A German former mailorder company develops itself from a multibrand dealer to an omnichannel lifestyle brand – in workwear retail.
This post is about Brand Growth Inspiration, driven by a traditional family business. It’s about the Strauß family, based in a little village called Biebergemünd in central Germany, 50 km east of Frankfurt. Established in 1948 by founder Engelbert Strauß, the company of the same name today is still led independently by second and third generation members of the family. The company’s growth within the last ten years shows that a rather conservative and non-urban background can actually be a fruitful basis for remarkable innovation in branding and retail. Especially when based on traditional family values like quality, reliability and predictability.
Engelbert Strauss mainly deals with workwear and professional protection garments. Over the years they have developed from being a former multibrand supplier, who then moved into a strongly competitive market (buying and selling specialised brands in particular product categories), to become a pure vertical brand. Today the full assortment of clothes, shoes and accessories is self produced and marked with their own label and brand: the ostrich. Above all, the brand focuses on hightech fabrics, strong functionality and longterm quality of the products – combined with a reasonable price value. Running nine country sales divisions in Europe, the company has grown from two dozen employees in the late eighties to more than 1.200 today.
Besides Function, it’s all About Emotions and Brand Identification
Everything that Engelbert Strauss does, besides providing functional clothes, focuses on emotions – following the brand’s catchphrase to “Enjoy Work”. The owners have realised that there is a way (and a lucrative chance), to influence the relationship between typical job-dependent outfits (essential workwear and necessary protection) and the identification of their owners with what they wear. They have created a true sense of pride in, building site-workers for example, about their overalls, jackets and boots. The red “Strauss” label makes the difference for the brand’s customers. It’s effect is strong enough that whole families shop online at Engelbert Strauss and may spend their afternoons and Saturdays in their ‘Workwearstore®’ (which is a registered brand of the company as well). The brand offers clothes for all major professions, for men and women, plus – of course – for the kids, to be sure that the brand is brought early into young communities. For many families in Germany, Engelbert Strauss today is more like a lifestyle outdoor brand than a workwear supplier. For some it even might be the new Jack Wolfskin.
Workwearstores® as Brand Convincers
The former pure mail order business has been transformed into an omnichannel since the brand began opening their own stores in Germany in 2009. There are four so far and more to come, sized between 800 to 2.000 square metres. The Strauß family could easily have opened pragmatic spaces in brick and mortar, which would have been fine with unpretentious workwear consumers. They also could have followed so-called best practice DIY stores to plan their floors. They could have found a way to present their products just slightly better than to stack them in plastic film as the competitors usually do.
But they didn’t – they invited retail professionals into workshops to collect ideas on their individual store appearance and performance. I had the opportunity to contribute some strategic and operational retail thinking in an early phase of planning with the Strauß management and to accompany them during the next steps in planning and the first roll-out.
They wanted to do it differently, be valuable, enhance their story telling through easy, surprising and convenient means. They wanted their stores to be nothing less than convincers for the brand.
Here are some impressions:
The locations of the Workwearstores® are selected on learnings from the mail order business’ KPI’s and set in its strongest areas with even more potential in local market share. All stores are newly built on owned property, with a climate-neutral approach. Each one plays with local cultural identities, e.g. chandeliers made out of safety lamps (8 metres wide, see title photo) in the Oberhausen store, as a reference to the former mining area. There are also lamps made of spades, decorative elements with old tools and many more details which provide customers with more of a lifestyle shopping feeling than just the everyday experience of consuming essential equipment. No wonder – the creative planning agency who’s responsible is from Berlin and usually designs stores for the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Puma and Galeries Lafayette worldwide.
As the Strauß family (on principle) doesn’t publish numbers, it’s hard to tell whether the stores are contributing to the company’s operating profit (yet). However, in my opinion it’s easy to assume that they would not expand their store concept if it wasn’t expected to push development forward for the company. Providing essential goods is one thing – the rest is emotions.
About the Author:
Alexander von Keyserlingk has recently visited the new Workwearstore® by Engelbert Strauss in Oberhausen, Germany and liked what he experienced.
Being a native retailer himself, Alexander accompanies enterprises (including mail order companies) through the cycle, from setting up an expansion strategy to operational and local implementation of physical stores. You can email him directly or visit his LinkedIn profile for creative support in your expansion project.