Global Fastener News

2000 FIN – Financial Times: Germany’s Würth in ‘Unpromising Industry’ of Fasteners

January 22
00:00 2015

Editor’s Note: Articles in Media Spotlight are excerpts from publications or broadcasts which show the industry what the public is reading or hearing about fasteners and fastener companies.

July 12, 2000 FIN – “Reinhold Würth is in an unpromising industry,” reporter Peter Marsh introduced the German fastener industrialist in a Financial Times feature. “Mr. Würth sells nuts, bolts, screws and other bits that go into cars, plumbing, machine tools and woodworking. As one of the biggest companies in his industries, the German industrialist finds himself at the sharp end of globalization.
“The world would collapse in 15 minutes if we didn’t have screws,” Würth told the London-based business newspaper.
“But it is almost the definition of a basic manufacturing industry,” Marsh added.
“When Mr. Würth started 50 years ago, making a living from nuts and bolts must have been almost easy,” March wrote. “His customers would not source their fasteners in China or Eastern Europe; manufacturers were not bearing down on costs in their supply chain; and things that were not high-tech or branded were not doomed as commodities.”
Marsh reported that Würth “coped brilliantly with the growing threat of globalization.” Würth added services, outsourced most manufacturing and designed innovative fasteners.
The Würth Group “has its owner’s character stamped all over it –” from the industrial campus in Künzelsau in southern Germany to his art collection and fastener museum. “The family-owned company is well known in Germany for its sense of showmanship. Everything revolves around Mr. Würth, a larger-than-life character who started working in his father’s business in 1949 and took over on his father’s death five years later.
Würth, 65, lives in a converted castle, flies company jets and drives a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
“Mr. Würth believes that anything that draws attention to his company is worth doing,” Marsh explained, and he cited the example of Würth bringing American artist Christo to wrap the corporate headquarters with fabric as the artist had done in the U.S.
“Compared with such eccentric extravagance, the company’s business seems rather ordinary. The Würth Group sells 50,000 separate items ranging from screws and wallplugs to glues and specialized tools.”
A secret of Würth’s success is concentrating on relatively specialized items that sell at fairly high prices to small and medium-size businesses. “We see ourselves as a quasi-manufacturer,” Würth told the Financial Times. “We provide a way to link up the 3,000 businesses from which we buy products with 1.6 million customers.”
Würth Group has 202 subsidiaries in 72 countries, but 85% of sales are in Europe. The company has “small toeholds in the U.S. and Asia, two regions where Mr. Würth is keen to expand,” Marsh reported.

Salespeople as Priests
A total of 16,000 of the 30,000 employees are salespeople. Würth emphasizes customer service. “We are like an expensive drug store that delivers on time and with high-quality products,” Würth was quoted.
Heavy investments in technology and warehouses worldwide allow the Würth Group to deliver even small orders to a customer as often as twice a week.
Würth authorized a trial for Internet sales, but “he is not convinced of the Internet’s application: ‘Our salespeople act as the substitute for a priest; they get to know their customers and let them tell their stories. Our customers are not computers, and electronic commerce will not replace sales staff.’”
Service includes giving subsidiaries autonomy to organize in whatever way works best, Würth said.

Innovation Strategy
Würth Group has 120 engineers to work on new fastener designs.
“We try to take existing ideas and improve on them, with a quarter of our sales coming from products devised in the past five years,” Würth noted.
One new product involved wiring human volunteers with sensors to test a new pair of pliers. The resulting design is now among Würth Group’s best-selling products.
A chipboard screw made from specially heat-treated metal coated with plastic sells for only pennies, but installs in six seconds instead of 12 seconds.
Würth stepped down as CEO in 1993, but maintains involvement as chair of the corporate advisory board. As a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Karlsruhe, Würth gives 28 lectures a year to students.
“I am encouraged about what is happening in Germany,” the Financial Times quoted Würth. “There is a lot of interest in new businesses, particularly involving the Internet and software. I say to the young people I meet that they should join this trend and stand out from the average.”
“We are one of the biggest companies in fasteners and related products, yet we still have only 4% of the market,” Würth noted. “There is plenty of opportunity for growth.” ©2000/2015 Fastener Industry News.
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