homepage_name! > Editions > Number 106 > Interview - Jovana Nikcevic

Jovana Nikčević, PR Manager, Keramika Kanjiža d.o.o.

Quality that Drives and Excites – Square Affair

The Keramika Kanjiža company entered 2018 with a completely new outlook. By carefully observing the requirements across numerous different markets, especially export markets, and by getting to know modern consumers, their habits, needs and desires, we began this year with new products and a new brand. We have recently completed the installation of the strongest press available to only a few European ceramic tiles manufacturers. With it, we have opened new ground where we can produce super Gres Porcelain tiles of large dimensions. Due to the high pressing force of this press, we can produce extremely strong tiles. In addition, we have enriched our offer with decors that have been perfected with the help of digitalization and modernization. With different applications of new formats and patterns, and a wide spectrum of their combinations, the brand has become a reliable partner of customers’ personal needs, and their lifestyles. By introducing novelties, the company has set new goals which entail an even faster expansion to foreign markets in the west, as well as a bigger involvement in projects across the region. The brand has evolved by following world trends in all segments and has opened new possibilities for redefining space. That is how the new name – Square Affair – came about.

Miloš Nadaždin

Ms.Jovana Nikčević, PR Manager, Keramika Kanjiža d.o.o.speaks for Profit magazine.

Ms. Nikčević, where were you born, where did you grow up and where did you receive your education? What was your career like before you became PR Manager at Keramika Kanjiža?

In geographic terms, I was born in Belgrade, but I grew up watching MTV, British humor, and I spent a good deal of my time on the internet. Thanks to dancesport, in which I competed for the Serbian national team, I enrolled in the Sports High School. After that, I graduated from the Faculty of Media and Communications and realized that the communications business is something I love and something I can see myself in. My career path has been perfect. Thanks to the dedication of my public relations professor, I started my first practice at a PR agency, which was followed by my first employment. After four years of working with domestic and foreign companies in various industries, including Visa, Deichmann, Mercator, Ikea, FIC etc., I received a call for an interview with Keramika Kanjiža. That is how a new and exciting chapter in my life began, three and a half years ago. Today, more than seven years after my first work experience, I wake up every day with a smile on my face and do the job I love.

Keramika Kanjiža is the leading domestic manufacturer of ceramic tiles. A successful business year is behind you. What business results did you achieve in 2017?

At the end of 2017, the company noted great success and record-breaking results since the brand’s beginning. We manufactured and sold 2,800,000 m2 of tiles. As much as 50% of realized sales consisted of exports to foreign markets across the region and Europe, which is the highest recorded percentage of exports so far. At the same time, we have opened numerous new markets in the previous year, and we are proudest of the fact that our products are highly rated in Austria.

We are also following trends in cost optimization while simultaneously raising the quality of our products.

The conclusion is that a very successful year is behind us, which is just another step towards higher goals; and we have no intention of stopping there.

What’s new for 2018?

The company is entering the new season with a completely new outlook. By carefully observing the requirements across numerous different markets, especially export markets, and by getting to know modern consumers, their habits, needs and desires, we have begun this year with new products and a new brand. We have recently completed the installation of the strongest press available to only a few European ceramic tiles manufacturers. With it, we have opened new ground where we can produce super Gres Porcelain tiles of large dimensions. Due to the high pressing force of this press, we can produce extremely strong tiles. In addition, we have enriched our offer with decors that have been perfected with the help of digitalization and modernization.

With different applications of new formats and patterns, and a wide spectrum of their combinations, the brand has becomes a reliable partner of customers’ personal needs, and their lifestyles. By introducing novelties, the company has set new goals which entail an even faster expansion to foreign markets in the west, as well as a greater involvement in projects across the region.

The brand has evolved by following world trends in all segments and has opened new possibilities for redefining space. That is how the new name – Square Affair – came about.

What influenced the brand name change?

