35 years heimatec
From 0 to 100 and more employees
In the fall of 1987, Martin K.H. Krieger had founded heimatec Automations- und Spannsystem. At that time, he had the ambition of manufacturing carrier tools for indexable inserts. Since then, 35 years have passed and a lot has happened.
Mr. Krieger talks about his experiences in his open and positive manner.
Mr. Krieger, how did you get the idea to become self-employed?
Self-employment was something I was born with, so to speak.
Joking aside. My parents had a supplier business for turning components, and since my siblings had little interest in continuing the business, the choice fell on me. So I trained as a toolmaker (now called an industrial mechanic) and then worked for a year in a Swiss engineering company before joining my parents' business.
But heimatec has a different focus than your parents' business. Has the business changed over the years?
Yes and no. Certainly, the business has changed in all areas over the past decades. My parents' company of that time still exists today with the orientation it had back then - it's just no longer owned by us.
I knew early on that I didn't want to be just a supplier to big industry in the long run, so I looked around and listened to the market to see what kind of product I could use to establish my company.
Have you found such a product?
I originally thought it and designed a modular carrier tool system for inserts. I was also so convinced of my idea that I directly applied for registered design protection. But when I wanted to sell my product, I was proven wrong.
What a pity. Nevertheless, I still proudly own the designs, drawings and sample plates from back then.
And what happened next?
On business trips in exchange with potential customers, who had all told me that they did not need a modular carrier tool system for inserts, I was told by two companies within a few days that they needed driven tools. That was in 1988.
I, then in my 30s, didn't know what driven tools were. But as so often in my life, chance combined with luck and the right contacts came together and I found a self-employed design engineer who within a few hours explained to me what driven tools are, and I realized that this could be my future business.
The same day I sealed the cooperation with the designer.
Was that the moment you left your parents' company?
Not yet. After all, I had to finance my "spinning". Finally, I found an interested party who wanted a y-adjustable cross-milling head for his machine and assured me that he would exhibit this tool at the EMO Hannover 1989. With high pressure I designed, procured single parts, so that I could assemble my first tool in 42 hours without interruption, in order to be able to present it in time at the EMO.
But that was the biggest flop. When I arrived in Hanover, my tool was not mounted on the machine, it was lying somewhere on the shelf. Frustrated, I took the tool straight home and took care of finding customers myself. The next and first customer order was for an angle drilling and milling head with an angle of 87 degrees - an absolutely special tool.
Gradually, more small orders for customized tools came in and the number of customers increased. However, it was still not enough to live on. I had the external designer, we bought the individual parts and in the late evening hours and on weekends I took care of the tool assembly and delivery with temporary help, which at that time still took place in a garage in Ohlsbach. As my main activity, I continued to be the general manager in my parents' company, which I sold in 1995.
From when were you able to write positive figures with heimatec?
It is difficult to pin down an exact year. As I earned money, it was invested again.
But the first major customers came, some of whom we still have, and with the increasing orders came the first full-time hires in 1992. The nice thing is that some of my first four employees are still working for the company and the other two remained loyal to the company until they retired a few years ago.
Two years later, at the suggestion of the now in-house design manager, I then expanded our product portfolio to include standard tools. In order not to be dependent on suppliers without exception, we decided to set up our own production in 1997. With the further development of the production, a third location was established in 1999, which then housed the production. Again and again we expanded the machinery and the number of employees.
You have remained loyal to Renchen all these years. Is there a special reason and what do you appreciate about Renchen?
I was already born in Renchen, when we even had a hospital in town, and I wouldn't want to miss the small town. Renchen offers the supply of a city with shopping facilities, doctors, kindergarten, school, leisure facilities, etc.. Also the association life offers various possibilities and with approximately 7,500 inhabitants one knows each other and does not disappear in the anonymity.
In addition, our region is beautiful. On the border to the Black Forest, surrounded by vineyards, orchards and untouched nature and yet we are centrally located and easy to reach.
When and how did you move to the current location in Carl-Benz-Strasse?
It was more or less by chance. At the end of 2004, I found out that the previous owner was moving his business to a different location, so I started talking to him. We soon came to an agreement, and so we converted the premises to our requirements at a cost of around 1 million euros and moved into our current premises at the beginning of December 2005 with 42 employees at that time, initially on a rental basis. This step was a great relief to have all business areas centrally at one place.
