26 July 2018
26 July 2018, Comments Comments Off on Harald Striewski – Hobby
Harald Striewski - Hobby

Mister Caravan

We interviewed the owner and founder of Hobby Wohnwagenwerk, the engineer, Harald Striewski, who, at the age of 81, is still at the helm of his company. He has made Hobby the biggest manufacturer of caravans in Europe and a pioneer in the RV industry.

Words Antonio Mazzucchelli

We met Harald Striewski during the press launch of the new 2019 Hobby motorhomes and caravans. He is one of the last entrepreneurs in this sector who has founded a company and is still the owner and helmsman. As a young engineer, Harald Striewski built his first caravan in his garage after work, and then founded the company, Hobby, in Fockbek, Germany with his wife, Inge, on 1 April 1967. Now, 51 years later, this family business has become the largest employer in Schleswig-Holstein, with 1,200 employees, and is the number one in Europe for the production of caravans. Hobby has produced over 600,000 caravans and, together with its Fendt brand, produces approximately 22,000 caravans per annum. In 2018, Hobby’s production reached 12,000 caravans and 2000 motorhomes, with a turnover of €275m, expected to be 10 per cent more than 2017, made up of €190m generated by caravans and €85m by motorhomes. Hobby has one caravan factory and one motorhome factory covering an area of 260,000 m2. In addition to the Hobby Wohnwagenwerk, the Group also includes: Fendt-Caravan GmbH in Mertingen (Bavaria, Germany); Rendsburger Feuerverzinkerei (Rendsburg, Germany); Formlight GmbH, Warburg (NRW, Germany).

Aboutcamp BtoB: 50 years have passed since Hobby was founded: what inspired you to start this business and how did it start?
Harald Striewski: I saw a caravan at a campsite in Denmark. It was very simply equipped and I thought, I can do better. So I built the first caravan. I then sold it and then built the next one. Actually, that caravan should have been for me, but it was sold immediately. I had a lot of demand right from the beginning, but continued to work in my profession as a shipbuilding engineer. When I had so many orders that I could not do them all in my spare-time, I asked my boss for a year’s unpaid leave. I wanted to return to the shipyard as a shipbuilder, but I never went back after I founded my company, Hobby. That’s how the company was founded, out of a hobby.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What particular difficulties have you faced over the years and what has led you to move on?
Harald Striewski: If you have been in business for as long as I have for over 50 years, there are always ups and downs. But I can proudly say today that I’ve never made any losses. I have always been able to work in such a way that I have made profits. I had to dismiss people once, which was very difficult for me. I survived this phase well. The low point was a misfortune, in which a person died in a Hobby caravan. Even though it was not my fault, it hit me a lot. In these times, the vehicles did not have a hot air heating system. At the customer’s request, the dealer wanted to retro-fit a hot air system. For this he had to dismount the exhaust stack, otherwise you would not get to the right place. The mechanic forgot to fit the exhaust stack again. This allowed toxic fumes to penetrate the caravan, causing a person to die. I’ve already built more than 550,000 caravans, but for me that was the worst thing in my career.

Aboutcamp BtoB: If we say Hobby, we immediately think ‘caravan’: why have your motorhomes been almost in the background for so many years, and how do you see the caravan-motorhome relationship for Hobby in the future?
Harald Striewski: I am particuarly strong in the caravan division. As you know, I am the market leader, which is why I have a large dealer network. In the motorhomes division, I’m rather small manufacturer and do not have the large product portfolio like others, for example, the Hymer Group. If I build 2,000 or 2,500 motorhomes as a single brand, other manufacturers build 20,000 vehicles in their brand alliance. Our vehicles are popular, especially in the class of low profiles, but, unfortunately, I only have a small network of pure motorhome dealers. If a caravan dealer has a forecourt full of caravans and there are only a few RVs next to them, this usually does not work.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How do you see the future, agreed that sales are simply outstanding actually in Germany?
Harald Striewski: I do not think the market will continue to grow as it did last year. There has been a huge growth but that will not be the case this year. The industry expects growth of three to four per cent, based on the current high level, but it will probably continue to equalize. But I think that we can keep ourselves at a high level.

Aboutcamp BtoB: All manufacturers today aim to the van segment: is it just temporary fashion or this trend is going to last?
Harald Striewski: The development in the van sector will continue and I estimate that the number of vans will continue to increase. You can drive into the city with the vehicles and they are practical as a second car and recreational vehicle. Therefore, vans have clearly a future – also at Hobby.

Aboutcamp BtoB: In the global market, will China and other non-European countries may be an opportunity?
Harald Striewski: For me, an expansion in America is definitely out of the question. Concerning other countries, such as China, Korea, Japan and Chile, we have been supplying these and other countries for years. I’m more worried that China will continue to build more vehicles.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Talking about your company, is there a dream you haven’t been able to realize?
Harald Striewski: When my wife was alive, we wanted a very nice retirement. Unfortunately, this wish did not come true because my wife passed away almost two years ago. I mourned a lot, but now I have the courage and desire to live again. We had a common dream: In Mallorca, we have built a beautiful house, and we wanted to spend our retirement there together. The death of my wife has changed everything. I like to go cruising and I like being in Mallorca. However, I also like being in the company because that’s where my people are. That makes me feel good and that’s my life right now.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Is it better outsourcing or in-house production depth?
Harald Striewski: I am the company with the greatest in-house production depth. That means I manufacture everything myself. This also applies to the chassis, for this I even have its own hot dip galvanizing. I make upholstery and curtains in my own sewing workshop. I also have my own furniture factory, where we make all the furniture ourselves. Although the Kerkoc family are very good friends of mine, we are also competitors. Of course, the greatest vertical range of manufacture has advantages and disadvantages. I have been able to create a lot of jobs in my home region. There is no industry here in this region and so everybody is very grateful that we employ so many people. Of course it also has disadvantages. If there is a wage increase, then it is available to all employees and all areas. If you have many suppliers, thatís their problem. Now I have to take over the costs of the wage increases completely myself. A big advantage is that I am very flexible and can react immediately with my production.

Aboutcamp BtoB: And what about the design?
Harald Striewski: I have no designers and no external design office. I do the development myself and I bring the ideas I have into the company. That has always been our strength. In the future, my successors will surely hire a design company. So far, I always did that myself and was always able to accommodate that well.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Your picture with Angela Merkel has been seen all over the world. How was this experience?
Harald Striewski: She knows my business. It was not the first but the second time with me. She knows who I am and what I did. She has not only lauded the vehicles but, above all me as a human being. Mrs. Merkel likes to come to us, but not only her. Even the Prime Minister from Schleswig-Holstein comes to me. I have breakfast together with the current Prime Minister Daniel G¸nther. Peter Harry Carstensen used to come to me for breakfast. I have a good relationship with our ministers in Schleswig-Holstein. Peter Harry Carstensen, the predecessor of Daniel Gunther, celebrated his 60th birthday with me in the hall, even though I do not run a restaurant. Angela Merkel, who also liked to come, was invited to the event. Through this birthday visit she got to know not only me but also the work. The CDU once held its congress with me. I cleared a hall and decorated it nicely.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Policies like big acquisitions and the concentration of several brands in a few industrial groups seem not to have affected Hobby that much, compared to other European players.
Harald Striewski: Small companies and groups have no chance of survival. This is only possible in a large group. In the past there were over 70 manufacturers in Germany who built caravans. Today there are only three left: the Erwin Hymer Group, the Knaus Group and the Hobby Group. You have no chance of survival as a small manufacturer. You just do not shop as well as in the group. We buy material for completely different conditions and have so much better chances.