The proverbial handshake still counts at AFRISO-EURO-INDEX GmbH: For more than a century and a half, the company has retained its character as a medium-sized family business. At the same time, the company is highly successful in technologically demanding, innovative business areas worldwide – including smart home. Consistent values, trust, responsibility and social competence serve as the foundation for success. What is the recipe for success, to what extent do the roots shape the company even today? On the occasion of the 150th anniversary, the managing directors Elmar and Jürgen Fritz, great-grandchildren of the company founder, answer our questions.
Adalbert Fritz founded the company in 1869 at the age of just 23 years – a start-up culture in an era in which this term was still completely unknown. To what extent does this courage and entrepreneurial spirit characterize AFRISO to this day?
Elmar Fritz: It takes courage for a successful company in any case – 150 years ago as well as today. To start a business at the age of 23 for sure speaks for itself. However, courage must also have limits, for example when risks become too great or unmanageable. An approach of “all or nothing” is not our cup of tea, the interests of the company and its employees are too important. At the same time, progress is only possible if you move ahead with courage.
What are the most important values that have shaped AFRISO for over 150 years?
Elmar Fritz: Values such as decency, honesty, reliability, credibility, openness and a solid amount of flexibility have defined our company since the beginning. That may sound like phrases, but it is not! Working together with our employees, customers, business partners and suppliers, we orient ourselves to these standards on a daily basis. The way you work together is key.
Over the decades AFRISO has reinvented itself over and over again and opened up further areas of activity. Will the company stay with this approach in the future?
Jürgen Fritz: For 150 years, we have been developing and producing innovative products in a great variety of areas. The corresponding markets and our customers from the wholesale, crafts and industry sectors can continue to expect numerous innovations from AFRISO. From our point of view, however, there is not just “one” promising opportunity for the future, but a whole range of attractive business areas and ideas we are actively working on. We see great potential, for example, in our products for the smart home market, in our measuring and control components for OEM customers in the area of heating and water technology as well as in networked handheld measuring instruments, sensor modules and apps for servicing, which, for example, help specialised craft companies deal with the increasing flood of data and transmit measurement logs directly via digital interfaces.
AFRISO has already dealt with sustainability and environmental protection when the topic was not yet “en vogue”. What do you associate with the claim “Technology for Environmental Protection”?
Elmar Fritz: “Technology for Environmental protection” has been our mission statement for many years, for example, with our products which help to keep the air clean, to protect the groundwater and to save energy. In that sense, the topic of sustainability is nothing new at AFRISO at all. This not only affects the products themselves, but the entire the value chain is reflected even in areas that are not directly related to the business. We are committed to protecting the environment at our sites, for example, we have created a new habitat for bees, bumblebees and similar on our company site in Güglingen and have reserved large parts of the company premises for nature.
Jürgen Fritz: From a business point of view, “Technology for Environmental Protection” is highly dependent on legal regulations. Therefore, we must always be in a position to respond rapidly quickly and flexibly to change. In view of the anticipated further environmental and climate protection issues, it will be key for us to bring appropriate solutions to the market early on in the event of regulatory changes.
What do you do internally to make your company even more sustainable – energy optimization in production, for example, or the use of renewable energies?
Jürgen Fritz: In the case of new buildings and renovations, energy efficiency is paramount to us. For example, during our recent extension at the Güglingen site, we have consistently focused on modern, environmentally friendly technology, from geothermal energy and heat pump technology to underfloor heating systems, solar thermal energy, photovoltaics and our own rainwater harvesting. In production, too, we strive to systematically exploit all possibilities for saving energy. Our employees help us tremendously with their suggestions for improvement from their daily work experience.
HVAC experts and chimney sweeps are important partners and users of your products. Will this remain the same in the future? What do you do to maintain the close connection to the crafts sector? From your point of view, what will be the future of the proven three-level distribution?
