It’s 1991 and after years of isolation behind the Iron Curtain the Czechs and Slovaks can finally enjoy foreign products, snubbing anything “made in Czechoslovakia”. At the same time, the country is becoming a tourist destination and inexperienced local shop assistants get a lesson in customer service from foreign tourists. That’s when the idea was born to source the best of local craftsmanship – from hand-painted Easter eggs to wooden toys – and offer it to tourists at a nice shop at the centre of Prague.
Today, twenty-seven years later, the company called Manufaktura focuses primarily on cosmetics, with a beer line containing brewer’s yeast and hop extract being the bestseller among its roughly three hundred products. The emphasis on quality and using local ingredients and recipes remains, accompanied by another top priority – a happy customer.
“First, we also sold wholesale. But then we realized it’s not only about the product, but the service as well,” says Tomáš Kratochvíl, Manufaktura’s executive director. “This philosophy doesn’t go very well with wholesale, because you cannot control where and how your product is sold. So it made sense to start handling everything ourselves,” explains Kratochvíl. Manufaktura decided to focus solely on direct sales, opened new brick-and-mortar shops – currently there are more than fifty in the Czech Republic and Slovakia – and enhanced its online shop.
“We want each of our employees to get an idea about what Manufaktura does and become our ambassador, spreading the good word. You cannot do that if you don’t have complete faith in the product.”Tomáš Kratochvíl executive director of Manufaktura
Everything Manufaktura sells is tried and tested by the employees themselves. Tomáš Kratochvíl likes to joke that Manufaktura’s cosmetics are not animal-tested, but people-tested. Shop assistants are in touch with colleagues who develop the products and can also contact their superiors any time. They are given regular training to learn about new products and are the first to give them a try. It’s only natural that they share this experience with customers afterwards. “We simply want each of our employees to get an idea about what Manufaktura does and become our ambassador, spreading the good word. You cannot do that if you don’t have complete faith in the product,” says Kratochvíl.
Today, Manufaktura’s online shop, which offers home delivery, delivery to Manufaktura shops and delivery of gift-wrapped products as presents, is heavily used by customers as well. But the most important source of feedback is not impersonal online communication or digital customer satisfaction surveys, it’s still personal contact at brick-and-mortar shops. “We gather customer feedback directly through our shop assistants and immediately pass it on to the development team, which reports back on how they have tweaked the product,” explains Kratochvíl.
The company is a proponent of fair competition. “When we claim our products contain a substance, then it’s really there. We don’t use marketing trickery, misleading claims or comparative advertising – that’s not how we do our business,” says Manufaktura’s executive director.
Manufaktura naturally benefits from radio, press and online advertising, but the nice and welcoming atmosphere in the shops and friendly staff play a much more important role in building a loyal and happy customer base. The shop assistants’ friendliness and helpfulness are also among the most appreciated aspects of the Manufaktura shopping experience, according to customer surveys.
The company currently employs 250–300 people both full-time and part-time; and while there is a higher turnover among shop assistants, according to the executive director Tomáš Kratochvíl, Manufaktura’s core management team remains stable. Once a week the whole team meets to carefully assess current marketing strategies and the sales of newly launched products. “The company is not only based on emotions. We manage everything using hard data and a comprehensive system for product success,” says Kratochvíl.
He feels Czech customers have undergone a massive change since the Velvet Revolution, requiring nothing but top quality. “If we didn’t meet the high quality requirements, customers would simply go elsewhere. That’s why we need to constantly come up with more sophisticated products,” concludes Kratochvíl.