15 December 2022
15 December 2022, Comments Comments Off on Bernd Löher – Hobby
Bernd Löher - Hobby

When innovation blends with tradition

Bernd Löher, Managing Director of Hobby arrived at the top of Hobby 3 years ago and had to manage problems and opportunities in pandemic and post-pandemic times

Words Antonio Mazzucchelli – photo Enrico Bona

Hobby and Fendt are two companies with a high production of caravans. In the future, Hobby would like to grow more and more in the campervan and motorhome segments. The founder, Harald Striewski, still firmly owns this European group but has delegated the operational roles to his two managing directors. One of them is Bernd Löher, whom we had the opportunity to interview at the Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Mr. Löher, could you tell us more about yourself?
Bernd Löher: I am 53 years old and I’ve worked in this industry since 2003. At that time I started as the commercial and technical manager of Dometic Light Systems. Later on I was in charge of the RVOE business in Germany, before I took over the responsibility for the RV business in EMEA. In the last years at Dometic I was also part of the EMEA Management and the Managing Director of two production sites. At the same time I was also heading the Product Management for Dometic EMEA, not only for the Caravan industry but also for Retail, Automotive, Lodging etc.
Three years ago, I took the decision to do something different. I’ve always had a very good relationship with Harald Striewski. This was a tipping point for me as I decided I would like to work for Hobby, so I left Dometic. In a typical Hobby way of working, it was a handshake deal, nothing more, nothing less. On February 1st 2020 I started at Hobby, but the situation was quite difficult as the pandemic had just started, so one of my first big decisions was in March 2020, when we had to shut down the factory because of the Covid pandemic. After we took the right measurements to work and live with Corona, we were able to concentrate on product development, differentiating the product range, starting new developments like the Maxia and the Beachy. That’s the advantage of working for a privately owned company: there’s a very fast decision-making process and Mr. Striewski always encouraged me to go ahead with the new projects and ideas.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Two managing directors at Hobby and one owner: what are the respective areas of expertise? How much does the founder still actively participate in the management of the company and its decisions?
Bernd Löher: Actually Mr. Striewski is no longer involved in the daily business, so the governance is pretty clear: he’s the owner, Holger Schulz is the Managing Director for sales, marketing and aftersales, that’s the way how we divide responsibilities on a day-to-day business. Holger running sales and marketing, and I’m looking after production IT, HR, R&D and the whole company.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What is the size of Hobby today and what has been the peak of production over the years?
Bernd Löher: The current production volume for Hobby is between 12,000 to 13,000 caravans, and another 10,000 Caravans for Fendt, that means we are the market leader in Europe, if it comes to Caravans. The peak over the years were 20.000 units for Hobby, today we are very agile and we can adopt very fast to the market conditions, of course with the current restriction on supplies.

Aboutcamp BtoB: In a world populated by large groups listed on the stock exchange, Hobby and Fendt remain a family company: what are the advantages and the disadvantages of this?
Bernd Löher: The biggest advantage we have is that we are very agile, we can make our own decisions, and the decision making progress is very fast, which is also appreciated by our partners / suppliers.
Hobby and Fendt have always been a very reliable partner to our suppliers, which is also part of our mission. So far I have not experienced any disadvantages of a privatly owned company.

Aboutcamp BtoB: With increasing production costs, inflation and the supply chain issues, at the same time the German market achieved a sales record. What do you expect the future to be like?
Bernd Löher: We think that in the next years we will reach the market level we saw in 2017- 2018. This means the market will go down a little bit; if we talk about caravans, we expect the market in Europe to be somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 units. With supply chain issues, uncertainty around geopolitics and inflation expected to reach 10% by the end of this year, as well as the huge cost of energy, we can already see some restrictions in consumer confidence and people are being a little more cautious before buying a new caravan or a motorhome.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Do you think that increasing high prices of motorhomes could lead to a greater interest in caravans?
Bernd Löher: I’m not sure whether the high cost of motorhomes will lead to a greater interest in caravans. For me it is more important what will happen in the next five to ten years, because combustion engines will be banned from 2035. We as an industry have to face these new challenges. Most chassis manufacturers are already working on electric vehicles, the only question is how they will be suitable for the industry. What range can you get with a battery-powered motorhome? I think caravans will experience a renaissance because you can adapt a caravan much faster in terms of size and weight. This is the reason why we have developed the Beachy Air with a target weight of 500-600 kg so that you can also tow this caravan with an electric car. If you look at registrations, especially in Scandinavia, the majority nowadays are e-cars, so this is a chal-lenge for the industry to adapt to new reality.

