A visit to a traditional company in the German knife industry, Felix Solingen, was on the programme for a group of Ukrainian executives, who completed their training in the spring of 2018 at the Carl Duisberg Center. Felix Solingen GmbH is one of the oldest knife manufacturers in the world. It has been producing high-quality knives for both special and everyday use, at various locations in the Solingen area since 1790.
The MP participants were especially keen to check out a company that has been operating on the market for more than 200 years, that holds its own as a family business and that produces knives – a product many countries associate with Germany, along with cars and bread. Their success, according to export manager Rosario Catalano, lies in their USP: quality, function and design. In fact, the company won the Red Dot Design Award and the iF Product Design Award for particularly appealing knives.
But quality also takes high priority in this company. In Catalano’s presentation, he explained how Felix Solingen defines quality. In a subsequent tour of the production facilities, the Ukrainian entrepreneurs were able to see for themselves. It takes about 45 different steps at Felix, only a few of them automated, for a knife to be completed. The fact of there being so many manual work operations, not to mention the craftsmanship, skill, and over 200 years of knowledge, were also eye-openers for the Ukrainian executives. At such a prestigious company, they had expected a large production site manned by robots – not a cottage-style factory manufacturing cutting tools of all kinds and for all sorts of applications. The workers showed the visitors from Ukraine how to tailor or optimise their workspaces, for example by using special holders for the knives to make their jobs easier. The executives learned how important it is for the traditional company to involve individual employees in ongoing improvement processes while allowing them to adapt their workstations to specific needs.
Quality has its price, though, and as one participant unsurprisingly couldn’t help asking: “What sorts of customers can afford these expensive knives?” Customers range from celebrity chefs like Alfons Schuhbeck to cooking enthusiasts or housewives and housekeepers, the latter opting for implements from the lower end of the price range. The company produces for many different market segments, and also does contract work for other knife manufacturers. So it was of special interest for the participants to learn how Felix Solingen managed to combine enduring traditional values, products and traditions with new offerings.
Although none of the visitors were in the knife business themselves, all of them were impressed by how the company managed to thrive in the marketplace while maintaining their standards of high quality and precision.Von Mareike Dröge Carl Duisberg Centren Köln