In eggersmann’s luxury kitchens, a few basic Westphalian virtues and values come together: dependable craftsmanship, diligence, a love for experimentation, and a down-to-earth attitude. These are just a few reasons why these kitchens are in demand around the world today. But for the same reasons, they barely ever left Germany’s borders in the past — the company’s success story relied on a little bit of chance.
Photos: Christian Protte, Ralf Buscher | Text: Oliver Geyer
For a second it looks like some kind of alien object has landed here, in the middle of this placid German countryside. A few car drivers for sure might get that impression, as they drive through the hills, meadows and fields of East Westphalia, arriving in the village of Hiddenhausen which features eggersmann’s new company building. Just a second ago, it was all countryside and villages, then suddenly there is this ”object.” A closer look shows that this is architecture at the peak of modernity. And it looks a bit like a kitchen — a kitchen by eggersmann. This, in turn, is mainly obvious for the people who have come here for this very reason: to visit the new showroom, which is located inside the iconic building. Some have come from far away.
Stability: It has a long tradition here
One could almost think that the international success that the building radiates has merely gone astray in this rural area. But that is deceiving — this success story has grown here. For more than 110 years, eggersmann has stood for particularly high-standard kitchens. Here, in 1908, when Germany still had an emperor, Wilhelm Eggersmann and two of his colleagues began to carpenter high-quality buffets. Like the beech trees in the nearby Teutoburg Forest, things just grew, gradually but solidly. In the new showroom, just off the new monolithic kitchen units, visitors can still see the old kitchen cupboard that the company launched for its 40th anniversary. At that time, a few years after the end of World War II, a spirit of optimism developed there, turning the region into the Silicon Valley of kitchen production. Many renowned German kitchen brands come from here. Capable carpenters like Wilhelm Eggersmann supplied Germans with kitchen furniture as customer affluence grew in the postwar period. It was furniture that was meant to last forever. And that’s what they also expected for their own company.
The belief in the succession of generations is as firmly a part of the family business as the most stable corpus system. ”Of course, I have also completed a carpentry apprenticeship,” says Michael Wunram (55), the great-grandson of the founder and today’s CEO. The question of whether managing the company had always been his wish from a very young age, he answers, however, with a somewhat brusque and straightforward East-Westphalian „No!” As a teenager, he had no particular opinion about that. And even if he had, no one would have really cared about it. Wunram still remembers how, as a small child, his mother took him by the hand and went next door to his great-grandfather, who was already quite frail. ”My mother had to swear to him that she would give the last drop of blood for the company.” Christa Eggersmann has kept her word and made the company what it is today in the following decades.
There was no question that her son would continue the company’s work. After a while he gradually wanted to develop it. Determined to make the company prosper further, Michael Wunram later added a degree in economics to his personal portfolio. But was there a master plan to make eggersmann such an export hit? That the name would later stand for valuable and unique kitchen furniture in over 40 countries? „No, it never was like that,” Wunram admits. ”I’d say: carpe diem. We just took advantage of our opportunities.”
A passion and an instinct for opportunities
The local mentality in East-Westphalia is a down-to-earth one. They do not have much time for big visions. Those with visions should go to the doctor. But if something is done, then it’s done properly — consistently, purposefully and always with passion. And that also means developing an instinct for opportunities and seizing them.
Just like on that fateful day in 1967. True, success did’nt stray around in this rural area — but the first opportunity to export did. In the late 1960s, a Dutchman suddenly stood in the foyer, right where the entrance to the new showroom is today. The man had lost his way and was actually looking for a completely different company. So the staff at eggersmann explained how he could get there. From what started off as just a conversation, a business began to develop. It turned out that the man was a kitchen representative and incidentally already had set an eye on the show kitchens. The Netherlands became eggersmann’s first major sales market abroad.
Taking advantage of opportunities, building personal connections and then reliably delivering quality. The entire model of success over the coming years was enshrined in this early scene. To this day, it is good relationships with local partners that count. ”It is important to have a strong representation in the respective country through a strong personality,” emphasizes Michael Brinkjost, the other Michael, with whom Wunram manages international sales.
But most of all Andreas Schewe (61) is a real supporting pillar for the company. He has been working there for over 30 years and has built the eggersmann of today along with Wunram’s mother. Schewe cultivates excellent, long-established contacts in the European network of distribution partners — even his father worked for the company. Everything is rather close and friendly here at eggersmann, which is in many ways a family business. In general, it is all about ”personality.”
