Porcelain manufacturer Meissen looks to shake off its dusty image

|     Joerg Schurig     |

MEISSEN, Germany (dpa) – After a brief foray into the luxury goods market, renowned German porcelain maker Meissen is returning to what it does best: China.

“After we took the financing decision in October, we are implementing our plans with zeal,” says Georg Nussdorfer, who has been one of the company’s directors for a year and is responsible for marketing and distribution.

The 300-year-old company now aims to produce the best porcelain in the world, and customers have reacted positively to the decision, he says.

In 2009, under former director Christian Kurtzke, the company took a complete change of direction.

Kurtzke wanted to transform Meissen into a maker of luxury clothes, jewellery and accessories. The plan failed  miserably.

In 2014, the company booked losses of 19.2 million euros (22.7 million dollars). The following year it lost 12.1 million euros.

The manufacturer was forced to borrow 22 million euros from the state of Saxony. The delayed repayment will start in 2021 over a period of 10 years, giving the company a chance to breathe.

“Our biggest task is to make porcelain desirable again,” says Nussdorfer.

But even though Meissen is “engraved into people’s minds as a brand”, the idea is not necessarily a sure-fire moneymaker, he says.

Porcelain painter Kerstin Hoentsch decorates a vase at the Meissen building in the eastern German town bearing its name

The 46-year-old Austrian, who worked for the jewellery-maker Swarovski for many years, is targeting young people.

“The old Meissen had a certain ability to mock itself, a cheekiness and was also a bit critical of society, you only have to think of the monkey orchestra,” Nussdorfer says, referring to a famous set of figurines the company made in the 18th Century.

“That’s something we can reinterpret,” he continues.

But most importantly, Meissen’s motto will have to be “Out of the shop window and onto the table.”

Meissen’s reputation as a maker of fine porcelain could, in fact, end up holding it back – many people will bring it out only for special occasions, otherwise keeping it on display.

But Nussdorfer doesn’t want its products to become museum pieces, only found in Meissen boutiques and specialist shops – he wants the company to start changing its image.

While there’s still a lot in flux, Meissen is clear about its target markets.

“Japan, Taiwan, China, Russia, parts of the Arab world and the US,” says Nussdorfer, adding that he’s aiming for “luxury-orientated customers”.

By the end of 2020, he plans to have the company back in the black. The company was forced to take some tough measures as it changed course once again. Around 60 jobs were cut, though only around a dozen people were made redundant.

The return to its original business was regarded as a liberation by most, according to the workers council at the manufacturer.

The job cuts were “fair to the interests of both sides”.

Nussdorfer is aware of the dangers ahead.

“By focussing back on the porcelain, there’s a tendency to return to old ways and just do everything as we did before,” he says.

But change is sorely needed. “Now we need to start using our energy to move us forward,” he adds.

The Association of the Ceramics Industry in Germany doesn’t evaluate the future prospects of individual firms.

“For the high-value sector, especially handcrafted porcelain products, there are difficulties in important export markets like Russia,” director Rene Holler says.

“We believe that exports will increase in the midterm, but a concrete prediction for 2018 isn’t possible,” he adds.

Aside from that, he continues, the branch is not homogenous.

Demand for ceramics in hotels, for example, has risen, whereas the household porcelain sector has seen a slight drop in demand. – Text and Photo by DPA