Text: Roberto Stefàno | Photos: Andreas Zimmermann | Magazine: Trust in society – September 2019
The boss of door factory Brunegg describes in layman’s terms the unexpectedly complex manufacture of doors, the changed circumstances in his business – and why a door can definitely
be compared to a piece of fine furniture.
To your knowledge or recollection, what was the most unusual order for a door that Brunex has executed in its 65-year history?
Generally, our orders are not too out of the ordinary. However, I do remember two in particular: our first delivery of a door to Shanghai, and the five millionth door we ever produced. The latter marked the start of a new era for our company back in 2001.
Why a new era?
Before that, several specialised companies were involved in the value chain of the door business: one produced the basic panel, another processed it, and another was responsible for installation. But this changed once some of our customers started producing their own panels. So we, too, had to vertically integrate our production and reorient our approach.
What makes for a proper door?
Two things: it needs to function impeccably as well as meet the taste of the buyer. The first factor is frequently given short shrift. But the truth is, a door can be compared to a piece of fine furniture. It is by no means a negligible investment for homeowners, so they have a right to expect that it will remain in perfect condition for 15 years at the very minimum.
How important is a door as the visiting card of a dwelling?
As I said, a door represents a considerable investment and leaves a certain impression. When a property is up for sale, a door can play an important subliminal role in whether or not the transaction is concluded.
Can a door instil trust?
Take for example an automobile: if a car door squeaks or rattles when you close it, you know immediately that you’re sitting in a cheapo. So yes, a good door inspires trust. Also, there are various “resistance classes” (RCs) that offer different levels of protection against intruders. These most definitely engender trust and are increasingly in demand in certain customer segments.
How do your doors differ from the less expensive foreign versions?
Let’s get one thing straight: the price difference between our products and an equivalent door from abroad is marginal. But otherwise, a lot depends on the size of the market. In Switzerland, we’re the leading manufacturer and produce some 500 doors a day in Brunex’s highly automated factory. Our foreign competitors can produce 10 to 20 times as many doors in the same time. This is due to the fact that the markets there are much larger, so mass production pays off; that’s not the case here in Switzerland. We deliberately concentrate on manufacturing fewer doors, but ones with higher quality and greater durability since it is impossible for us to keep up with the price war in such a tight market.
Martin Eisele (1967) has been the owner and CEO of door factory Brunegg (Brunex) since 2008. At that time, he acquired the company shares previously held by his management colleague Martin Schmid, which they had bought together in 2003 as part of a management buyout. Born in Germany, he studied wood technology at the Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences. Eisele is married and father of three children (8, 10, 12 years).
Do you feel that buyers have greater trust in your company because it’s a local supplier?
Our customers attach great value to a Swiss product, and our proximity to the actual construction sites often plays an important role. If a problem arises, we’re quickly at their doorstep, so to speak. Our customers appreciate this very much.
Your doors are made to measure, but when producing them you have to rely on someone else’s specifications. Does that pose a problem?
No. If doubts arise or we realise that an ordered door simply can’t function according to spec, we approach the customer. Our project manager discusses the problem with the buyer so that ultimately everything fits perfectly. In the same vein, it’s also important for the craftsmen that they have a partner they can count on. Doors are becoming increasingly complex, and installers need to rely on their ability to meet the precise requirements of the supplier.
You’ve mentioned that your responsibility goes beyond the mere manufacture of the products. What do you mean by that?
Before a door is manufactured, the needs of the ordering party have to be clearly defined, as doors can have very different characteristics. The question is: What does the customer actually want and need? This is where we perceive ourselves as the ones bearing responsibility: we have to assist our customers in selecting the right components. At the same time, we regularly try to train the carpenters who carry out the order, show them the latest innovations, and inform them of today’s most commonly applied standards.
“Digitalisation has simplified many aspects of our work and made them more dynamic.”
You’ve made it your cause to ensure that Brunex treats natural resources with the utmost care. What is the significance of sustainability in your business?
All of the wood we use for the production of our doors is FSC-certified. This guarantees that it comes from sustainably managed forests – especially in terms of the tropical timber we process. It’s been clearly demonstrated that this is a better way to protect a forest than the methods used in the past. The local people earn a living from their forest areas without sacrificing them entirely.
To what extent do you associate sustainable resource management with trust?
