far beyond any additional physical demands such as wearing a protective mask; the effects on our employees’ mental health also deserve special mention in this regard. For this reason, we as the Management Board would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere thanks to all members of staff for the commitment they have shown, and for the outstanding work they have done over the past two years.

Adamietzki: The pandemic has also had an impact on our sales figures. As a B2B manufacturer, trade fairs are still one of the most important instruments available to us for increasing customer loyalty.

We not only present brands and products, but also Knaus Tabbert AG as an innovative and powerful company. Trade fairs are the ideal platform for strategically communicating our core messages. During periods when trade fairs were restricted, we massively increased our advertising budget in order to significantly increase the visibility of our brands throughout Europe and to use this media boost to direct as many potential customers as possible to our dealers.

We really pushed our social media activities. Overall, we have once again stepped up our pace during the crisis. We are investing more in innovations, in new products and technologies and, of course, in our workforce.

The market for recreational vehicles has been growing very strongly since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Is the pandemic the cause of this growth, or merely reinforcing it?

Speck: Irrespective of the pandemic, a number of megatrends are currently fuelling growth in our industry. The baby boomers of the 1960s, demographic change and increasing life expectancy are supporting growth in this traditional age and customer group, often referred to as golden agers. What’s more, this target group is set to grow in the coming years. At the same time, we are increasingly seeing young caravanning enthusiasts, not least as a result of sharing and rental offers. We target this group through our RENT AND TRAVEL offerings. More than 40% of all bookings are made by customers between the ages of 18 and 34. The growing trend toward regional tourism and short breaks also plays an important role.

Last summer, you announced that you planned to invest EUR 220 million.

Hundsdorf: At Knaus Tabbert, we have ambitious plans and aim to steadily increase our sales figures to 50,000 units by 2025. To achieve this, we are planning extensive investments in buildings and technology at our sites in Jandelsbrunn, at our Hungarian location, and in Schlüsselfeld in Franconia. In Jandelsbrunn, construction of a 20,000 m² production hall has already begun. We will be continuously expanding our Hungarian location to increase volumes, and our Luxury segment in Schlüsselfeld will receive a second production line for a new generation of products.

What role does sustainability play for Knaus Tabbert?

Speck: The demands placed by our customers on sustainable forms of recreational activities and holidays are increasing. Legislators will map out the route – we wish to take the lead. Lightweight construction and electromobility must be ready for series production at Knaus Tabbert before this is required by law.

Hundsdorf: The capital market is attaching increasing importance to sustainability. For investors, the sustainable orientation of companies is becoming a key criterion alongside traditional financial indicators. We wish to be prepared for this, and are focusing intensively on the topic of ESG in the fields of activity that are important for us and our stakeholders. We will provide detailed information on this in a separate sustainability report.

Vaterl: Electromobility is becoming increasingly important in the camping industry. We wish to play a pioneering role in this area. At the Caravan Salon 2021, we presented a study on the KNAUS E.POWER DRIVE, a preview of the first fully electric motorhome. We are also working at full speed on projects to establish e‐mobility in the recreational vehicle segment.

Adamietzki: Sustainability always involves small steps that are not visible from the outside. For instance, we attempt to procure our materials with as little packaging as possible or with resource‐saving packaging, and practise waste separation and the recycling of materials in all areas of the company.

In a modern boiler house, we thus transform the wood waste that accumulates in our joinery into heat that we then use to heat our production halls and offices in the winter. This means that we have little or no dependence on fossil fuels.

Where is Knaus Tabbert headed in the future?

Speck: We are extremely optimistic for 2022. The high order backlog provides a strong starting position for this. While the pandemic is not yet over, we continue to work hard on the resilience of our supply chains. In the area of vehicle chassis, we have broadened our base with additional partners. Our production is modern and we have increased our staff. Of course, the Ukraine war and sanctions may lead to further economic dislocation. At the moment, however, we are confident that we will gradually move back towards an optimal cycle and utilisation of our factories in H2 2022, generating significant growth in sales and earnings. The European market offers great potential for Knaus Tabbert to continue the growth story of recent years. We have more than tripled sales since 2013. A doubling by 2025 seems possible.