The name change came about as a response to the needs of modern consumers. Thanks to the internet, customers are, now more than ever, well informed about products and they know precisely what they want. It was the internet that developed their sensibility and the consumer has become the subject of that relationship. Therefore, domestic customers have become equal to customers worldwide in terms of expectations and aesthetics. As you probably know, the lives of today’s generations take place on social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat. The current selection of products is vast, and due to technology, the quality is implied. What customers want is a smart purchase of a product that will express their personal attitude and lifestyle. That is precisely what the new name represents. The first word provides an association to the product itself (square format), but it also symbolizes security, stability, and strength. These are actually the experience, the expertise, and the technology that have been behind the brand for 37 years. The second word promises an emotional experience, the adventure of modeling and enjoying space, of something new and refreshing.

Combined, they make up a name that synergistically brings opposites together and, immediately upon first reading, provides a chance for discovery, like a short and effective story about quality that can drive and excite you.

The name is in English which provides a dose of sophistication and the ring of a global brand, in line with the new goals and strategies.

Your company was the first on the domestic market to digitalize the manufacturing process. Can you explain what that means exactly?

When we decided to introduce the first digital printer, it was considered a risky business move. However, we wanted to be free of limitations when it came to decorating tiles; we wanted the possibility of free and more daring creations. Within two years, all domestic factories followed in our footsteps. Today, Square Affair has surpassed the fascination with the industry; we have turned to IT and its implementation in the production plant.

We started with one digital ink jet printer that brought about a revolution to decorating tiles. Since 2016, we have digitalized the decorating process 100%. Within our production segment, we have automated forklifts, and we have perfected quality control. Thanks to optical-laser control, we are able to detect even the smallest imperfections, which allows us to deliver perfection to the end consumer, free of any flaws that the human eye perhaps would not even be able to detect.

We will continue to develop in this direction – we are planning the complete automatization of all production segments, which will allow us to invest into the creative segments of HR, such as sales, design, and marketing.

from the archive of Keramika Kanjiža

Ms. Nikčević, what is your view of the position of domestic products compared to imported ones; what are the problems with imported tiles, and what is the current position of domestic manufacturers?

The domestic market of ceramic tiles could best be compared to a Turkish bazaar. In it, you can find high-quality domestic products, poor-quality domestic products, imported ceramics of the highest quality, but also remnants that cannot be distributed to EU markets, so they end up in Serbia. However, a reason for concern is the false labelling of tiles. Nowadays, it is enough to write that the tile was made in Italy and that will do the trick for the majority of consumers. That is why we often remind consumers to bewell informed, demand to see labels, look up the manufacturer online and find out how the quality of the tile compares to top manufacturers. It is very important that consumers know these details so they can get top quality for their money’s worth, instead of a product that will crack within a year.

State institutions play an important role in all of this. In order to protect the local consumer, it is necessary to improve the quality control of imported ceramics. I am truly sorry that customers are not able to trust the labels on imported goods, which should be the base source of information about the product available on the spot.

In addition, there are also problems related to unfair competition. Being market leader for three years in a row has brought about a surge of counterfeits of our most popular, and bestselling series. This is done by both domestic retailers for their private brands, but also by foreign manufacturers. But, that’s old news. As much as it is a nuisance, it’s also quite flattering. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

What does your product portfolio look like at this moment, and what makes your products unique compared to the competition? What innovations do you offer and what makes your company special?

This season, Square Affair enters the market with Gres Porcelain quality tiles, as well as new attractive dimensions, such as 20x80, 30x60, 15x60, 60x60, 45x45 for floors and 20x60 for walls.

However, we offer more than mere construction materials. For the past year, we have been working around the clock to develop a “human-driven” company – one based around the modern consumer, and his/her needs. Thanks to the best Italian pigments, our tiles have become a canvas for our customers to express themselves. We are driven by their needs, and in this way we are able to satisfy their wishes and the visual style they have, and are developing. This has inspired perfect interpretations of natural and construction materials such as wood, marble, brick, cement, concrete, and stone. These tiles have better properties, they are easier to clean and are more cost-effective compared to the original materials. The attention to detail and the commitment to visual perfection have made these series of tiles indistinguishable from the actual original materials – even upon touch, since our finest textures provide a final touch that increases authenticity.

New formats and dimensions offer many possibilities for making endless combinations and expressing oneself. For these reasons, we offer our consumers a shopping experience from the heart, where home furnishing is seen as a highly significant moment in their lives. Square Affair tiles can help you transform the most private space in your home into the stuff of imagination.

What are the business plans of your company for the coming period? What are your long-term, primary, and strategic goals and expectations?