Elmar Fritz: We are convinced of three-level distribution. For us, it is important to directly reach and convince those who will ultimately work with our products. Therefore, our sales force is in constant contact with craft companies and advises and supports them in projects and more. Of course, we showcase our products on the relevant trade fairs and the in-house trade fairs of the wholesale companies, and provide training for local craftsmen at their sites and in our premises to maintain direct contact with the users.
For quite some time you have also been active in the smart home market. What are your expectations with regard to this product area?
Jürgen Fritz: Expectations are very high, and this market will gain considerable momentum and develop further in the years to come. For us, Smart Home is the perfect solution, because it propels our classic alarm units into the digital age and makes the necessary step of networking possible. A major advantage of our solutions is their modular design and their open system architecture. This benefits wholesalers, the crafts sector, end users and other technology providers alike. Since our solutions work with the most important wireless standards, we can meet a wide range of user requirements. Open, flexible and future-proof.
Another advantage of our solution, especially in terms of security, is the fact that it is not a cloud-based system. With an outstanding expertise in the development of apps resulting from our acquisition of the start-up company Codeatelier in 2015, we consider ourselves to be optimally positioned, both in terms of technology and usability and progressiveness.
What can you as a manufacturer, what can dealers and specialised companies do differently or better in order to foster the awareness of the end user with regard to smart home?
Jürgen Fritz: In the end, the winner is the one who wins most users. Even with maximum quality, ease of use and the best possible security, we cannot achieve this just be ourselves. That is why we rely on strong partnerships, such as the EnOcean Alliance, in which different manufacturers jointly promote an energy-independent wireless standard and offer end users with battery-less smart home sensors real added value. Or by opening our system to sensors and actuators from third-party manufacturers. For the user, this automatically results in a wide range of entry-level options for the topic of smart home, be it as a professional security solution, improvement in living comfort or simply because of technology-related “play instinct”.
How important is the megatrend of digitization to you, not just with regard to your products, but also to your processes, production or logistics?
Elmar Fritz: Needless to say, digitization is here to stay. In 2017, we laid a strong foundation for this with the introduction of SAP. Step by step, we can now streamline the processes in all areas of the company. We are currently working on essential improvements for our logistics, which will be implemented by fall 2020 with a new logistics centre in Güglingen.
How important is the German market to AFRISO today – and what significance do you attach to it in the future? Which foreign markets do you consider to be particularly important and attractive?
Elmar Fritz: The German market is and will remain to be the most important market for us – one of the reasons being, perhaps, that environmental legislation is among the most extensive and strictest worldwide. In our foreign markets, we see the great potential, especially in China. We have been active there for years and see continuous growth for the Asian region.
In the field of pressure, temperature and level measurement technology, we basically have a global market in which we cover many different industries. As a company, this makes us as a company of individual effects or cyclical fluctuations in specific regional markets.
AFRISO currently employs 1,100 people. Do you want to stay at this level or continue to hire more staff? Many companies complain about tremendous difficulties filling vacancies and apprenticeships. What are you doing in this regard?
Jürgen Fritz: In the medium term, we will continue to grow in terms of personnel, and this currently applies in particular to our sites in Poland, Romania and China. Although it is currently more difficult than before to find suitable employees, we ultimately always succeed in filling vacancies with qualified staff. And, of course, we also train ourselves.
Will AFRISO continue to be a family-run business for generations to come?
Elmar Fritz: In fact, from the first day to the present, for more than 150 years, at least one family member has been a part of the management. This is certainly very special about AFRISO. Maybe we are just lucky with our family and our mutual understanding. We are hoping – and the prospects are very good – that the next generation will one day take over the fortunes of the company. We would definitely wish that we remain a family owned business. Chances are very good, after all, together, the two of us have 7 children who, in principle, are eligible for this task.
How easy will it be to maintain the special character of a family business in the years and decades to come?
Elmar Fritz: We are very confident. Even if we will no longer be a part of it and none of our children should play a leading role, the management to come will keep a focus on maintaining the spirit of a family owned business. Responsibility and social competence will continue to be our guiding principles in the future.