WIKO as a live wire: "We are growing with our customers"
The German word WIKO is derived from the acronyms for resistance, inductivity and components. WIKO GmbH is true to its name. The medium sized company that is based in Klötze supplies the motor vehicles sector, the railways industry, welding technology manufacturers, manufacturers of measuring devices as well as the machinery and ship building sectors. We talked to Christian Schönwald, who took over his father's job nearly two years ago and has been steering the fortunes of the company together with Adolf Fehse ever since.
If you are looking for a classic entrepreneurial story you seem the ideal person to talk to. Do you see things the same way? How do you feel looking back?
I look back in the knowledge that those who established this company took a lot of brave decisions. We started 21 years ago and have always grown on a gradual basis. The Teltow Factory for Electronic Construction Elements had been based in Klötze since the 1970s but it closed after the fall of the Berlin wall. Three of their guys took their courage in their own hands and from a huge factory they founded WIKO, with just 25 employees. We employ the same number of workers to this day. In the mid 1990s the motor vehicles sector first became aware of us and we made contacts quickly. We now make most of our sales in this sector, manufacturing ignition suppression resistors which go into use in the ignition systems on petrol engine vehicles. A lot of things went right for us which was important for our path to success.
How hard has it been to survive as a company over the years?
The initial period was very difficult because we expected demand for our products and our number of customers to be more considerable than they were. During the GDR era the countries in Eastern Europe had routinely ordered huge numbers of capacitors from Klötze. We assumed things would stay the same way for us. But it didn't work out like that. Getting through those times was hard. The guys who set the company up attended one trade fair after the other, putting feelers out all over Germany. To keep its employees, WIKO had to convince customers of the quality of its products. At that time, my father and Adolf Fehse often took the right approach, of taking clever and frequently daring decisions and never giving up. If you don't do this, you run the risk that your company will fold.
What is the biggest challenge for your company?
Over the last one and a half years in particular, we have seen some big changes. We have had to learn a lot - mainly because we are now dealing with so many international customers. Also, today it is almost impossible to make predictions concerning turnover at the start of the year. The global nature of our industry means we are subject to rapid fluctuations in business that can go up or down. So far, we have only experienced these rarely. But dealing with them is certainly a major challenge.
Where in the marketplace can WIKO GmbH do well?
We are a small company with flat hierarchies - which is an advantage. If I get an enquiry I can get in touch with the technical department or the guys in the production department straight away and respond with an offer very quickly. Our own tools manufacturing facility means we can make samples of even the most unusual components ourselves. Customers that have discovered us recently value the fact that we implement their requirements hassle free and at short notice.
As a small-to-medium sized German company, do you have any international aspirations?
We sure do! We are growing with our customers and try to respond to demand in niche markets. We now have customers in Asia and South America. Decisions are frequently relayed by telephone or by email. When cooperation is expected, we always provide it. One home truth is that if you say 'no' too many times, you quickly become ignored as a supplier across the industry. We want to stay in the market and develop our export trade more and more. We want the name WIKO to become better known.
Your principal customer is the motor vehicles industry. Is the WIKO path going to go in other directions?
We want to raise the profile of the products with which we originally began trading and improve our sales of them in terms of their share of our turnover. We are focusing our energy on every sector possible as we can deliver to a variety of sectors. For this reason we are now looking for new fields of application.
Why are you staying in Klötze? Why not relocate to a booming region?
The answer is straightforward: we want to stay here in the Altmark. All of our employees come from the local area. WIKO was established here. Our roots are here.
Author/photo: Manuela Bock
WIKO Elektronische Bauelemente Klötze GmbH
Salzwedeler Straße 3
ph: +49 3909 2156
Fax: +49 3909 2603