Franconia's skilled trades have started the new year on a hopeful note. Although the mood at the beginning of the year is somewhat gloomier than it was at the end of the year, there is still a lot to be done. But overall, the skilled crafts sector is reaping the benefits of a very stable 2012. Unimpressed by the debt crisis, the craftsmen were able last year to almost maintain the sales of the record year 2011. "The decisive factors were above all the increasing employment in germany and the rising incomes, which supported consumption", said thomas zimmer, president of the chamber of handicrafts for upper franconia. His colleague as president in lower franconia, hugo neugebauer, reported that, on average, 88 percent of the lower franconian companies were satisfied with their business situation.
Whether in upper, lower or middle franconia, the main economic driver in the skilled trades sector continues to be the construction and finishing trades. The energy turnaround and rising energy prices are making citizens more willing to invest. Private demand for energy-efficient renovations ensures high capacity utilization. "The average order backlog in 2012 was eight weeks, far above the average of the last ten years", said zimmer.
Satisfied are also the so-called health craftsmen such as opticians or dental technicians. Their businesses in 2012 were roughly on a par with the previous year. Upper franconia's president zimmer pointed out, however, that there is a high level of competitive pressure, particularly in the consumer-related service trades, such as hairdressers and cosmeticians.
Fewer bakers and butchers
There is less and less competition from bakers and butchers. The reason: the number of companies is decreasing. Lower franconia's chamber president hugo neugebauer, himself a master butcher, speaks of rough personnel grades – with consequences. In 2004, for example, there were still 130 butcher stores in the city and district of wurzburg. In the meantime, there are only 94 – a decline of around 28 percent.
According to the upper franconian chamber of crafts, there are still around 700 butcher shops and 500 bakeries in upper franconia. According to thomas zimmer, a master baker who runs a bakery in bayreuth, "things would have been much worse for us if we hadn't raised awareness through the 'genussregion oberfranken'". The marketing initiative supported by the chamber calls for regionally produced foods.
All in all, according to zimmer, food artisans are not doing badly despite the immense competitive pressure from supermarkets and discounters as well as increased raw material prices. On average, 86 percent of the companies in upper franconia had reported good or satisfactory results for the year.
Only the motor vehicle trade is less satisfied with the past year. No wonder. The automotive market in germany has been weaker. Sales of new vehicles were down on the previous year for both passenger cars and commercial vehicles. In upper franconia, which is strongly influenced by automotive suppliers, one-fifth of the companies anticipate a further decline in sales.
Due to low interest rates and low unemployment rates, all three french chambers of commerce expect 2013 to be another good year for craft businesses, with "probably slight consolidation", as the chamber in wurzburg puts it.
President hugo neugebauer, however, sees a serious problem coming for the craft sector. "We could have done more last year if we had had enough specialists", he said. And his managing director rolf lauer adds: "fewer and fewer young people are being attracted to the trades." Fewer apprentices also means fewer journeymen and, at some point, fewer supply companies. "A very serious development for society", warned lauer. In lower franconia, there was a 5.6 percent drop in the number of new apprenticeship contracts signed in 2012. Lauer said that the company now wants to step up its recruitment efforts and, above all, reach out to parents. Upper franconia also sees a need for action. "No young person should be lost", said thomas koller, chief executive officer of the chamber of handicrafts for upper franconia.