We always have big plans and wishes. In the period to come, our primary goals include the enhancement of production capacities, additional improvement to the manufacturing process and the quality of products through the aforementioned automatization and digitalization. We want our tiles to stand side-by-side with the world’s top manufacturers.

When it comes to strategy, we intend on continuing to set trends – both for the competition and end buyers. In addition, we will also make special investments towards the aesthetics segment and IT, as well as making tiles the ultimate expression of lifestyle through personalized manufacture, collaboration with world class artists and numerous universities.

We have only one long-term goal – to be among the top ceramic tile manufacturers in Europe, offering our consumers much more than simple covering material.

Keramika Kanjiža can also take pride in being highly socially responsible and caring for environmental protection, as well as organizing charities, giving donations and encouraging the use and development of energy efficiency. Tell us more about that.

They say that a man’s greatness is reflected in his behavior towards those who are weaker. I believe something similar is true for companies – success and greatness are not only reflected in business results and profit, but also in the time and resources invested in the community, without expecting anything in return. The way a brand presents itself to customers and the public largely depends on its core values in each segment. Since its foundation, our company has cherished tradition and has been investing in quality improvement and the local community.

For the past few years, we have been donating tiles for the reconstruction of kindergartens, medical institutions throughout Serbia, local sports clubs, schools, etc. We have developed a professional training program in the communications sector with the Faculty of Media and Communications, and we also collaborate with the Faculty of Arts and Design through project assignments for students. Our company is a member of the Friends of UNICEF Club, and we are especially proud of sponsoring the autobiography of Nataša Kovačević entitled “Koraci” (“Footsteps”).

However, we did not stop there. Over the past years, we have invested over EUR 1 million in improving the energy efficiency in production, as well as environmental protection. The “Environmentally Friendly” ecolabel, as well as the IPPC permit issued by the Provincial Secretariat for Urban Planning and Environmental Protection, represent the ultimate recognition of our investments and overall effort.

For us, these segments are just as important as business plans and strategy, and we are just as dedicated to them. Many interesting projects await, so – stay tuned! We will not disappoint.

Keramika Kanjiža won the prestigious award “PRiZnanje” awarded by the Public Relations Society of Serbia for the campaign entitled “Who Owns the Best Tiles”, an idea that you brought to life. What was the goal and is the rule stating that the best campaigns are also the most expensive, actually true?

The campaign “Who Owns the Best Tiles” has got a lot of attention over the last year and a half, both from the public, and the experts. The goal was to promote the brand in an entirely new way. We wanted to completely transform the current perception of the ceramics industry – to show that tiles are not a dirty and dusty construction material, but a matter of lifestyle and aesthetics. This campaign allowed us to show what makes us unique and why our company is the one setting the standards in all business segments.

“Who Owns the Best Tiles” is a great example of the fact that high-quality and effective campaigns do not have to be expensive. Sometimes, all you need is a good and original idea. I believe this is recognized by end consumers, and that they respond to it. Now more than ever, we are constantly being bombarded with information and advertising from all directions. In order to stand out, marketing campaigns need to be new and innovative. I would personally love to see bolder campaigns and marketing activities such as this one on the domestic market. In my opinion, this would help advance the field, while customers would get much more, while paying much less.

If you could, would you have changed anything in your career up to this point?

I am lucky to have been able to advance my career in line with the incredible IT and social media advancements. The effect they have had on corporate and market communication is incredible – so much so that they have transformed the way we now communicate and exchange all sorts of content. This is true for me as well – instead of dwelling on my mistakes, I see them as a learning curve. It is exciting to live in a time when cultural patterns of communication shift so rapidly. An entirely new spectrum of professions with new leaders is being developed. I believe the best is yet to come. That’s where I see opportunities...and not just for myself.

How do you manage to overcome everyday stress? What is your life motto?

As most generations that grew up in the information age, I have a lot of interests and ways I go about relieving stress. Depending on how much time I have, I either go for a run, draw, use my Kindle, or sing karaoke at home. As you may have guessed, this last one is probably bad for the neighbors, but invaluable to me.

As for my moto – I truly believe that the boundaries of the impossible are constantly being pushed. If you care about something, you should find a way to push your own boundaries.

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