What's bad about china

The few remaining household goods retailers felt it first. Josef Ostermann from Ahlen, for example, noticed from special offers that something was wrong again in the already stumbling German porcelain industry. On Thursday, the first really bad news actually came: the state porcelain manufacturer Meissen announced that it would cut a third of its jobs. It could only be the beginning of a renewed crisis among the well-known manufacturers of the former cultural asset.

The company Rosenthal, which was founded 140 years ago, is again in financial difficulties. According to information from Süddeutsche Zeitung the porcelain manufacturer from Upper Franconia writes losses for the third year in a row. The company does not deny this information. The minus in 2017 was announced in the Federal Gazette itself. Industry experts, who do not want to be named, report on the losses in the two following years.

Ten years ago, Italians saved Rosenthal from bankruptcy

The news about Rosenthal sounded so euphoric at the beginning of this year. "An Italian puts Rosenthal back on the road to success," wrote the Frankenpost. "Porcelain makers leave the crisis behind," was the headline North Bavarian courier. The articles appeared in January on the tenth anniversary of the bankruptcy of the world-famous tableware manufacturer. Judging by the sadness that prevailed in Selb on the Czech border in 2009, that was also true. Many residents feared losing their livelihood, some moved away.

But now, ten years after the rescue by the brothers Pierluigi and Franco Coppo, who control the Italian cutlery manufacturer Sambonet Paderno, the small town of Selb is once again unrest. Porcelain, once an expression of beauty, wealth and power, is for most people just a commodity like others. You can get a plate at Ikea for 1.99 euros. With the Sunday roast, the Sunday dishes disappeared from most people's lives. And the majority of manufacturers in the home country of porcelain, which Germany once was, disappeared. There are still between ten and 20 manufacturers and 5000 "porcelain makers" left. Selb, the seat of Rosenthal and Hutschenreuther, is still regarded as the "porcelain town" of Germany. Most of Rosenthal's almost 800 employees work here.

Josef Ostermann is not the only one who has a suspicion that the company could have bigger problems and possibly plan something that is not yet ready for a decision. Some of his colleagues, including Peter Franzen, who runs a shop on Düsseldorf's Königsallee, and Marc Ferdinand in Koblenz, startled an action that was untypical for Rosenthal. The brand, which has always stood for quality and high prices, has also been available at Edeka in North Rhine-Westphalia since the beginning of September via quickly collected loyalty points. Edeka operates around 4,500 branches in North Rhine-Westphalia alone. The campaign, which will run until the beginning of January, is therefore powerful, even if Rosenthal itself only speaks of a "temporally and locally limited loyalty program".

Josef Ostermann thinks these are "excuses". In the ninth generation of the family business in the pedestrian zone of Ahlen south of Münster, he has been running a family business since 1706, which is now a specialist shop for glass, porcelain and gift items. Rosenthal porcelain has been sold there since 1956. In order to be able to sell the plates, cups and bowls at all, the Ostermann family had to agree to certain contractual conditions from Rosenthal. This includes the fact that Ostermann is not allowed to put the fine tableware anywhere in the shop, but has to present it on special Rosenthal furniture: beautifully brightly lit, of course. And salespeople also need to be trained to advise customers. Ostermann spent around 50,000 euros on furniture alone, he says.

And now he and the other specialist dealers have to watch how the plates are carelessly decorated on cardboard stands at Edeka, each for 4.50 euros. At Ostermann it costs almost 17 euros. "It is incomprehensible to me," he says, "how we should explain the price of 4.50 euros to our customers, if they still come."

Is it the same dishes? Rosenthal says no, Ostermann yes. Does it even matter? Ostermann complains that the Rosenthal stamp is also found on the underside of the Edeka goods. The big brand is available at a low price. That is the effect on the customer. Thomas Grothkopp, managing director of the trade association for cooking and table culture, agrees with him: "Loyalty campaigns are entirely at the expense of the specialist trade," he says.

Rosenthal, on the other hand, argues that the campaign is aimed at attracting younger customers, utilizing production to capacity, employing suppliers and partners and securing jobs in Bavaria. "We are not dependent on the sales from this campaign," it says on request.

However, this is exactly what the retailers doubt. "One has the impression that the bride is to be made pretty here," says Ferdinand, manager of the Commes porcelain house. In other words: Before a possible sale, sales should be pushed again. With other household brands such as WMF, things went similarly. But: At Rosenthal, everyone is wondering: who could the buyer be? Nobody can think of anyone at the moment.