Stories from over 90 years of SEW-EURODRIVE: Klaus Höfer

Marketing through the ages since 1983

Klaus Höfer (middle, 1st from r.)
Klaus Höfer (middle, 1st from r.)

I started at SEW in 1983. At the time, the sales department was still located at the headquarters on Durlacher Strasse. We then moved into the present headquarters a year later. My first task was to direct and coordinate sales consulting and sales promotion.

This had previously been the responsibility of various people at various locations, not only at the headquarters in Durlacher Strasse but also farther afield, such as in Garbsen near Hanover. In addition to solving customer-specific technical problems, my responsibilities also included managing technical documentation and advising company management on questions of product policy. I came from a company that was very much characterized by electronically regulated drive technology, but the focal points at SEW-EURODRIVE at the time of my arrival were AC gearmotors and AC motors, with only a small portion of DC motors and corresponding controllers.

The beginnings of the direct current technology

Several of the employees in Sales Consulting were responsible for the DC control technology that was still being produced at SEW-EURODRIVE at that time. This was a legacy from the recent merger of SEW-EURODRIVE and Obermoser. Obermoser was a representative of direct current technology and controllable drives. SEW-EURODRIVE had then integrated the technology, and several of my employees were also specially active in an advisory capacity for Sales or were even selling products of this type directly. At the time, this was still feasible and acceptable for the relatively small turnover that was being realized in this area. But then the question presented itself: How do we want to expand this? First of all, we had a look at where we were and where we wanted to be. The people who were part of my team also needed to be brought somewhat physically closer in order to promote exchanges. In addition, we had to provide training courses, not only for salespeople who had previously had little experience with direct current technology, but also for customers. The integration of direct current technology in German sales, which at the time was comprised of six departments with three to five employees each in Bruchsal and at the regional offices – some of them autonomous and some of them branch offices – was part of my area of responsibility.

Initial skepticism toward the frequency inverter technology

Starting in 1983/1984, SEW began promoting direct current technology more forcefully. Parallel to this activity, the first trials in the development of frequency inverters were being held at the Garbsen/Hanover Sales office. Ernst Blickle and Mr. Engel, at the time Managing Director for Sales, were initially skeptical about frequency inverter technology and considered it simply a plaything for technology freaks. Uncontrolled AC technology and DC drive technology functioned well, more or less, and the majority of customer wishes were met. It was, however, clear that direct current technology was increasingly being replaced on the market by inverter technology. Consequently, following the move of the test developers from Garbsen to Bruchsal, development efforts for frequency inverters were increased.

By around 1985/1986, AC technology had triumphed, although I myself witnessed Ernst Blickle say to Mr. Trümpler, who was at the time Head of Electronics Development, "Isn't what you are doing there just a toy? I know what we have. We have a great deal of success with the modular system, with AC technology, with gear units and gearmotors, and that is simply where the resources are, that is what provides us with turnover."

In any event, that was approximately the situation at SEW-EURODRIVE when I started there. Subsequently, controlled three-phase drive technology naturally had effects on the entire constellation and further development of the company, both at home and abroad, and particularly on Sales. Together with our staff and with the continuously ongoing technical training classes, with direct customer liaison and support and with our technical documentation work, we laid the foundation back then for Sales to become involved at all in control technology in the first place, in Germany and abroad, and for it to be involved today with electronically controlled and regulated drive equipment for both the domestic and the foreign markets.

Sales increasingly shifted from branch offices to autonomous offices

Customer liaison and support was provided at the time through the Technical Offices; Drive Technical Centers did not exist yet. These were then built up step by step in the 1990s.

Sales Processing and Sales Consulting themselves were located in Bruchsal in the 1980s. Sales then afterwards increasingly shifted from branch offices to autonomous offices. I believe that the last branch office was closed in the 1990s.

A sensational cartoon advert series in Der Spiegel magazine

We did not start using proper advertising until practically the beginning of the 1990s. I was of course Head of Marketing back then and shared responsibility for advertising. And we did something spectacular: A series of advertisements in Der Spiegel magazine in the form of cartoons with politicians. It was actually all about PR, in other words, about creating attention. This means directing the attention of the market to the fact that an SEW-EURODRIVE company exists that is otherwise flourishing out of sight.

