KNOBLOCH was founded in 1869 as a sheet metal plumbing company on the company premises in Döbeln, which still exists today, and is still family-run by the Kolbe family. Many different metal goods have been manufactured since it was founded – the mailbox was included from the start.
Pure survival without any strategy
In 1991/92 it became increasingly clear that sticking to the old GDR range would not make successful company development possible in the long run. But what should the small company produce without first investing in new tools, since there were no funds available for investments? Erika Kolbe and her husband pulled out the old product catalogs, marveled at the variety, discussed and planned. And then one thing seemed to come together. As a result of the restructuring of the postal services, the collective delivery points with their large mailbox systems, as had been common in most new construction areas in the GDR, were abolished. Suddenly every household should have its own, individual mailbox. An employee of the wholesale office for household goods spoke to Kolbes: “Can’t you make mailboxes? We have to get them all from the west, ”he said, breaking in open doors. Mailboxes were long part of the “Max Knobloch” basic range. This is exactly why the family got involved. Market observations and competitor analyzes or a business plan were not used to.
With a sympathetic blue-eyed eye, the entrepreneurs said, ‘We can make it, so we can do it.’ Crazy from today’s perspective, there were thousands of other providers. No one would have needed that, ”says Thomas Kolbe. What came after that can only be partially described with “luck”. It may have been due to the slowly picking up of the economy, perhaps also due to a certain “east bonus”, but most certainly due to Erika Kolbe’s talent for sales. Her human nature of selling quickly made the company known for practicing very personal sales. Nothing has changed to this day. Remarkably, this was never part of a strategy, but simply due to the interest in the other person and the appreciation of each individual customer. But this development took time. And that became scarce. Despite the start of mailbox production and despite constant efforts to enter into cooperations and acquire manufacturing orders, the company was unable to keep calm and the workforce had to be further reduced. The suspension for Max Knobloch Nachf. GmbH ended in 1994 with the dissolution of the Treuhandanstalt.
100 Percent for Kolbes
Since the other old owners had no interest in the company shares, so that they would no longer be expected, the owner family decided to acquire all shares from the Treuhandanstalt. This then also dictated the conditions under which a 100% takeover was allowed to take place. Kolbes had no choice.
Since the end of 1994, the company had been the sole property of the family, which was finally granted the urgently needed loans. With a workforce of just 17 employees, the second restart took place, and this time it was a real one!
While many of the larger Döbelner companies were unable to gain a foothold in the free market economy and instead perches, pikes and carp were sighted again for the first time in the trough, because the pollution to the environment had decreased significantly within a very short period of time, the situation was the same Waldheimer Straße with small steps uphill.
In the in-house tool shop, the mechanics tinkered and tried on the tools for the mailboxes, all of which were initially made by themselves. In addition to the original simple model 100, one with a drop-in flap was added, and experimentation with different shapes soon began, but despite all the joy of the new, the model remained simple.
The “Max Knobloch Nachf. GmbH” at the trade fairs
Even before 1994, the company presented its own small selection of mailboxes at the important hardware fair in Cologne in addition to their spotlights and radiators. Even if the comparison with the competitors at this event was somewhat sobering and dampened the initial euphoria, Kolbes did not let the chic products of the competition intimidate them, but gained new motivation from them.
Since 1991, they have been visiting the trade exhibition continuously to use the newly gained public image to cultivate contacts and to establish personal relationships, even if the expenses for it were not small. Visiting trade fairs has long been a fundamental cornerstone of KNOBLOCH’s corporate culture.
Mailbox system production had developed continuously since 1993 from the smallest beginnings, but always on a small scale. In 2000/2001 the strategic decision was made in favor of the plants. In the early 1990s, the basic forms for this were still supplied by external partners, into which the supplied boxes were placed, so now the task was to put production on an industrial footing. New suppliers were found in Berlin and later in Italy. As early as 1997, the company generated a notable part of its total sales through mailbox systems. With its 25 employees, Max Knobloch Nachf. GmbH increasingly gained a foothold in united Germany.
The advantage of mailbox system production for the commercial housing industry is that, although it is a kind of modular system, it does not include standardized products that foreign competitors could throw onto the market more cheaply. The customer has the option of choosing his own individual system with the desired equipment before it is basically exclusively manufactured.
The next Generation
Shortly after the Treuhandanstalt took over the shares in the mid-1990s, Erika and Reinhard Kolbe, not yet 50 years old, asked their 22-year-old son if he could imagine to take their place at some point. So far, if not completely denied, Thomas Kolbe had at least pushed this thought away. After studying psychology, philosophy and German studies, the versatile young man completed nursing training in order to become a medical practitioner after studying medicine. For a long time, living and studying in Leipzig seemed many times more appealing than everything the province had to offer. Independent and independent work had always been his goal. That would also be possible as an entrepreneur, he realized after careful consideration. Since the beginning of his business studies in 1997, Thomas Kolbe worked as a sales representative in the company and until his graduation in 2001, the influence of the junior on the processes in the company intensified continuously. Sales was at the forefront of his interests.
We are a Manufacturer
Nevertheless, KNOBLOCH is not an ordinary industrial company. “Industrialized craftsmen work for us”, Thomas Kolbe states and explains: “The added value takes place by hand.” In a positive as well as a negative sense, Max Knobloch Nachf. GmbH is therefore highly dependent on its employees, who stand at their workplaces in the large hall and manufacture the coveted KNOBLOCH boxes or systems from the punched and pre-treated sheet metal parts. A shortage of skilled workers or a flu epidemic have a direct impact on the manufacturing process. But delivery delays are annoying for customers and producers alike. Changed customer needs take account of new developments in the area of so-called building communication. “The trend towards user-friendly handover units leads us into the modern age,” predicts Thomas Kolbe, referring to parcel letter boxes and parcel compartment systems that are increasingly in demand for apartment buildings. All elements of building communication, from bells and intercoms to showcases and lights, have now become an integral part of the portfolio of the venerable “letterbox company”.
Mailbox systems make up the main business Consistent use of digitalization means and sales to stay close to the wishes of the customers. A modern homepage, which is continuously stocked with current information and the development of its own configuration programs for individual boxes and systems, offer interested parties and partners alike a low-threshold access to companies and products.