New building, new technologies, new tasks. These are exciting times for STIHL – especially when it comes to development. In an interview, Wolfgang Zahn, Head of Development on the Executive Board, speaks about the limits of technology, the correct market strategy and the challenges that STIHL will face in the future.
“The limits that have been reached so far are just a snapshot”
STIHL products have highly developed technologies. Do you think that certain limits have been reached?
Wolfgang Zahn (W. Z.): The limits that have been reached so far are just a snapshot from a development point of view. Henry Ford probably also once thought that his Model T was the height of automotive engineering. Ten years ago, self-driving cars would not have been regarded as realistic, because it looked like the limits of assistance programmes in cars had been reached.
But thanks to digitalisation, industry 4.0 and the internet of things, huge possibilities are emerging – and we only understand their dimensions to a limited extent today. That is why we are nowhere near the end of our development. There are new, lighter materials, such as carbon. Twenty years ago that seemed like a utopia, but now it’s run-of-the-mill. Adding a fuel injection system to a cut-off machine was unaffordable a few years ago, but now it’s also a standard product.
Our developers have proven that they don’t stay still. They look to see what else there is, where development is going, how we can improve our products. I think we are just scratching the surface. There is plenty more to come.
“You press a button, and it starts up.”
Petrol-driven products are one of STIHL’s core competencies. What is the situation with cordless power products like?
W. Z.: Cordless technology appeared on our radar in 2006. At the time, we launched development quickly – something that I’m still grateful to the shareholders for. This technology is phenomenal. Even just starting the tool is brilliant: you press a button, and it starts up. You don’t need any more fuel, and the products are quieter.
Now there are batteries that are cheaper and can operate a hedge trimmer for three-quarters of an hour. All the technology is getting better and more affordable. We are winning over new customers with it, people who are using chainsaws for the first time. Others are making a conscious decision to switch to a cordless product. And if we manage to continue pushing costs down and making the tools lighter, it will be a sure-fire success.
“STIHL grows through its own strength, with new, innovative products.”
What kind of strategy do you have to increase STIHL’s market share when it comes to cordless products?
W. Z.: Our strategy is a classic and has proven its worth for STIHL. We make the best products, and then the customers come to us by themselves. STIHL comes from a professional background, and this has a certain appeal to private users, too.
Now we have to ensure that our prices for petrol-driven and cordless products are attractive. With the COMPACT Cordless Power System for garden owners, we are heading down that very path. We will definitely gain even more customers with the introduction of more new cordless products in early 2017 at a very competitive price.
When it comes to encouraging new customers to visit their local STIHL dealer, we are putting our faith in word-of-mouth and good advertising. Where price and technology are concerned, it can’t fail. Ideally we would like everyone on earth to have four STIHL products (laughs).
“I can imagine us learning from the example of the IT sector and forming agile teams.”
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for STIHL over the next few years?
W. Z.: The biggest question will be how we can make development faster without sacrificing quality. We must aim to master new areas more quickly and rethink our existing way of working. I can imagine us learning from the example of the IT sector and forming agile teams.
When it comes to robotic mowers, we are currently asking ourselves how we can make them even better. There is a special team looking very intensely into that. We are working on it and we will achieve it. That is why we will still be top of the class in five years and offering our customers what they want: top-quality premium products.