Aboutcamp BtoB: You are a European manufacturer that has retained caravans as the majority of its product range: will you be able to maintain this in the future?
Bernd Löher: Our goal is that we maintain our market share for caravans, but Hobby has a good opportunity to grow the motorhome business because our market share in motorhomes is rather small, which is one of the pillars of our future strategy.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Are Hobby and Fendt completely independent brands or do you have internal synergies in terms of R&D, purchasing, and sales networks?
Bernd Löher: We do have synergies, and we are now bringing them more and more together so that we can capitalize on R&D and purchasing. For example, Hobby is quite sophisticated in terms of electronics and bus systems, and Fendt has a high expertise in wooden materials, but we keep the DNA of both brands separated and we are not going to mix them. The synergies are only in the background.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How have you reorganised the production of your motorhomes and camper vans to manage the shortage of the mechanical base vehicles?
Bernd Löher: We have of course reorganized our production lines in order to manage the shortages on the chassis. Today we have a high flexibilty in our lines, which is also linked to the high vertical value chain we maintain at Hobby. The main focus for Hobby is to keep delivery times, even if we have to jeopardize effiency in our production to do so.

Aboutcamp BtoB: There are also supply chain problems in the caravan sector? Which ones?
Bernd Löher: There have been several issues in the supply chain, like PMMA cables and harnesses, electronics as such, plywood, aluminium etc. At the moment it looks like the supply chain, with the exception of the chassis, is a bit more stable, but still far away from being reliable. As mentioned before, we have the advantage of a a very high vertical and deep value chain because we manufacture many things ourselves, such as the chassis, so we are a little bit more independent. That has helped us a lot during the last 2 years, and we will maintain this strategy. Whenever possible we choose to „make“ instead of „buy“. And on top of this we also have our own furniture company.

Aboutcamp BtoB: With the Maxia series you inaugurated a very modern minimalist style for interior design. Was this a courageous choice or was it time to satisfy a new type of clien-tele with less traditional taste?
Bernd Löher: For Maxia one of the target markets is Scandinavia, this is the reason why we have this minimalistic design, but also in the Maxia you can see and feel the Hobby DNA, because this is our heritage. The intention of the Maxia is of course to cover also other market segments and to fullfil the demand for a bit less traditional taste. Especially in Scandinavia the Maxia Style is very well received, they love the design and the simplicity, and the clear furniture structure.

Aboutcamp BtoB: The development projects on Volkswagen on Motorhome is new for Hobby: will there be other models in the near future?
Bernd Löher: We have signed a long term cooperation with VW. One result out of this cooperation was shown at Caravan Salon, the IDBUZZ together with the corresponding Beachy Air. There is more to come, please stay tuned.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Beachy is a disruptive and transversal product: is it just a marketing lever or is it intended to make consistant numbers?
Bernd Löher: The Beachy is not a marketing gig. Our intention with the Beachy is to find new customers and bring #vanlife to the world of caravans. The Beachy is here to stay. Also if you look at the demand for the Beachy, it’s bee brilliant; within a year we have managed to create a new brand, a dedicated community for the Beachy, I don’t even know how many Facebook pages we now have on the Beachy. It’s been an unbelievable success.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Is Beachy Air just a concept or is there an interesting market in the light trailer segment? What were the drives of the project?
Bernd Löher: The Beachy Air is more than a concept, because everything that you see on the Beachy Air is made on CNC machines, it is not a prototype. The reason why we launched the Beachy Air is e-mobility, we really wanted a lightweight caravan. In terms of design,it was a cooperation with Volkswagen to have a corresponding design to the ID buzz. If you look at the outer shell of the Beachy Air; it’s more like a monocoque than a normal caravan. We used new materials, production methods etc. Even if it looks a bit retro it’s high-tech inside and will use this as a base for future developments such as carry over projects for motorhomes and caravans. The weight is one of the biggest challenges we will have in the near future, especially when we talk about battery electric vehicles. The Beachy Air has all the advantages in terms of style, weight and functionality, so you can tow the Beachy Air with a relatively small car and with a standard driver‘s license.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What non-European markets are you present and how is it going in those countries?
Bernd Löher: We export to China, plus we are also selling to Japan and Korea. I would say that those markets are stable for the time being. Even if the main focus is of course on the european markets we are also looking into potentail export markets for Hobby, just to be prepared.

Aboutcamp BtoB: A new kind of customer is coming who is more demanding. Are the dealers, generally speaking, prepared to this kind of customer?
Bernd Löher: At the fair we noticed that people tend to choose more expensive vehicles, therefore the whole user experience has to match our customers‘ expectations. Since this is not a completely new development, I would say that our dealers are prepared for this new kind of customer.