Marking the 50th anniversary of its concentration on the sports and outdoor sector, Schöffel has opened a new 600-square-meter design and product development center at its head office at Schwabmünchen, transforming a former storage space for raw materials to accommodate employees under one roof who were previously spread in different rooms. The team has just developed a new range of “outleisure” garments for everyday use.
An “innovation manager,” whose name has not yet been revealed, will join Schöffel in February to make the 210-year-old German company “10 percent more Silicon Valley,” says Peter Schöffel, chief executive of the company. Taking a more long-term view to identify new opportunities for product development, it wants to create more efficient processes and put out more innovative products to counteract the saturation the malaise that is currently plaguing a market that is not growing as much as before.
Fifty years ago, Hubert Schöffel, acting on his love of the mountains and a hunch that the outdoors was a market of the future, switched the focus of his namesake company. Back in 1967, the family-owned company made street clothing, but a new factory built that year enabled it to produce clothing for hiking and other mountain sports. Run by his 56-year-old son Peter, Schöffel is now one of the biggest names in the European outdoor industry, with a staff of about 200 employees and an annual turnover of around €100 million. About 35 percent of the turnover is made outside Germany. The largest foreign markets are Austria, Switzerland, the U.K. and France.
Under the management of Hubert Schöffel, who is now 87 years old, the company introduced many innovations in the early years, including an extension to the drab color palette that was used in outdoor clothing at the time to include the daring colors of red and intense blue.
A key milestone was a partnership with W.L. Gore & Associates for the commercial launch of Gore-Tex in the sports and outdoor sector. The revolutionary wind and waterproof material was invented in 1969 by Gore, but the weight and technical faults that appeared at the beginning unsettled both customers and manufacturers. It started to be used in tents and apparel in the U.S. only in 1976. Schöffel was among the first users of Gore-Tex in Europe. Convinced about the properties of the membrane, it took a punt on its future in 1981 by ordering machines to produce 24,000 jackets with the material – although it was yet to have one order on its books.
What then happened is part of industry folklore. The Sport Schuster store in Munich ordered 70 “Tibet” mountain anoraks from Schöffel. After Gore placed a full-page ad in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a local daily newspaper, there were only two jackets left by midday on the first day. Over the subsequent two years, Sport Schuster sold 4,000 jackets and helped kick-start a boom in outdoor and ski apparel, which Schöffel rode for many years as the largest supplier of Gore-Tex sportswear clothing.
Hubert Schöffel and his son Peter took the opportunity of the 50th anniversary celebrations a few weeks ago to reward 29 of their longest-standing employees for their contribution to the company's development. In turn, the company got several awards for innovation, sustainability and corporate responsibility.