Technical Sales Office in Meerane near Zwickau
Technical Sales Office in Meerane near Zwickau
Technical Sales Office in Meerane near Zwickau

Entry and expansion in the new federal states after German reunification

The peaceful revolution was in 1989, and in 1990, at the behest of Rainer Blickle (Ernst Blickle had died in 1986) and on the occasion of the spring trade fair in Leipzig, we took the opportunity to visit the drive technology production sites in East Germany that we were aware of, in order to explore the possibility of a takeover by SEW-EURODRIVE. We also toured VEBs (state-owned enterprises) and were shocked by the condition they were in. As a general rule, they should have been torn down and replaced with completely new operations. And that was the reason that SEW then decided instead on new construction in the French city of Forbach.

Afterwards, Sales began setting up regional sales offices in East Germany, of which Magdeburg, Dresden, and Erfurt occur to me now. A branch office had always existed in Berlin. This was later converted into an autonomous SEW-EURODRIVE sales office. Güstrow and Meerane were added later.

The activities of the new companies started with replacement procurement

The initial three new office heads from Dresden, Magdeburg, and Erfurt then came to us for sales consulting and sat in on our activities. We also traveled to their offices and provided support on-site. Once they had brought themselves up to speed, it was then up to them to prove themselves in the new federal states. The problem was of course that the industry in the former East Germany was relatively poorly equipped and was ultimately also liquidated afterwards. There was thus a need for entrepreneurs, and these built up companies out of nothing, so to speak. The activities of the new companies started with replacement procurement. The sales staff on hand there had to procure replacement equipment for previously supplied machines. And, yes, that did then take perhaps five to six years for a proper sales operation to gradually become established with the support of local mechanical engineering start-ups.

A huge market that was hard to conquer

First of all, the reason for this was that the Treuhand, the federal privatization agency, attempted to negotiate with West German and foreign companies regarding takeovers as part of the liquidation of the state-owned enterprises. Many start-ups quickly went bankrupt again in this situation, something that SEW-EURODRIVE also experienced with some of its customers. This means that we had bare minimums in turnover amounts from the newly established sales offices in the beginning. These grew, however, within five to six years, and every larger-sized increase was celebrated as a success.

Our sales staff in the new federal states really fought like lions

There were also reorganizations or new start-ups of corresponding importance, for example, in Magdeburg, where our office head took up the cause of a large materials handling technology company there and made himself indispensable. SEW-EURODRIVE soon became the preferred supplier for the start-up. Progress was much the same in Dresden or also in Erfurt. Our sales staff in the new federal states really fought like lions.

This was also the case with shipbuilding through the branch in Güstrow, although shipbuilding has also become rather troubled. After this came operational restructuring measures until ultimately the decentralized sales centers were founded: Meerane near Zwickau, Garbsen near Hanover, and Kirchheim near Munich.

As was the case at foreign sites, component inventories were also set up in accordance with the modular system so that gearmotors could be installed on-site in accordance with customer preferences.

Development in the field of trade shows, advertisement and documentation

The export trade fair in Hanover overtook the Leipziger Messe in importance

Hannover Messe in 1989
Hannover Messe in 1989
Hannover Messe in 1989

The Leipziger Messe was an industrial trade fair, but on a smaller scale. The Hannover Messe was, after all, the "Leipziger Messe" for the Western zones in Germany after World War II. Previously, the companies in Germany had always exhibited in Leipzig at the industrial trade fair there and also used it as a communications center for establishing contacts with customers, both domestic and foreign. In 1949, the Western occupying powers agreed to the foundation of a substitute export trade fair in Hanover – more or less to compete with the Leipzig one, as Leipzig had become uninteresting through the establishment and increasing isolation of East Germany.

