Deceuninck Can Do: COVID Metamorphosis

December 13, 2022

How Deceuninck Weathered a Worldwide Pandemic and Emerged Even Stronger

The COVID-19 pandemic shook up organizations across the globe.

Food and beverage. Airlines. Entertainment. Hospitality. And certainly manufacturing.

Supply chains were severely impacted, materials were becoming increasingly difficult to obtain in a timely manner (if available at all) and finding and retaining qualified employees was an ongoing challenge for manufacturers.

President and CEO of Deceuninck North America, Joren Knockaert, joined the organization in August 2020 during the height of the pandemic. Materials, capacity, and qualified labor were evident challenges that the team would need to overcome. In 2022, on the other side of the peak phases of the pandemic, the outlook for the organization is strong. The lessons learned in terms of logistics, operations, hiring, workplace culture, and technology are now being applied to how the organization functions on a daily basis. Now, these areas of the business are proving to be some of Deceuninck’s strongest pillars.

Uncertainty Early On

An unprecedent pandemic led many organizations to reconsider operations and staffing. How long would this last? Two weeks? Two months? Very few foresaw lingering effects lasting more than two years later.

What was even more surprising was the strong construction demand that continued shortly after the pandemic shutdown.

“Demand was blowing up and because of the precautions we took in preparation for a slowdown, we did not have the capacity to support it,” explained Knockaert. “It was during my first few weeks here that we realized we needed to revamp and reconsider our operations. We ordered extra machines to fulfill demand and stay reliable for the customers who depend on us.”

Knockaert identified materials, qualified labor, and capacity as three of the biggest challenges during the early months of pandemic, and the entire Deceuninck team needed to unite to overcome them.

“Capacity was a challenge because the marketplace was so unpredictable early on. There was a surge of demand and we did not have a full visibility into what kind of capacity we needed at the time,” added Knockaert. “From then on, our sales team did an incredible job of capturing demand and reporting back to us. Once orders are in the orderbook, it’s too late. We needed better visibility into what was coming before it even got here. The sales team was pivotal in making that happen for us.”

Deceuninck added 30% extra capacity to manage the influx of demand and hired new resources to manage the supply chain, continuously monitor it, and steer the organization appropriately.

“Through hard work, we achieved a high-functioning operation into 2021. But as good as we got those systems to perform, it means nothing if you don’t have the right skilled people to run it,” added Knockaert.

Power of Our People

“Our people are so important,” Knockaert emphasized. “We never struggled to find hands, but keeping capable employees was a challenge with so much competition from other employers.”

Deceuninck has built a culture that underscores the importance of hiring dedicated, hardworking people and advancing them through the organization.

“We do not hire pre-skilled extrusion operators. We hire good people and then train them to be highly capable extrusion operators,” said Knockaert.

Once he joined to organization, Knockaert spent a lot of time listening and learning to ensure everyone was aligned with the overall business vision, a new market dynamic, and ongoing demand. This applied to employees across the organization and included exercises that helped to clearly identify roles and to map out a gameplan to collaborate and grow as a team and as individuals.

In terms of hiring, Deceuninck did resort to some of the essential employee attraction methods that many organizations were putting in place during the pandemic-induced labor crunch. Deceuninck adapted compensation and bonuses and instituted new benefits for employees.

Knockaert explained another key component to employee retention: The importance of embracing and caring for new and tenured employees, and the value of teaching them the tangible skills necessary to succeed and grow by offering a career path.

“Compensation gets people in the door, but really showing your people that you care about them is what keeps them,” he added.

After a dip in overall staff numbers following the onset of the pandemic, Deceuninck has successfully restaffed the operation in full to manage the added capacity put in place to support the strong continued demand. Knockaert points to one example of growth that has taken place in the human resources department.

“Since the pandemic, our HR team has grown from four team members to sixteen. It was critical that we reinforce this area of our business to ensure we had enough resources in place to find and hire new, qualified talent,” he said.

In turn, Deceuninck has bolstered all of its departments where necessary as well as a number of needs on the production floor for packers, extrusion line operators, and more.

The Secret Formulas

Deceuninck has a strong reputation when it comes to the formulation of compounds that are used to produce window and door profiles and extrusions. These material science formulations are engineered to deliver superior performance, weatherability, longevity, and sustainability. When the pandemic began, Deceuninck was ready for potential material shortages, which inevitably ensued. For years, the organization had prioritized the research and development of highly advanced formulations even when raw material shortages were not a concern. Over the course of decades, Deceuninck scientists had also unlocked multiple ways to create these compounds. This proved to be immensely valuable when certain resins and polymers were becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.

“Our material science team has a firm grasp on an entire portfolio of alternative materials in the market and how to incorporate them into our formulations if we need to. This put us in a position to be prepared for an event such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and it certainly helped us find our way through its most challenging phases,” explained Knockaert.

Deceuninck was able to tap into new resources to maintain the quality or even improve upon the properties of materials that go into extrusions for window and doors.

Tapping into Technology

Technology played an important role in Deceuninck’s progression through the pandemic, especially when it came to the supply chain. However, technology also applied to machinery and innovation of products, business processes, and IT.

“We were preparing for a big leap in how we utilize technology leading up to 2020, so we were actually primed to deploy it during the pandemic,” explained Knockaert. “We have more than 70 production lines, making us one of the largest extruders in the industry. Despite our huge footprint, we are dealing daily with a large amount of complex SKUs and orders. We can’t fulfill these orders unless everything is running smoothly and there is an excess in capacity. Therefore, we put technologies and systems in place to monitor production outputs, change-overs, stock levels and tendencies in marketplace demand. We then took all of these information sources and applied them to our processes, allowing us to make proposals to the production scheduling team and get everyone what they needed to run the lines.”

An updated S&OP system and tools to manage the entire order fulfillment process fostered essential interdepartmental communication and efficient workflow throughout the organization. Moving forward, Deceuninck has the tools in place to support its own growth as well as applying these learnings and processes to their customers’ businesses.

The Return

“At the end of the day, the pandemic challenges confirmed for me how strong this team is and how we truly embody a ‘can do’ attitude,” acknowledged Knockaert. “We owe a big part of our recovery to the knowledge and network that exists within the Deceuninck Group, as well as our partnerships with suppliers and the customers that depend on us.”

Companywide, Knockaert identified three “must-win battles” conducive to keeping the organization on its current growth trajectory: people, customer service, and sustainability.

“We must continue to find and retain really good workers that we can upskill and put on a growth path,” concluded Knockaert. “Furthermore, customer service is always going to be one of the keys to success and, as we’ve always done, we are prioritizing our relationships with customers to ensure they get the materials they need, when they need them.”

Knockaert concluded by reiterating how important the pillar of sustainability is to the organization.

“Sustainability is at our core and permeates all that we do, from our processes to our products and where those products go at the end of their life cycles. When we do good by the environment, everyone wins.”

Organization Makes Hires in Management, Promotes from Within to Support Growth

Organization Makes Hires in Management, Promotes from Within to Support Growth