Interview with Lydia Kölker, Exclusive Merchandise Products:
EMP Merchandising Handelsgesellschaft, with its headquarters in Lingen, was founded in 1986 by fans for fans. It has since grown to become Europe’s number 1 e-commerce company in rock and entertainment merchandising, with annual sales of more than EUR 280 million. EMP has been part of the Warner Music Group since 2018.
The company’s range offers in part exclusive textiles, shoes, accessories, jewellery, audio-visual media and much more. EMP has always stood for a lifestyle characterised by individuality and encourages people to live it out – an attitude to life that millions of fans worldwide share with the brand. EMP has been a member of the Bremen Cotton Exchange since the end of 2021. The Cotton Report editors spoke to Lydia Kölker, Head of Quality Management, about fan culture, the role of cotton and EMP’s approaches to sustainability.
Bremen Cotton Report:What are EMP’s key business areas?
Lydia Kölker: The three main pillars of our portfolio are geared towards the markets for music, films and series, as well as gaming. We serve the different needs of our fans with, for example clothing, home and household textiles, accessories, jewellery, shoes or even hardline items, which include toys, Funko Pop! figures, kitchen accessories, furniture and tents. Our range of food especially for fans has also been growing steadily for several years.
What role does cotton play in the quality of your products and are there any cotton qualities that you prefer?
Of all the items in our portfolio, t-shirts are by far the best-sellers. Since this product group consists mainly of cotton, this material is very important to us. Here we are also trying to promote our sustainability approach and use as much sustainable cotton in our products as possible. In addition, our t-shirts are often printed with motifs that we develop around the fan’s favourite band, series, film star or personal heroic figure. Most of the printing takes place in Germany and the Czech Republic, i.e. within the EU.
What measures are you using to increase the sustainability of your products and your company?
To promote sustainability, EMP relies heavily on various standards providers such as Oekotex and many others. Each of these seals has its “raison d’être” and all of them have their strengths in different areas. We therefore looked for expertise to evaluate these standards internally and to depict them in a star-rating system. This is because a combination of the most diverse standards is what makes sustainability for us. Of course, we also focus on the appropriate raw materials such as sustainable cotton or recycled synthetic fibres.
Is the new supply chain law challenging for you?
In general, we welcome the new supply chain law, which is also being discussed at EU level, as all companies must now abide by the same rules. Like most companies, the new supply chain law will pose challenges for us, as the supply chain for clothing and hardline products can become extremely complex. For us, however, sustainability is not just reduced to a law, but something that we want to live anyway: an attitude to life that we share with our customers. That’s why we’re working very intensively on this topic – together with our parent company Warner Music Group (WMG).
WMG was one of the first pioneers in the music industry to publish a sustainability report (ESG report). EMP also played an important role in this report. Together we are working on big plans with a view to sustainability, for example to map out the digitalisation of the supply chain with a suitable system for EMP. This will be moving to the implementation phase in the near future.
How did the pandemic affect your business and what measures were you able to take to counteract it?
In this context, we also have our difficulties with supply chains at EMP which we must face again and again – especially in the area of procurement. In anticipation of delays, delivery dates during the year are currently being brought forward to earlier dates.
For us, festivals are always get-togethers with our fans, customers and business partners, who we have sorely missed over the past two years. We are therefore very grateful that they have remained loyal to us during this time. During the pandemic, consumers focused more on home entertainment. This was lived out more intensively, which gave us a boost in the movies and series sales segment. Our gaming division, which was already growing rapidly, was able to continue to grow during the pandemic. All in all, the three thematic pillars contribute to the robustness of our company even in difficult times.
Of course, the lockdowns were challenging for us, both as employers and employees, and in two ways: as e-commerce companies and as operators of shops in several federal states. To keep our finger on the pulse, especially in terms of the very dynamic measures taken by the federal and state governments, we founded a corona task force very early on which has since bundled competencies from all areas of the company. EMP was thus able to quickly develop guidelines for action and monitor their implementation. Since the health and safety of our employees is very important to us, we often anticipated the regulations that were passed, especially in the stores, and sometimes set the bar higher than required, for example for hygiene rules. This allowed us to live out our motto “Stronger Together” to the full.
Are the rising prices for raw materials, including cotton, already having an impact on your end customer prices?
Yes, we have noticed that raw material prices are increasing sharply. Nevertheless, we try to continue to offer our fans the best possible price.
Thank you for the interview.
The interviews in the column “Question Time“ embody the opinion of the respective interview partner and do not represent the position of the Bremen Cotton Exchange as neutral, independent institution.