In 2008 - at that time we already had more than 100 employees - the opportunity arose to acquire the 30,000 sqm site including the company building. With this area, it was clear that the location also offered expansion possibilities for the future.
Have you already made use of the expansion options?
Yes, not so long ago. In 2019, the construction of our new, 2,500-square-meter production hall started. Thus, the main construction phase was in the middle of the Corona crisis. Despite all the negative forecasts, we went through with the project without interruption and invested 10 million euros in the future. Since the end of 2020, the hall has been completed and the machinery has been set up accordingly so that production can begin. Additional production adjustments and expansions are planned.
In retrospect, it must be said that we could not have found a better time for the construction. On the one hand, due to the crisis and short-time work, ongoing operations were only slightly disrupted by the construction, and on the other hand, the construction costs were still within a financially feasible range at the time.
You spoke about the Corona crisis. Are you still feeling the effects? Have you already gone through similar crises?
Even though we were on short-time working for several months in 2020, fortunately we didn't have to lay off any staff at that time. We were back to business as usual quite quickly and currently have a good level of incoming orders. Whether it all had to happen that way is another matter.
The fact that we are already facing the next crisis after two years is more frightening. I am curious to see what impact the energy crisis will have on our operations. Nevertheless, I am confident that we will again find ways to get through it.
We were hit much harder by the crisis in 2009, when we didn't just suffer a drop in sales. Thursday, May 7, 2009 was the worst day in my life. I had to lay off 45 employees, almost half of them. Even though I couldn't help it from an entrepreneurial point of view, I was personally affected for a long time. At the end of 2010, some normality and stability slowly returned to the company.
Mr. Krieger, in addition to the low points, you have certainly experienced a few highlights.
Actually, every day is a highlight when you enjoy your business and look forward to the daily challenges, even if they are not always easy. Then a company also becomes a hobby.
I put a lot of heart and soul into my - our - company and like to be in contact with our employees and customers. Certainly, not everything always runs smoothly, but I also forget things quickly.
The expansion of our global trade network (Asia, USA, India, Russia, etc.) is one point. But also every new machine start-up is a moment that remains in positive memory.
Also the presentation of our novelties in a funny way in 2010 makes me smile when I think back on it.
But I do have two or three personal highlights:
When our son and future successor Kay stepped onto the company grounds for the first time in 2013 and expressed interest in the company, I was extremely happy. Five years later, when he definitely said he wanted to continue the company, I knew that the effort of the previous years had paid off. The chance to buy the current company grounds is also one of my highlights.
And what challenges does a company of your size have to contend with?
We now have 125 employees and are continuing to grow. Like probably everyone else, we are struggling with the current price developments and the shortage of skilled workers.
In addition, we are currently undergoing a structural change. On the one hand, time has become more fast-paced, driven by topics such as digitalization and Industrie 4.0, and on the other hand, we have reached the employee threshold of 100 employees, so certain processes and systems are being adapted. Keeping all employees on board with these many changes is a major task.
Back then, the switch from typewriter to PC, the use of cell phones or fax were a snap.
What would you do differently if you could turn back time?
It's a good thing I can't. Sure, sometimes you wonder why I didn't come up with the idea sooner. But I don't want to grumble. I am proud of where our company is today and what it has become. We have managed to survive crises and, from my point of view, we are positioned in such a way that, in a worst-case scenario, we would be able to cope with further crises (even if I could do without them).
But none of this is due to me. We are extremely blessed with our employees. As is so often the case, we had and still have the right people at the right time. I'm glad that the current team is ready to break new ground with us and accompany us into the digital era. This drive will also pull the "hesitant" employees along on the path to the future.
What advice do you have for your son Kay for the future?
He should continue as before. It is important that he finds his own way and leaves his own footprints. I am happy to see that he is doing things differently. In this, he has my backing and my trust.
I hope he will continue to be surrounded by the right people to develop and drive our family business forward.
If he has any questions, I will always be there to help and advise him.
Are you already planning your retirement?
Planning yes, but when it will be is still a question of the future. I will definitely remain loyal to the company for a few more years, even if I gradually cut back a bit.