Wall / Berlin
From New York to Istanbul, cities are investing in street furniture that expresses their heritage and makes them look like well thought out brands. The clever bit? Thanks to companies such as Wall in Germany, they can have their loos, kiosks and bus shelters for free.
The businessman pulls up his collar as he stands joking with the kiosk vendor. The wind whips up and a chill sets in but they continue chatting, exchanging pleasantries over a counter piled high with confectionery and magazines. The man departs, waving his newspaper as he disappears into the city. “I love this. You get to know so many interesting people‚” says the vendor, her cigarette ash fluttering off into the grey evening.
At the other side of the square, a man dressed in blue dungarees and a baseball cap stops at a lone information kiosk. He whips out a brush and starts to sweep it, moving like a magician with a wand. Forty seconds later he’s finished, ready to hop back into his Volkswagen and head off to the next stop. “I have an agenda; I must visit 60 sites all over Berlin‚” he says.
These are scenes that would bring a smile to the face of Daniel Wall, the newly appointed 41-year-old chairman of Wall AG. It’s his company that manufactures, installs and maintains these products. The business started over 30 years ago, producing German bus shelters. It is now one of the leading outdoor-advertising cum street furniture companies in the world. In 2006, group sales increased by 10.3 per cent to €134.5m. Headquartered in Berlin, Wall has offices in five countries – the US, Turkey, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania – employing 600 people.
Wall currently manufactures 26 different lines and has a portfolio of 500 items, such as stand-alone advertising units, bus shelters, toilets and kiosks. It commissions architects to create bespoke street furniture ranges that punctuate a public space with unusual forms, drawing on a city’s heritage and culture. In this way, it becomes a visual motif for the city, helping to create its identity.
The products are installed and maintained at no cost to the city because revenue is generated by marketing the backlit advertising spaces designed as part of the street furniture. On average, for an entire major city, Wall invests €20m implementing the street furniture over a 15- to 25-year period, giving a 20 per cent cut of the advertising revenue back to the city’s authorities.
“We enhance and improve the city, putting order on the streets,” says Wall from his top-floor office with its stunning panoramic views over Berlin. “Our thinking is not to put ads on each corner but provide something lovely with a function, that the city could otherwise not afford‚” Dressed in a black suit and pink shirt, he is shy; his business strategies revealed through sometimes barely audible words.
Daniel took over the business from his father Hans Wall, who founded the company in 1976. Hans, 65, continues to sit on the board and remains hands-on with the running of the business but it is Daniel who is ushering in the new era at Wall – and his goals are ambitious. He wants to secure an annual double-digit turnover growth rate; expand into eastern European markets; triple advertising revenue by transferring all advertising posters to electronic screens within the next three to five years; roll out products across an additional 20 German cities and buy a stake in a German design studio to create Wall’s first in-house design division. (Thirty-five per cent of Wall is owned by JCDecaux, Europe’s largest outdoor advertising company.)
Wall manufactures coordinated lines of street furniture. Historically though, cities tended to adopt a piecemeal approach to urban planning, contracting out different street furniture products to a variety of companies.
This was the case with New York, according to the city’s former transport commissioner, Iris Weinshall. Now, however, for the first time in 20 years, its streets are getting a makeover. Over 3,300 new bus shelters, 330 newsstands and 20 public toilets, all designed by British architect Nicholas Grimshaw, are being installed as part of a 20-year contract with Spanish street furniture company Cemusa, an affiliate of the FCC Group (Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas). The scheme will generate €1.07bn in new revenue for the city over the term of the contract.
“New York is a walking city and we wanted to improve that experience; for design to become identified with the city to be as iconic as our yellow cabs or London’s telephone boxes,” says Weinshall.
Thousands of kilometres away, in Budapest, György Tóthfalusi, a member of the city’s committee of planning and cityscape protection, voices a similar sentiment. “Installing street furniture helps create an identity – it is part of the process in changing the face of our city. It can help with tourism and get us a good European city standard,” he says.
Wall pitched with JCDecaux and APG Affichage Holding to win the 25-year contract to run Budapest’s first street furniture programme. Around 30 automated toilets and 500 stand-alone back-lit advertising boards will be installed from Wall’s bestselling Helios range.
Created by architect Dr Arno Bonnani, the design is inspired by lakeside houses found in Zwolle in the Netherlands. Bonnani sketched the concept on a flight back to Berlin from this idyllic region. “I wanted to have a light, clean and informal design,” he says. Helios has been adapted for use in over 20 cities.
While around 69 per cent of Wall’s sales come from Germany, the company continually seeks to enter new markets, occasionally approaching mayors and municipal development divisions directly.
“It is essential to be the first to enter a region in order to dominate. You must get to know the city and understand how the culture works. This is the biggest challenge because all of our markets are different. You need local people on the ground to help because in the beginning it can be difficult,” says Wall. This pre-emptive strategy, which sometimes sees Wall setting up a satellite office between three and five years before the products are even installed, can reap dividends, as is the case with Istanbul.
Wall was among the first German outdoor street furniture companies to enter Turkey over 10 years ago. To date, it has installed around 1,300 products in Istanbul, creating €100m in advertising revenue. The city has just renewed the contract for another 10 years. “Istanbul is modernising, there is a real youth culture and the street-scape reflects that,” says Wall.
Looking to the future, Wall sees eastern Europe as a key growth area. In terms of global ad spend, central and eastern Europe is the fastest-growing international region. It is predicted to increase from €20.7bn in 2006 to over €30bn by 2009, in terms of global ad spend, ahead of western Europe, which is estimated to grow by €9.82bn. Last year, ahead of a pitch, Wall set up a subsidiary in Bucharest with a view to installing its furniture line, Campo, designed by Staubach + Kuckertz. Wall has also been operating in Bulgaria since 2001.
Asia is a more challenging environment and securing long-term contracts in China is complicated, says Wall. He does not, however, rule out the possibility of entering the region someday. As cities fight to upgrade their images, life on the street looks promising for Wall.
JCDecaux is credited with pioneering the concept of funding civic public services through advertising revenue. Jean-Claude Decaux founded the company in 1964. The first project was to supply bus shelters for the city of Lyon in France. JCDecaux is now the market leader in this competitive sector. It also specialises in transport and billboard advertising. The firm’s headquarters is in Paris but it has a network of global offices in 46 countries. In the first quarter of 2007, revenues increased by 7 per cent to reach €473.1m, up from €442.2m in the same period last year.