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Kirstin Walther is a company director who really knows how to listen. She and her brother Jens manage juice maker Walther in Arnsdorf, near Dresden, now in its fourth generation of family ownership. The pair have successfully steered the family firm through financially troubled waters and reinvigorated sales. “We’ve managed to get where we are by focusing on our strengths and offering customers juice made from domestically-grown fruits such as apples, pears and quinces,” says Kirstin Walther. “And we also made sure we listened.” One of their fruit growers told them about a new type of packaging – an innovative carton. “He asked us whether we wanted to test it out,” she says. By coincidence, an e-mail from a customer in Wilhelmshaven arrived at the same time enquiring whether the company would be able to send him 10 litres of aronia juice per month. Aronia juice is rich in vitamins and minerals, but is pressed in only a handful of juice production plants in Germany.

Listening to customers and exploring new ideas

Other companies might have turned down the request, but the Walthers listened and experimented with a range of ideas. They finally came up with a new type of innovative packaging: a juice box in which drinks stay fresh for a long time even after the packaging has been opened. Kirstin Walther says: “The new packaging also meant we could ship our juice further afield and make our customer in Wilhelmshaven very happy. It was crucial that we listened carefully on that occasion.” Taking customers seriously and treating them with respect has been their mantra ever since. Kirstin Walther is a self-made woman who loves being a mother to her 16-year-old son and snowboarding. She was thrust into the role of company director, rather than being born into it, and learnt to do what felt right, particularly when it came to online media.

The Internet as a sales and customer communication channel

The Walthers took advantage of emerging online opportunities at an early stage. “My father, who was born back in 1946, recognised the potential of the Internet very early on,” remembers Kirstin Walther. “We even had our own little online store as early as 2000 and supplied around 30 customers. And I made my first attempt at online customer communication by sending e-mails to our customers.” Alongside applying her traditional business training, she soon set up her own blog and also used Twitter and Facebook to gather feedback from customers online. She was disarmingly honest in her blog posts about defective juice boxes and explained that the company had recognised the problem and was working to fix it. With her natural, open manner, Kirstin Walther has even featured in the New York Times and Germany’s Manager magazine. Her unassuming attitude is typical of Saxony. She’s not interested in exaggerating the company’s achievements. She doesn’t need to, or want to.

Reviving the popularity of the virtually forgotten Saxon “superfood” aronia

Every year, the company supplies two million litres of fruit juice to customers, including juice made from the aronia berry. The fruit comes from the oldest aronia plantation in the Oberlausitz region. At the Walther plant, the precious juice is extracted, packaged and dispatched far and wide. Individual and commercial customers all over Europe now appreciate the healthy juices made by this Saxony-based producer.

pictures: Dirk Brzoska Fotografie