EUROPEAN BUSINESS: Mr. Humpert, Schoepf is a family company with an impressive 160 year history, in a very challenging market. What particular characteristics have contributed to the company’s longevity and success?
Ralph Humpert: Schoepf has always been open-minded and interested in new challenges. The company is synonymous with stability and consistency, innovation and progressiveness. The founder, Konrad Schoepf was an experienced weaver. In the 1950s, the company manufactured fabrics for jackets and slippers; it then moved into upholstery fabrics for cinemas, hotel lobbies and theatres. Over the past 15 years, competition from Asia has resulted in a very aggressive market, and the company has responded with a further strategic realignment, where our extensive knowledge and quality-driven approach has continued to set us apart from our competitors.
EUROPEAN BUSINESS: What has been the result of that realignment?
Ralph Humpert: The owner, K. R. Wagner, decided to reposition Schoepf as a system supplier with full-scale production of technical fabrics for the vehicle industry. We have a very extensive technical knowledge in this sector, and we belong to the best regarding quality. The result is that we are now one of the leading suppliers of technical fabrics to the automotive industry, as well as upholstery fabrics used for train and bus seats, on cruise ships and agricultural machinery. Our quality fabrics are used to produce seat covers and interior trimmings. We also offer custom-made curtains, headrests and removable seat covers. Our sophisticated products meet extremely high technical requirements, most notably performance in relation to fire resistance. The regulations for technical seating fabrics, in particular for passenger transportation, are extremely strict in terms of material properties in relation to fire resistance. We hold all the relevant certifications and licences. Not only their technical features make our products stand out, but also our individual design concepts, which our designers constantly update so that they remain contemporary. Fabrics are pretty special products. Their creation is an inspiring and playful game, offering endless combinations, each one unique. This is what makes our job so attractive. Our production processes are performed strictly in accordance with quality standard ISO 9001; in some areas they even exceed the requirements. We are one of the few companies guaranteeing 100% ‘made in Germany’ quality. All production processes such as weaving, dyeing and coating are kept in-house; this way we can ensure the highest quality standards.
EUROPEAN BUSINESS: Can you tell us about your customer base.
Ralph Humpert: Internationally renowned rail and road vehicle producers, manufacturers of agricultural, construction and industrial vehicles, global players such as Iveco, MAN, Mercedes, Siemens, CAT, New Holland, John Deere and Scania – they all use fabrics designed and manufactured by Schoepf. We cooperate with the automotive industry all over the world. Deutsche Bahn is another important customer and partner – some of the iconic blue seat fabrics are made in Stammbach. Many manufacturers say that they won’t begin a new rail or bus project without looking at Schoepf’s materials. In addition, cruise ships, theatres and cinemas from Taipei to Prague are also equipped with our innovative fabrics. Our leading quality and reliable delivery is valued by customers around the globe.
EUROPEAN BUSINESS: Most companies recognize that their employees are fundamental to success. How do you see this at Schoepf?
Ralph Humpert: We share this opinion. We have particularly loyal employees – some have been working here for decades. They appreciate the good working atmosphere characterized by mutual trust, and identify with the company’s products and philosophy.
EUROPEAN BUSINESS: What are the key tenets of that philosophy?
Ralph Humpert: Apart from our determination to keep our production completely within Germany – we are one of the few companies which can claim that production is 100% in-house – part of this philosophy is to work in a sustainable way. Our aim is to shape the future of fabrics, which includes using methods which are as environmentally friendly as possible. We cooperate with prestigious research centers and attach great importance to research and development to meet tomorrow’s expectations.
EUROPEAN BUSINESS: How do you see the future shaping up for the fabric industry in general, and for Schoepf in particular?
Ralph Humpert: Over the next few years, between now and 2020 in particular, some new and extremely strict legislation in relation to the fire resistance of upholstery fabric will be introduced. This will impact both trains and buses. Fortunately for us, we already fulfil the requirements in respect of upholstery materials for buses. In general, the demands in relation to fire protection and flammability of materials are constantly increasing. The unique properties of our fabric, our innovation, and the benefit of know-how gained over decades in the business, mean that we are well-equipped to respond to new regulations. Our fabrics are also incredibly high-tech and durable. I believe that the key to our continued success is ongoing development. Nevertheless, we must also bear in mind that new innovation is only of use if it meets a genuine customer requirement.
EUROPEAN BUSINESS: You mentioned that creating new fabric designs is like an inspiring game. What else motivates you?
Ralph Humpert: I am incredibly motivated by the diverse challenges that we face, and the opportunity to deliver results through huge projects. To be honest, 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week is not enough time to achieve everything that I want to. My main area of responsibility is sales and marketing, and I believe that we can be much better in this area than we have been in the past. We recognize the passion of the owner for this business, and this is quite infectious. It well and truly reels you in and captures the imagination.