And, of course, the export trade fair in Hanover overtook the Leipziger Messe in importance. I had visited Leipzig a couple times over the years, when it was still an East German trade fair, and I must say that it did not make any major impression on anyone who had experienced Hanover.

The trade fair stand was packed full with exhibits

SEW-EURODRIVE has taken an active part in Hanover as well since the 1950s. SEW-EURODRIVE had, I still remember, a relatively small trade fair stand somewhere in Hall 12. And my first visit to the SEW-EURODRIVE stand was just after I started work there and I was actually also very disappointed. The trade fair stand was packed full with exhibits, which made it very cramped and non-optimal for discussions with customers. There was no room for discussions with custo

Encounter at the German Industrial Exhibition Japan, 1984 in Tokio
Encounter at the German Industrial Exhibition Japan, 1984 in Tokio

High-level politician visits SEW-EURODRIVE

At the Deutsche Leistungsschau Japan (German Industrial Exhibition Japan) in 1984, Klaus Höfer (right) receives a visit by Otto Graf Lambsdorff, at the time spokesman on economic policy of the FDP parliamentary group in the German Bundestag.

From the technical SEW-EURODRIVE bible to our main marketing instrument

Broschure "Antriebstechnik" in the 1970s

There was a catalog; it was referred to as the SEW-EURODRIVE bible. That was the gearmotor catalog; it already existed when I started there. The advertising department had issued it back then in collaboration with the various development departments and with Sales Consulting.

It was handed out to the customers. This gearmotor catalog in three languages was, in my eyes, a huge work-in-progress. This was because, in terms of the information it provided, it often simply repeated what the developers knew about the product. This consisted primarily of knowledge of technical details in combination with various project planning notes, but without any emphasis on the benefits and advantages of the product in various applications and branches of industry. The advertising department was not able to implement that at the time.

It was then a relatively rocky road that we had to travel before we were able to distance ourselves from that type of catalog and the initially very meager documentation on direct current technology. A further hurdle at the SEW-EURODRIVE Group was still to be overcome: namely, that all of our colleagues around the world had attempted to do their own documentation. Each according to local needs and technical requirements – no thought was given whatsoever to the corporate design we have today. But once this had all been accomplished, the catalog was the main marketing instrument.

From simple DIN A4 pictures to proper advertising

No there was no marketing department as such back then; there was an advertising department and advertising was used; this was, however, quite meager. DIN A4 pictures were created, and these were distributed to various editorial departments or to the various advertising departments of professional publications. And the imagery was mostly only photographs of a machine or a product. As a whole, this was not particularly informative for outsiders. Naturally this was also one of Ernst Blickle's beliefs, who declared that he did not actually need any advertising, that his customers knew what to expect from him and from our company, and that advertising functioned by word of mouth. That was also successful for a long time. But the SEW-EURODRIVE advertising back then was actually not a means for supporting sales.

Cartoon series with politicians
Cartoon series with politicians
Cartoon series with politicians

Breaking new ground with a sensational cartoon advert series

The little bit of press advertising could actually be dispensed with. It was not a way to generate interested parties. We did not start using proper advertising until practically the beginning of the 1990s. I was of course Head of Marketing back then and shared responsibility for advertising, and we did something to which Ernst Blickle would never have given his blessing, namely a spectacular series of advertisements in Der Spiegel magazine: cartoons with politicians. It was actually all about PR, in other words, about creating attention. This means directing the attention of the market to the fact that an SEW-EURODRIVE company exists that is otherwise flourishing out of sight.

Billboard advertising was used then as well. Although only to a relatively limited extent. It is of course logical: If you are doing advertising for a consumer product, you address the population as a whole. But it is something else if you want to advertise SEW-EURODRIVE gearmotors. We also took into account the increased presence in newspapers and periodicals that the associations and the general public here in Bruchsal had repeatedly been calling for – not only regional but also nationwide, often paired in professional periodicals with pertinent scientific papers. And this led to a situation where we were also influencing the advertising in other countries. This was not the case at first. Eventually we also coordinated translations into foreign languages, not only for technical documentation but also for advertising, from here in Bruchsal.

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