Looking for new horizons11 September 2002
Dr Eberle export their products to around 35 countries. But this doesn't stop them looking further afield. 'Step by step, we are looking for new countries where we can either export or produce our chemicals', said Waldemar Schaupp, sales manager of Dr Eberle GmbH. Dr Eberle shipped their first overseas container in 1989. Today, around 20-25% of the company's total leather chemical production is in Europe; the rest is produced around the world but mainly in Asia. As is the case for so many other companies, China is fast becoming a very significant market. Eberle jumped on the Chinese bandwagon fairly early on and, since 1994, Beijing Eberle have been up and running as production facilities for Eberle in China within the framework of a joint-venture. Beijing Eberle employ 20 people and use local raw materials to produce beamhouse products for the Chinese market. 'It's cheaper to produce locally in China', explains Schaupp, 'but we do not export from Beijing Eberle.' Beijing Eberle consist of one large production building containing two 5,000kg mixing plants for formulations such as liming auxiliaries and soaking agents; three 5,000kg reactors for oxidative sulfitation used to produce various fatliquors; two 2,000kg reactors for sulfonation used also for the production of fatliquors; and one 2,000kg powder mixer for deliming and bating agents. Total production is on average 200 tons per month. Dr Eberle also set up Chen Spring Eberle Import-Export Co Ltd in China in 2001. The company's specific purpose is to promote the products which Beijing Eberle offer the Chinese market. 'We are very positive for the future, but we need to take things a step at a time', explains Schaupp. 'First we must consolidate our existing business in Asia and try to achieve a higher market share there. We are also looking at the possibility of another production facility in Asia, maybe in Thailand, to cover the south-east Asian market. At the moment, we can manage production here in Reutlingen, but opening more facilities in Asia is certainly one of our aims.' Looking elsewhere, Schaupp believes that if they are to be successful in south America, they need to establish a joint-venture and production facilities there. Dr Eberle also have production facilities in India and, last year, recruited six agents in the Indian market. 'If it picks up, India will become very important for us', added Schaupp. Dr Eberle are currently based in Reutlingen, south of Stuttgart, and moved to their current premises in 1996. The new facility covers more than 6,000m² and has given the company the room they need for expansion in the future. There are currently 35 people working at the company's German facility: around one quarter in production and the rest in research and development and administration. The company's origins began in the saddlery world when Gustav Eberle was unsatisfied with the quality of his saddle leather. He encouraged his eldest child to study chemistry before himself founding Dr Eberle GmbH in 1875. Today, the company manufacture chemicals for leather processing from the skin to the crust, and also supply chemical auxiliary agents to the textile industry. 'We are particularly strong in the beamhouse', explains Schaupp, 'but it depends on the country. For example, here in Germany, the automotive industry is important for us whereas, in Asia, different types of customers require different types of products.' But Schaupp is adamant that the company will not move into the finishing sector. He continued by adding that Dr Eberle are specialists in wet processing, offering customers a wide range of quality products. 'Leather production is shrinking and the number of competitors is growing, but we won't be tempted to start selling cheaper products.' 'The most important thing we can offer is a good relationship with our customers', Schaupp continued. 'We must be able to give our customers as much technical support as possible. Therefore, we need to produce high quality products.' Coupled with words such as 'continuity' and 'family-owned' in the company literature, strong ties with their customers is clearly paramount to Dr R Eberle, owner and managing director of the company since 1984.