The kitchens themselves show personality — their own and that of the customer. This is mainly done through the special surface chosen by the customer, which gives the kitchen a personal look. eggersmann’s joy in experimentation has been expressed in recent years, especially in the variety of materials that are quite novel for kitchen furniture. The idea of something unique, of bringing the countertop material onto the front surfaces has been a total success: in addition to all imaginable veneers, stainless steel and stone are part of the range with their own unique grain, texture and feel. In doing so, eggersmann has turned kitchen furniture into a medium through which people can express themselves individually.
An innovation that has encouraged many customers to express special wishes. Brinkjost, for example, recalls a US customer who wanted his kitchen made of the same stone that made up his floor. But this particular stone was only available in America. So eggersmann had the material shipped to Germany to send it back over the Atlantic again as a kitchen a few weeks later. It is individual, tailor-made production in a time of globalization. ”As long as the effort is justifiable, we’ll make it possible,” says Brinkjost. And if not, no problem. Then the customer and the sales partner just have to live with a straightforward East-Westphalian ”No” — but customers can still choose from a rich range of materials.
GROWTH HAS ALWAYS HAPPENED ON A SMALL SCALE TO BE ABLE TO STAY TRUE TO THE PRINCIPLES OF CRAFTSMANSHIP AND CUSTOMIZED PRODUCTION
Sure, there were moments in the distant past when they were flirting with the idea of switching to mass production, Wunram admits honestly. After all, some companies here in the ”Chipboard Valley” went down this path quite successfully — but others have failed along the way. For eggersmann, that was never an option, really. The local conditions also weren’t really made for it. There, in the middle of the village, wasn’t room for large-scale production. But it was possible to expand bit by bit and to invest in the most modern production technologies. With a touch of self-irony, Wunram calls the assembly of halls and workshops that has grown over time ”our sheds and shacks combine.” In fact, this is eggersmann’s great strength: The company has grown only on a very small scale and has remained faithful to the principles of craftmanship and customized production. To date, just over 100 people work there, and the finishing touches are still man-made.
They kept on course out of a sheer lack of space. There had for a long time been something of a gap between the brand’s charisma in the big wide kitchen world and the image it offered visitors here on the spot at the company’s HQ. On the one hand, the latest in design (and sometimes already a bit ahead of current tastes) — and on the other, that East-Westphalian understatement: the foyer, a very small kitchen exhibition, behind it the ”sheds and shacks combine.” Wunram still remembers the day when he realized that this was not the way to continue. A wealthy customer arrived from Russia and couldn’t believe after finishing the short tour of the place that this was all there was. You can’t be serious! ”This shows you how conservative we are when it comes to ourselves,” says Wunram. But after the Russian’s visit he was determined that a completely new showroom had to be built.
„THIS SHOWS YOU HOW CONSERVATIVE WE ARE WHEN IT COMES TO OURSELVES“
This new showroom was finished in 2016 and has already proven to be a very important sales factor. Partners and customers come here and find exactly the eggersmann aura that suits the brand: at the front, radiant modern kitchen design and behind it solid craftsmanship and the staff, for whom reliability means everything.
However, there is still no master plan that sets out how to develop further markets, says Wunram. The maxim mentioned earlier still applies: carpe diem. And he couldn’t always tell Mr. Brinkjost to take some catalogs, fly to Tokyo and do cold calling. Finding a strong sales personality, building a good relationship — that is something that has to happen at the right time, it has to grow. Perhaps a Japanese representative might stray into the foyer by chance, but it is rather unlikely. Here at eggersmann, people are quite realistic, but who knows.
ANOTHER DIMENSION OF KITCHEN
We are always ready to break new ground for our customers’ individual wishes. So, there is a lot to show and tell.
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Showing a sense of style” – Food journalist and blogger Stevan Paul explains why people today like to express themselves through their premium kitchens.
The whole spectrum of possibilities – More detailed information about the properties of the various materials.
Where kitchens come from – eggersmann’s premium kitchens are also a product of Germany’s down-to-earth Westphalian attitude. A success story that relied on a little bit of chance.
“Hugely magnified kitchen furniture” – An interview with the architect of the new eggersmann showroom.