A Swiss boatmaker using great design to stay afloat and how Hasselblad is staying relevant.
When touring Boesch Motorboote’s lakeside HQ in the village of Kilchberg, 15 minutes’ drive from Zürich, one of the first things you notice is the sense of history. The working marina, for example, is home to everything from Boesch’s 1970s St Tropez model built for leisurely cruises to the latest 2013 Sunski design for water-skiing.
Heritage is important here. Managing director Markus Boesch is the fourth generation to lead the family-owned firm and all 40 employees work in Kilchberg, in the same premises as when the company started in 1920 with a loan from the Sprüngli family. “We are a small-scale firm that combines craftsmanship with cutting-edge engineering to produce elegant wooden motorboats that can be passed down the generations,” he says.
The firm makes about 20 boats a year, from six to 10 metres in length and priced between CHF185,000 and CHF760,000 (€170,000 and €696,000). All are distinguishable by their west African mahogany hulls. “From the moment the strips of wood are moulded into the hull to the final coating of the boat, we do everything in-house,” says Urs Frei, head of development. “We are one of the only boatmakers to do that.”
Each boat takes up to 2,000 hours of painstaking work by hand. “You definitely have to take pride in precision to do this work,” says Walter Odermatt, head of hull construction. Clearly Boesch’s staff do. The average employee stays for 16 years, with most employees joining in their teens as apprentices. Frei has been at the company for 35 years, since he was 16.
But the challenges are clear. Labour costs in Switzerland are high, while the industry is dominated by conglomerates and sensitive to economic downturns. “It feels like playing football on an uphill field,” says Boesch (pictured).
Surviving has meant adapting. In response to Austria and Germany’s recent capping of petrol-fuelled boats, Boesch increased production of electric models. But the firm hasn’t lost sight of its past. “You have to maintain a strong identity and not lose yourself in the changes. For us this identity is very clear.”
Victor Hasselblad made cameras for the Swedish military in the 1940s by reverse engineering a German aerial camera. He soon made a name for himself as the best camera-builder in the country, a reputation that’s spread around the world and even landed the company on the moon: Neil Armstrong used a Hasselblad to take those photos we all know so well. We find out more from product manager Ove Bengtson.
What’s the secret to Hasselblad’s success?
We know photographers and their needs and we are passionate about photography – that’s when you get a good understanding of what a camera should be. The features need to be easy to use and the photographs need to come out with the best possible quality. That’s behind everything we do and people see the value in that.
How do you stay relevant?
More people than ever are taking photos but many use their mobile phones and that’s had a big impact on the high-end camera industry. We used to be top of the pyramid with cameras that cost as much as a small car. But since we launched the medium format X1D in 2016 and the X1D II this summer, each at a slightly lower price point, we’re now reaching a wider audience without skimping on quality. Both professional and amateur photographers use the X1Ds.
What’s coming up next?
As the camera-makers who enabled the capture of the iconic moon-landing photographs, we’re commemorating the event’s 50th anniversary with the 907X Special Edition camera, due to be shipped at the end of this year, and an anniversary merchandise collection.
Akira and Yumiko Natsume quit their city jobs and founded mountaineering brand Yamatomichi (Mountain and Road) in 2011, so they could spend less time in the office and more time on the trails. The couple design packs, sleeping mats and hiking clothes at their office-atelier-shop in Kamakura, a beach town southwest of Tokyo, and every item is made in Japan. “We make gear that we wanted for ourselves but couldn’t find,” says Akira.