Interview with Waldemar Kantczak, Chairman of the Board, Managing Director of Swisspearl Polska Sp. z o.o.
A&B: Filip Springer in his book "Bathtub with a Colonnade" showed a picture of Polish architecture. It is a passionate story about the ugliness we look at and enjoy. What image of Polish architecture do you see?
Waldemar Kantczak: I've been active in this market for 25 years and have observed mostly positive changes. A lot of residential and public buildings made of glass and steel have been built during the last three decades. Not all of them are aesthetically pleasing and have a positive effect on changing the architectural landscape. They often frighten and are simply non-functional.
Of course, I criticize this and understand that architecture is a reflection of mentality, sense of aesthetics and, to a large extent, purchasing power. But how is it? Today, the conversation between client and architect about functionality and aesthetics is more important. What is important is the expectation of the client, who wants distinctive designs and realizations. The conversation about quality and price is unchanged. Above all, however, we have a lot of choice and wide access to materials. That is to say, there are many more possibilities. The Swisspearl Group and we as part of it are influencing this change.
A&B: And more precisely, are we likely to have more aesthetically pleasing and functional buildings in which to live, work and do our business?
Waldemar Kantczak: Our potential customers are more affluent. We travel abroad more often, we look at well-published newspapers about interiors and architecture. Let's look at Polish architects! Many of them are brave people who pay attention to trends in climate change, design in Europe and win awards. Above all, however, architects, designers and contractors have almost unlimited access to materials and can choose what they need, rather than the way they used to, when they had to choose from what was available.
Today, clients can see everything on the Internet. They can see the materials, the possibilities and the effects they produce. This stimulates the imagination, it raises questions. The result is a change in expectations. This pleases me, because I myself like beautiful architecture.
A&B: You say that you have been in the market for 25 years. Now, together with your team, you are starting another chapter with the Swisspearl Group.
Waldemar Kantczak: The Swisspearl Group originated in Switzerland and produces fiber-cement materials at two of the oldest plants of its kind in Europe. In 2003, Swiss Eternit Group - a company founded in 1903 under the name Schweizerische Eternitwerke AG in Niederurnen, Switzerland, and Eternit Österreich, which has been known on the Austrian market since 1894 - were bought out by a private investor. Since then, the Swisspearl Group has been a family business, and the owners declare that it will stay that way. This guarantees the stability of growth in all markets. Now Swisspearl is closer to its Polish customers, we have a plant in Trzemeszno that produces ecological roofing, and our market is one of the strategic areas for the Swiss owners.
A&B: How are fiber-cement products perceived in our Polish market?
Waldemar Kantczak: Facade panels, roofing or fiber-cement tiles, regardless of who produces them in the Polish market, are perceived as luxury products. This is related to the customer's purchasing power and causes fiber-cement and its price to be treated differently than in Western Europe and Scandinavia. There, fiber-cement products are first-choice products because of the commitment to quality and can be bought at any wholesaler. With the large scale of their use, there are more opinions on the features of these products, conversations between users that are recommendations. What I would like to see penetrate more into the consciousness of architects, designers, contractors and investors is that fiber-cement is a natural, long-lasting, aesthetic, safe material that meets all environmental requirements. We care about quality at the stage of production and customer service. This is a set of our values.
Waldemar Kantczak - Chairman of the Board, Managing Director of Swisspearl Polska
© Swisspearl Polska
A&B: Can the trends we are seeing in the construction industry, resulting from greater awareness of climate change, have an impact on changing the perception of fiber cement?
Waldemar Kantczak: I have been managing and primarily working with teams that sell fiber-cement products for many years, and I know that both quality and price are important. This perspective prevails in all European markets. On the other hand, we are all increasingly aware that we all have an impact on climate change.
For us, for Swisspearl, the sustainability declaration means production and products without negative impact on the environment and natural resources, and that the cellulose fibers used for fiber-cement come from sustainably managed forests. We strive to maximize the share of renewable energy in the production process, and in most of our production facilities electricity comes from renewable sources. A sign of change is that one of our factories (with the exception of toilets and the cafeteria) does not discharge any wastewater, and we treat water in all Swisspearl factories.
Increasingly, investors want sustainable buildings with a low carbon footprint, limited waste production, efficiently heated, that is, with minimal negative environmental impact. These are the possibilities offered by fiber-cement. That is, we're talking about quality and environmental responsibility, which yield savings, and that's important to most of us.
A&B: What is important in the cooperation of the material manufacturer with the architect, designer and ultimately the client - the investor?
Waldemar Kantczak: The most important things are the honesty and competence of the salesmen. Thirty years ago, at the beginning of the free market in Poland, customers bought everything that was available, because there was little choice. Corporations entered our market with teams of salespeople who started their work from scratch: they presented products, negotiated offers and the results depended on that. Today, each potential customer knows that a wide range of materials is available, knows the features of the products and can see everything on the Internet. Competition has turned salespeople into product managers and consultants who listen, advise and cooperate. Of course it is important to convince people to buy. But the basis is an honest and knowledgeable conversation about the value and features of products. Only from this comes good cooperation, and consequently whether the customer will trust us, buy our products and return to us. Every conversation is work on raising product awareness, which in Poland is still too low in my opinion. Our team is made up of people who have been working together for years. We know that the most important thing is the end result, which is a project completed with our materials, and the building created with them is maintenance-free, ecological and aesthetically pleasing.
A&B: What plans does the Polish branch of Swisspearl have?
Waldemar Kantczak: We serve 40% of the market for fiber-cement products in Poland, and the Polish market is of strategic importance to us. I also know that after the end of the war in Ukraine, the Polish branch of Swisspearl will be responsible for that market. Those are the plans. And success? It depends on an honest and competent conversation with customers. From that comes success and profits. And for that I thank my team!