This interview was featured in the Q1 2016 edition of the The Product Kultur Magazine.
Written by Sandy Strasser of PROKOM.
From the first shower rail to multiplestream showering pleasure at the touch of a button: since 1901, inventions from Hansgrohe's Black Forest based think tank have influenced bathrooms around the world. A lot of what was conceived, developed and designed here has provided the international sanitary branch with stimuli. Some ideas wrote bathroom history and some even cultural history. Over a century after founding the company, the descendants of the south German shower pioneer are contributing actively to the success of the company. We spoke to Richard Grohe about the passion for his company and posed the question of how you can harmonise traditional inventive talent and digital transformation.
Mr Grohe, your company has cherished its passion for the element of water for over three generations. Today it is one of the market leaders and international leaders of innovation in the sanitary field. What distinguishes the inventive talent of Hansgrohe?
RICHARD GROHE: We have the mentality of Swabian tinkerers. The shower rail was invented at our company, and therefore a large problem was solved using basic materials. At the beginning of the 1970s, the first multi-spray hand shower (TRIBEL) with rotatable head was developed under the management of my father, Klaus Grohe. The colourful hand shower wrote cultural history. With this, we won the first design prizes. To date, 500 additional design awards have followed. However, we are not resting on the laurels of our past, we will carry on the tinkering in the future. Almost 4,000 employees, who are on fire with innovative spirit and passion for our products, work for Hansgrohe. This passion can be felt at all locations and distinguishes our inventive talent.
It was with passion, great care and a sense of people's needs that your grandfather Hans Grohe courageously and steadily ventured into the then young sanitary field at the beginning of the 20th century. The cornerstone for the worldwide success story was laid. What were the essential factors which would soon lead to the company becoming one of the leading providers?
R. G.: You know, for a long time the bathroom was merely a functional wet room. We worked on making these spaces really comfortable. Living and showering came closer. With forward facing innovations, we have contributed to turning the bathroom into an oasis of wellbeing. Part of this has been the invention of the shower head from 1953 and our Select Technology for showers and fittings.
Our innovations are not just limited to the product range. Important steps towards our company success were definitely the early orientation towards export and entering international markets. The first foreign delivery to Amsterdam was sent in 1907, our product catalogue already appeared in multiple languages in 1933 and from 1979 Hansgrohe began founding the first foreign subsidiaries. In doing this we are have always been aware of our origins. In 2015 alone we invested 50 million euros in our German locations. For 30 mil- lion euros, our new logistics centre at the Offenburg location is currently being built in order to efficiently deliver to our customers worldwide.
Around 30 percent of your yearly turnover is made with new products which are not older than three years. How do you manage to keep this standard consistent? What is indispensable for an innovative development of ideas?
R. G.: We have managed to build up a good culture of innovation. That is a competitive advantage which can bring an advance of up to a decade with it. It's a little bit like wine, producing a good year now and then is no great feat, the real challenge lies in producing the same top quality each year, no matter how the weather was. That only works as a result of long-term experience. When we make products, 300 years of sanitary experience goes into it. We make our experienced, long-standing employees into innovators. We give them enough freedom to develop. For example, we have a jet laboratory where we test how jets of water feel on the skin. This is where we pursue the question of how, with lower water consumption, the same or even more comfort can be provided when showering. In the development of our pro- ducts, we work together with external designers. That also opens the perspective for new ideas. At the last ISH alone, the Hansgrohe Group presented 465 novelties. Our ideas are never exhausted.
What major role does design play in addition to functionality? How can both these elements be brought together harmoniously?
R. G.: Together with our partner Phoenix Design, we design products which are an intelligent combination of design, function and comfort. We nurture close collaboration which links the water and design competencies. Actually, they are already a part of us. For us, this has the great advantage that they work like internal designers but they bring their experi- ence of other fields with them. In this way we have been able to achieve great successes in the past and create innovations together which win customers over in the areas of design and function. Still today, design is wrongly reduced to the aesthetic form. Our aim is to make the people for who the products are made the focus. The functionality should not lose points here.
Being a leader in the branch also means going with the times. How do you solve the current challenges of digital transformation?
R. G.: Of course, Hansgrohe has been in the digital age for a long time. Many processes run digitally, especially in the development of new products. But even in communication and customer contact. Facebook and Twitter are not foreign words for us. Despite that, one should not forget that it is a real product which emerges at the end. Design, functionality and jets of water can not be captured purely digitally. Even in 20 years time we will still need water to wash our hair.
What effect does this have on your company DNA and the afore-mentioned inventive talent?
R. G.: The business models in the sanitary branch are changing. We are developing new digital business fields. We are a multi-channel provider and go wherever the customer searches for the product. This means we even have to prove our inventive talent within business processes.
What does the bathroom of the future look like in your opinion? What user concepts will revolutionise our lives in the coming years?
R. G.: In the future, the focus will increasingly be on the ageing population and therefore on the planning of an oasis of well-being for all generations. The bathroom will be the 'home healthcare centre'. It will convey safety, comfort, signi- ficance, atmosphere and perfect functionality at the highest quality.
How do you bring the different needs of different generations together?
R. G.: Individual bath solutions which adapt to the changing needs of the user throughout the course of his life and which allow the user to configurate the bathroom with his products individually are a must. This ranges from the walk- in shower to sink taps, hand and head showers with intuitive Hansgrohe Select user technology. The flow of water can be started and stopped at the simple touch of a button. Light pressure with the hand, the elbow or the arm is enough.
What goals have you set yourself in order to influence the shower and bath culture worldwide in the coming years?
R. G.: We concentrate on our own strengths. That means that we impress our customers with high-quality products as we have also done in the past. In this way we will shape the bath culture even in the coming years and will remain to be the original from the Black Forest.
Osudio and Hansgrohe
In order to provide information about product specifications to retailers and plumbers we implemented the e-business platform for Hansgrohe in the domain of PIM, B2B, B2C, Print and Mobile based on our agile project approach. The solution we built consists of the SAP Hybris platform, Celum as DAM, Adobe Indesign and Werk II priint:comet and allows Hansgrohe to maintain all product data and media assets within one application.
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