Trust comes into play at different levels. On one hand, trust in the future is a must; and that requires a clear vision. On the other hand, you need to trust your team, especially in an owner-run company. Then comes trust in the product and the business per se. And in the end, customers have to trust you – something that can only be achieved by their communicating openly and transparently with you and you with them.
Brunex has meanwhile produced over eight million doors. How has your product changed in the 65 years since the company’s founding?
The change has been astonishing. In the past, we had a classical “seller’s market”, so much so that quotas were allocated. There was hardly any demand for creativity in the production of doors, as only three or four door types were built at the time. Today, we’re in competition with dozens of foreign manufacturers and offer 27 door types and entry systems. The change is also clearly evident in terms of our employees: in the meantime, they’ve had to learn how to do more than just perform the same old monotonous work steps – innovative and entrepreneurial thinking is a top priority for us.
How did your people cope with that change?
It wasn’t an easy process, because at the same time we also had to involve our customers. Thanks to transparent communication, we managed to pull this off to everyone’s satisfaction. Today, customers can contribute their own ideas, as can our employees.
Door factory Brunegg, situated in the village of the same name in the canton of Aargau, was founded in 1954. The company, today known as Brunex, employs around 63 individuals and is the Swiss market leader in the door business. As a full-range supplier, Brunex supplies carpenters throughout Switzerland with custom-made door panels and the related elements, as well as wall systems and room dividers. In 2019, Brunex was awarded Zürcher Kantonalbank’s SME prize.
These days, doors are manufactured just in time. How far do you go with this approach?
98 per cent of our doors are contract work carried out on a just-in-time basis. We maintain only a small inventory of the most popular versions at our forwarding agent. The raw material stocks at our supplier are also streamlined to two or three days’ worth of drawdown. Pre-production is practically impossible, as most Brunex doors are individual custom-made products.
How has digitalisation affected your production processes?
A good example of this can be seen with our employees, who today work with tablets or computers at their machines. The parameters for making a door are compiled just once and the related data are then automatically and continuously transferred to the various stations. With myBrunex, we’ve also developed a tool for our customers that they can use to configure, calculate and order the doors themselves. And not least of all, our sales representatives are now equipped with digital devices that display our products to customers on-site, thereby eliminating the need to carry around heavy paper files. Digitalisation has indeed simplified many aspects of our work and made them more dynamic.
You’ve outsourced the distribution of your doors. Why do you prefer this route rather than marketing them yourself?
This approach has certain drawbacks but lots of advantages. We’re very close to our customers. We maintain long-term partnerships with dealers and carpenters and enjoy the mutual trust. That’s why we don’t intend to change anything, along the lines of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Which trends are currently shaping the door business?
Flush-mounted doors are in demand, as are frame-free products and soundproof doors for the living room. What’s more, the need for security has increased, which is why we’re seeing a growing number of RC (Resistance Class) doors being installed. Not to mention the fact that customers have come to want environmentally friendly, toxin-free doors these days.
You won the 2019 Zürcher Kantonalbank’s SME prize. What does this commendation mean to you?
Its significance became clear to me only after we had actually won the award. We’re very proud to have been honoured this way – especially our employees. The commendation confirms that we’re on the right track and gives us the drive to continue along this path. We used the prize money to create a beer garden next to the plant so our employees can also toast the award!
Martin Eisele – up close and personal
How would you characterise yourself most accurately?
I’m a maker with a vision.
What type of door would you be?
A straightforward one; clearly structured and sustainable.
Sliding door or hinged door?
Definitely a hinged one. A sliding door is daintier, quieter.
Glass or wood?
No question, wood. I’m a trained carpenter and have a degree in wood engineering from Rosenheim. Wood is my element!
What clubs are you a member of?
Besides my job, there’s very little free time left. I prefer to spend those hours with my wife and our three kids, who are already 8, 10 and 12 years old. But together we’re members of a mountain bike club in the region.
Which encounter have you had in the past five years that impressed you the most?
A meeting with former Brunex Chairman Kurt Streif. He’s retired now, but I learned a lot from him. It all started the first time I met him – originally, I had signed up with the company for just a two-year stint. He showed me back then that I could have a great future at his firm. Or that I’d soon be far and gone.
Which personal goal do you still want to achieve in 2019?
I want to take part in the Rothaus Bike Giro and finish faster than I did last year.
This is how I recharge my batteries …
By biking with my family.
My favourite holiday destination …
The main thing is, it’s got to be with our motorhome – first in the mountains, then by the sea.
What advice would you like to pass on to our readers?
You have to believe in goals and stand by them.