“The silence of our members is a good sign”: Trade group


Nicolas Henckes is the director of the CLC. Library photo: Maison Moderne archives 

The CLC represents around 11,000 companies in the retail, transport and services sectors, making up around 22% of GPD and 100,000 jobs, according to the group.

Henckes gives an outlook on the challenges ahead.

How has the CLC transformed in the face of the crisis and new demands from your members?

Nicolas Henckes: We had already planned to complement our services, which is why we developed a legal department, training, and awareness-raising conferences. One of the missions given to me by Fernand Ernster [president of the CLC, editor's note] when we decided to collaborate in 2017 was to increase the value attributed to a CLC fee [it currently ranges from €250 to €17,000 depending on the size of the company, editor's note]. This reorganisation was carried out successfully three or four months before the arrival of covid. In the end, we had to use these new capacities for the emergency service linked to covid.

How do you see the situation today and how will the CLC readjust?

We are in a gradual restart of what we hope is more normal activity. We will clearly continue to develop our service offering for our members. The choices we have made, and which are starting to be visible, are collaborations with different members to offer services at reduced prices, member benefits, and club mode operation. The goal is to have a kind of marketplace that will allow each member of the CLC to develop their business, to find partners, whether they are suppliers, clients, consultants or lawyers. So that there is this dynamic that is created within this employers' federation.

Obviously, we will continue our lobbying role in favour of trade interests in Luxembourg. The main course of action, at present, concerns the continuation of support for the retail trade, especially in the city centre. It was already suffering before and was hit hard by the closures and restrictions related to the crisis. We are currently negotiating for a renewal of the pro-trade pact with the ministry of small and medium-sized enterprises. We hope to be able to find an agreement quickly.

What does this pro-trade pact foresee?

A whole series of actions. In recent years, it has notably provided for the creation of the commercial cadastre, which is now carried out and transferred to an economic interest group (GIE). Details will be announced by the minister when the last finishing touches have been made. We have organised conferences in different cities on how to run retail businesses, promote their development…

What would you like to put in place via this renewed pact?

We have always tried to develop statistical data. This will be one of the major axes for the years to come--no longer having a situation where each city does as it feels without having objective data on customer traffic, but to allow coordination, to compare what does or doesn’t work, so that all cities can do well, as well as the traders who reside there.

Next, we want to develop the diversity of shops in city centres. To avoid having homogeneous city centres with the same brands all over the place, we are considering looking for them abroad, bring them to Luxembourg, show them around, show them the opportunities. Brands that are not represented at all here, in order to create a dynamic that will be beneficial for all.

Last year, the budget for the pro-trade pact was €100,000. What do you hope for this year?

It will depend on the actions the ministry wishes to take with us. We provided a list of projects, including those cited. If it says yes to everything, it could be a little more, if it makes a selection, then less. This will depend on the budget that will be made available to the ministry of small and medium-sized enterprises, on the existing political will, or lack thereof, to make an effort on this. A priori, we are in a positive exchange. Lex Delles (DP) is well aware that he must act and that the CLC is the essential partner to support him.

232 new companies joined the CLC in 2020, 110 more than in 2019. How many do you hope to recruit in 2021?

If we could re-do that score, over 200 new members, that would be great. We have more than 80 new members in 2021 so far. As the crisis ends, we hope to recover the companies which again have financial returns, can work normally and will need our assistance, because while they take care of their business, we can take care of their little daily problems.

80 new members, but how many departures?

We had about sixty terminations.

Recruiting as many companies as possible is a strategic objective...

It is about being able to help them, to better understand the terrain and to see the different issues. The aim will be for the CLC, which is already the national representative of trade, transport and services, to be further strengthened and that we increase our political impact.

Does the end of government aid make you fear a drop in the number of members?

We lost members last year due to closures, bankruptcies or hardship. We also lost some at the start of the year. Companies that have had to restructure will reduce costs as much as possible. But we can see that our membership campaign at the start of the year has worked quite well.

Trade has been affected by covid and its restrictions. How good is the recovery in mid-2021?

The last I heard--although there may be exceptions--everything that is business is restarting. The silence of our members is a good sign. They are all back to work. There are issues different from those related to covid for some of our sectors--regulatory issues, training, finding staff... These are the current challenges that are coming back.

Are customers coming back to shops as much as they did before the crisis?

It's a gradual restart. Apparently, each day is a little better than the last. I'm not sure we've returned to pre-crisis levels. But there is good hope that a balance can be found. There will still be a lot of telecommuting until at least the end of June. This is a factor that slows down traffic in city centres and shopping centres. The end goal would be a return to normality by December, which is the month when most businesses make the most of their sales.

This interview was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.