Tradition - confirmation and an incentive for the future
11 February 2015
Appropriately for the 150th anniversary of the company, the board of directors of Ferdinand Gross GmbH & Co KG, represented by Gerald Hering (managing partner) and Thomas Erb, take a look back to the company’s beginnings, talk about today’s market position, and provide a look at future developments.
Ferdinand Gross got big – in the truest sense of the word – with screws. Do you see the company as being traditional in terms of being a screw dealer?
Gerald Hering: “Our company really did start out as a hardware store for screws and other items for blacksmithing, cabinetry, and wagon building. These products were and still are the focus and pivot of our business activities. But there was continuous development along the way. So that today we’re among the most successful wholesalers in fastening technology. Our focus has moved very little, but our portfolio has expanded significantly.”
The company can look back at 150 years of ongoing history. How did it all begin?
Gerald Hering: “The starting point was the one-man business of Ferdinand Gross. On 17th November 1864 he opened his hardware store on Hauptstätter Straße in Stuttgart. He had selected the Bohnenviertel as the ideal location for his new business – right in the middle of the hectic back-and-forth of the street market, with outstanding infrastructure and especially close to his target market, at that time primarily craftsmen and carters. From here, he continuously built up his burgeoning business. Later, more customers came from the areas of machine and system construction, motor vehicle construction, precision mechanics, and electrical engineering. And that’s how things have stayed to this very day.”
Do you see him as a pioneer in the industry?
Gerald Hering: “Absolutely. Ferdinand Gross was part of a generation of hardnosed inventors and founders. The Swabian spirit of invention can absolutely be attributed to him – just as it can to Bosch, Daimler, and Benz. He was a first class entrepreneur, who always wanted to have direct access to the latest developments. An example was in 1885, when he was one of the first people in Stuttgart to obtain a telephone connection.
Aside from his pioneering spirit of entrepreneurship and his far-reaching vision, he was an incredibly clever businessman. He had the ability to do the right things at the right time. In combination with the well known Swabian virtues – hard work, frugality, and stability – he moved his business forward. All his successors and descendants have lived by those basic values – I’m doing that now, in the fifth generation.”
So they’re big shoes for every new generation to fill?
Gerald Hering: “It’s a process that demands responsibility, toughness, and durability from each and every one of us. Today, we’re a prosperous midsized company with approximately 250 employees, with subsidiaries and offices throughout Europe, and a good 70 million euros in yearly sales. An irrepressible will and the belief in the capabilities of the company contributed to that. That’s still with us today, and every one of us in management orients themselves towards it.”
Does it also show in the many ups and downs that such a traditional company has to weather over the decades?
Gerald Hering: “I could give each one of my predecessors their own title. Sometimes saviours in need, sometimes a steersman through difficult times, sometimes a guide through global economic crises and sometimes an engine for the digital age. Together, we look back on a continuous past – there are only a few companies who have gone through so many stages to resolve their crises and celebrate their successes. Our success factors are experience on the one hand, and technical expertise on the other.”
Traditions and values, plus technical know-how – those are the pillars of Ferdinand Gross?
Thomas Erb: “Continuity, experience, and quality are still the watchwords for our company today. Honesty, reliability, stability, and openness are enormously important for us in daily cooperation with our customers. Our roots here in the region also contribute a great deal in this respect.”
Ferdinand Gross can provide a comprehensive range – from eye bolts to cylinder pins – where exactly do you think the company stands in the market today?
Thomas Erb: “Today, we’re among the largest suppliers of fastening technology in Germany. We supply our customers and partners in industry with services tailored to their needs. We also provide custom parts, technical product lines, tools, and even chemical products. Our specialty is flexible Kanban solutions – with this comprehensive system now being used by over 1,000 customers.”
What does your flexible Kanban solution involve? How does it work?
Thomas Erb: “It’s a C-part management system that works as part of the product process and can be used to reduce procurement costs within the value creation chain by up to 70%. The focus of the system is on the actual consumption of materials and their provision on location. To optimise local inventory and thus purchase volumes as well, we handle all of the warehousing and organisation. High-tech modern logistics rounds out the system – we keep 100,000 standard parts, 24,000 customer-specific parts, and 11,000 tools in stock at all times. That saves our customers tedious ordering and booking processes, inspections, and internal transport. At our headquarters in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, we fill about 5,000 containers every day. We make just-in-time deliveries to our customers throughout Germany, so they always have the right part at the right time in the right place.”
What factors do you see as the basic building blocks of the company’s success? What role did modern developments and innovation play?
Thomas Erb: “Tradition is always both confirmation and an incentive for the future. In combination with a spirit of innovation is where things really start to get interesting. For example, we started as a simple hardware store and developed into a Kanban specialist. Today we deliver more than screws, and also offer significantly more than just fastening technology. We see ourselves as a specialised service partner for the industry. Our service makes its mark with perfect fit and tailoring to specific needs. But all that is only possible when great emphasis is placed on a variety of ideas and development potential. And with some success – our innovations and services have already received multiple awards.
FALCON is the name of our latest innovation, and it’s currently unique in the world. It’s a browser based application that can be used to visualise all Kanban storage locations at any time, anywhere. The customer can log into the system and control the use of their C-parts more effectively, more conveniently, and in a much more goal-oriented manner. All data is completely transparent – from consumption, to capacity, to prices and the coordinates of the box. FALCON is also available as an App for smartphones and tablets. By scanning the barcode labels on the containers, the user can see all the associated data at a glance.”
On one side you are established in your local market, on the other you work in the global market. How do you handle that balancing act?
Gerald Hering: “Our headquarters have been in Leinfelden-Echterdingen since 1971. Not only our offices, but also our modern logistics center is located here. As a midsized native, we want to create and preserve values here at home. But that doesn’t rule out international business activity at all. To survive on the market today you have to be brave enough to go beyond your own backyard. Thanks to our subsidiaries and international companies in eastern Europe, we can ensure cost optimised products and customer connections for tomorrow and beyond.”
Your company slogan is ‘The excellent s|crew’. What’s behind that?
Thomas Erb: “We work in the knowledge that any company is only as good at its employees. This claim expresses this sense of value to our team. Behind every screw, after all, there’s a ‘Grossian’ – our customers experience that from our yearly calendar, for example, in which not only our products but also our people are shown. Identification with the company and highly motivated, competent employees are top priority for us – the proof of that is our many awards. Ferdinand Gross is regularly one of the 100 best employers among midsized companies in Germany.”
Where is the company heading? What are your plans, your visions?
Gerald Hering: “To want to get things moving and create something new – those were the thoughts of Ferdinand Gross. With his outstanding feel for the needs of his customers, he conquered his market. Five generations of family management have made us a respected company. We will continue to be just as independent in the future. We’re ready for the requirements to come because we look beyond the boundaries of our company to allow us to help set the tempo of the market. So the course is set. Our sixth generation is currently preparing to take up their tasks. Because one thing is certain – Ferdinand Gross will stay in the family.”