If you go to a bar or pub almost anywhere in the world and look behind the counter, it’s highly likely that you will find a gadget that’s produced by a tiny company in the German town of Wuppertal, outside Düsseldorf. Here, surrounded by verdant hills, resides Schicker & Schäfer, maker of the Spülboy glass washer that sits in the sink of bars, allowing barmen to quickly clean everything from flutes to schooners without recourse to a dishwasher – or laborious washing by cloth and sponge. The machine connects to a tap and operates off water-pressure…
1960: Rolf Schicker invents a new glass-scrubber and names it – according to American-influenced zeitgeist – Spülboy.
1975: The company and brand falls into the hands of Schicker’s relatives, the Schäfer family, who start mass-production.
1999: The owner’s son, Jürgen Schäfer (left), and his Swedish wife, Helena, take over. They build a new headquarters and invest in new machinery.
2011: A new generation of Spülboys will launch, designed with Dutch company NPK.
Q&A: CEO Helena Sundblad-Schäfer
Why have you kept production in Germany?
Being in Wuppertal and keeping long-term employees is central toour tradition. Now we’re developing a new Spülboy and having this experience in-house is very beneficial.
You not only make the product but also the tools to manufacture it. Why is that important?
There are many regulations to follow if you fabricate a product for the food and drink market, so it has to be perfect. We want to control every step.
You only have 25 employees but you are selling to more than 50 countries. How can such a small company do this?
If we had more manpower and time the Spülboy could be even more widely distributed.
Where are your growth markets?
Asia and South America. Eastern Europe used to be good but now there are many cheap competitors.
Your product is perfect, you say. So why are you launching a new version?
To distinguish what we do from copycats. Also, it’s fun to invent something new together.