Many people keep asking us whether Manufaktura is a truly Czech company. The name of our sole owner is Němeček – he is a Czech who based his successful business on love and respect for Czech tradition.
He graduated from architecture and made his living on it shortly after finishing the studies after the Velvet Revolution. But then his life took a completely different direction. Karel Němeček has been behind Manufaktura for almost 30 years not only from the position of a company owner but also humanly, i.e. preserving company values, maintaining excellent relationships and pleasant atmosphere in the workplace.
Our owner took time out, so we asked him several questions, which will give you an idea of the story of Manufaktura.
We wish you pleasant reading …
You established Manufaktura in 1991. How did such though come to an architect?
I was fresh out of university and had some contracts in the historic centre of Prague, where the first business activities were waking up. I watched the centre fill up with tawdry assortment pretending to be Czech goods, but it was more like artefacts of Russian origin. So, I declared a kind of my private fight against bad taste.
How did your business plan get running?
We just went to a first free building, which was an ancient laundry. We rented it and started to think about how to fill it up. We were travelling around Bohemia and Moravia and made a database of approximately 250 craftsmen and small companies, whose confiscated workshops were freshly returned and reconstructed, so they were seeking market for their assortment. It included traditional Czech wooden toys as well as corn husk dolls, blueprint, exceptional regional painted Easter eggs, Christmas ornaments and similar.
Were you not afraid that you would fail with traditional Czech products made from natural materials and with unobtrusive design?
I knew that a Czech toy could win people´s heart, it had vast history. Plastic toys dominated at that time and many foreign suppliers tore into our market, however, a lot of them had no idea. We bet on products differing in interesting design. When we furnished shops for them in a traditional and homely way – we finally managed to open five shops in the centre of Prague – it worked immediately. However, I need to say that the main customers were foreigners who wanted to take away a nice Czech souvenir. We were in neighbourhood of Yugoslavian and Russian shops, which were gaudy, and our simplicity and plainness appealed to tourists.
Where and when did cosmetics appear in your assortment?
Unfortunately, at the beginning everything revolved around tourists, which was risky. If, for any unforeseeable reasons, tourists stopped travelling there, our business would end very quickly. So we decided to look for a recipe of how to attract Czech customers. In 1997 a genius idea of manual production of soap enriched in purely Czech ingredients emerged. It saved us at that time and launched creation of many successful cosmetic ranges.
What followed soap?
The idea of home spa, i.e. creation of the concept of cosmetics inspired by Czech nature and accessories for home spa rituals. We bet on Czech ingredients, the effects of which Czech people knew for centuries, but they forget them. Beer and its connection with cosmetics were essential. The beer range is our iconic and oldest product in this sense.
After all, is it your big business success?
I do not consider myself a businessman because I cannot imagine a businessman with worse characteristics than a combination of a qualified architect, a chaotic non-systematist and Sagittarius. This is exactly me. For that reason I am employed in my company as an architect and I have my superiors.
So, what does the success consist in, if, as you said, you have almost no qualities a businessman should have?
Thanks to all my non-business qualities I was forced to surround myself with people who have them. And I can listen, I seek advice. I think that my main activity in the company is to create an atmosphere in which all employees feel comfortable. We want family atmosphere, not corporate one.
What, in your point, distinguishes Manufaktura in the market?
I think it is the specific culture of selling. Today people say that they do not sell a product, but an experience. What I feel is that you can buy a product in a drugstore. However, for us it is important that our customers have pleasant emotions during shopping. We want them to find the right product for themselves or a beautiful gift for their friends or family members, something that will definitely make them happy. We want them to relax for a while thanks to the original atmosphere of our shops and to lure them into home spa, which they can enjoy at home with our cosmetics.
You design the shops. What influences you when creating them?
I am one of the men, and there are not a few of us, who are shy to enter a perfumery when passing by. It is because I find their interior too reserved, uncomfortable. When I encounter trained staff, I turn on my heel and run away because I have a bad feeling. That is why I strive to make a customer feel almost like in a living room. The first impression should be peaceful and cosy atmosphere, nice smell. A customer should not be caught off guard by extreme luxury, neither importunate staff. We pay extraordinary attention to it and it is coming back to us in the form of lovely reactions from satisfied customers as well as being ranked in first place in a prestigious survey of customer experience.
How do you see yourself and Manufaktura in 10 years?
Our development department is bubbling over with new ideas and our systems allow us to multiply the capacity of production. We almost daily reject demands for development of our network abroad. An economist would try to make maximum use of it and to increase turnover. But I am an architect and I hope that we will go on developing, but the development will be discreet. I hope that we will still be competitive but not at the expense of things which are important to us and which do not relate to money. I do not see our future in multiplying profit, but in details and focus on important things, such as absolute emphasize on high quality, brand and the customer. I hope that in ten years we will be working in pleasant atmosphere and we will still enjoy it.
Do you personally have any favourite Manufaktura product that you personally use?
I think it is beer shampoo. It is not promotion from my part because the product sells well even without advertising. But I do not lose my hair since I started to use it. (He is laughing.)