His last name is the brand: Henning Strauss, CEO of Engelbert Strauss GmbH & Co. KG talks about how to become and remain a cult as a family business for workwear.
Interview by Rebecca Espenschied.
With Strauss, you have made the shift from a workwear brand to a cult brand for workwear. What strategy did you implement to achieve this, what is your recipe for success?
A brand can only be a cult brand if brand management in the company is high on the agenda. The brand must be tangible down to the last detail and must be experienced at all touchpoints. The more this is implemented, the more it is possible to charge the brand with meaning and a high quality of experience. Because in order to generate emotion, you have to create experiences – and give space to seemingly insignificant details. Put simply: brand programs emotions onto a logo. It activates all the senses – in strong images, tactile, auditory, online, offline. Of course, the corresponding product must also be present. Just nice packaging is not enough here. Brand management is perhaps the management tool of all. Brand paints a vision of the future that, ideally, is so appealing that the entire organization moves toward it. I like to talk about leadership by branding.
How can you imagine the implementation of a brand relaunch in a family-run company?
It is in the nature of family businesses that their members have a very personal relationship with the logo and brand claim. It is not uncommon for the logo to become the family crest – and thus exert a strong influence on the family itself. After all, one’s name stands for it, and thus also for the values of the company. Changing the appearance is therefore a very emotional issue. A relaunch is a joint decision at best. Our family is extremely consensual, which is why we come to a conclusion quickly on such issues. I can only recommend that, ideally, all family members should be involved in such a decision. After all, brands need consistency and common ground. Nevertheless, there must be a decision-maker who sets himself the task of implementing the new brand identity in all areas. In the case of Strauss, that was me.
Expanding the product range was certainly a big deal…what are the processes behind it?
It always depends on what opportunities present themselves in the market, what the customer demands or wants as a functional addition, for example. From a brand perspective, the aim is to create products that give the brand an additional emotional charge. One example is the expansion of the product range to include collections for children. To a certain extent, they are sympathy carriers and brand ambassadors. In the case of the cargo configurator, it deepens the interaction with Strauss. A meet and greet with the brand, so to speak. With us, the customer decides for himself on the look of his Strauss work trousers or how he wants to arrange the pockets. That has something of a personal relationship. And leads to an even stronger identification with the brand.
How do you implement the topic of design in the company?
At Strauss, brand has always been lived from the inside out. We have an in-house team that combines the most important creative disciplines. Together with the specialist departments and external partners, new products or other components of the brand work are then developed and produced. Constantly reinventing ourselves is part of our brand essence.
The topic of craftsmanship is always at the forefront of your products. How do you integrate that into your brand work?
Strauss work trousers with their pockets is the analog user interface for many. Here, the main thing is fitness for work. And the whole thing in a contemporary design. Our products are a hymn to craftsmanship. That’s why we take a loving approach to details: from the ceiling lighting in our stores, which is made of tools, to the option to design your own work trousers. Therein lies our belief in the industry, which we show appreciation for with our products.
You started with a catalog many years ago. What role does online marketing play for you today? What has changed?
We are one of Germany’s leading online players and appreciate the benefits of online marketing: strong segmentation of target groups, high interactivity, precise control of our advertising messages, targeted analysis of campaigns. Digital expertise is paramount at Strauss. Nevertheless, we have an almost romantic relationship with our print media and sense that many of our customers share this analog longing. For us, the catalog is a cult. And because our customers also see it that way, it is still favorite reading in workshops and screwdriver cellars – and today probably even at the coffee table and in children’s rooms.
“A brand can only be a cult brand if brand management in the company is high on the agenda.”
— Henning Strauss
Could it be interesting for you in the future to also sell your products via dealer platforms?
Sales via dealer platforms are not currently planned in our product calculation.
Mail order is not everything with you. There are also workwear stores…
We opened the first flagship store in 2010. The Strauss workwear stores are worlds of experience and our homage to the craft. Our appreciation for the industry is evident in every detail. In addition to online business, we will continue to present our products live and in color. Because craftsmanship is haptic, tangible, handy. We have supplemented this concept with pop-up stores in major European cities. We are currently working on a pop-up store for kids in Frankfurt’s My Zeil, which will open in September.
Being an entrepreneur also means bearing social responsibility: How do you integrate the topic of sustainability into your brand work?
Workwear as such is sustainable per se, as a key promise is its longevity. The environment in which our products are created is therefore more than significant for us. We express our conviction with special projects in Bangladesh, one of our most important production countries: with the CI Factory Chattogram, our design and development campus for workwear in the south of the country, the implementation of the world’s first chair for sustainability and textile innovation at Ahsanullah University in Dhaka or the construction of a school together with Don Bosco Mission. But we are also involved here on the ground. In northern Hesse, for example, we are protecting 1,000 giant trees. In our social report, we talk about our commitment every year, in a deliberately non-promotional way. This leads to a deeper understanding of our work and strengthens trust in our company.
In Germany you are known as THE brand for workwear. You are also very active abroad; Strauss can be described as an international brand with a clear conscience. Are there significant differences in brand work here?
True, the world of work differs from country to country. But we are always us. Strauss is Strauss – whether on the Main or the Mekong.
You are very active with your brand in the area of cooperations and sponsorships, both nationally and internationally. Tell us something about that…
With live sports events, we reach a very large target group in one fell swoop, because many of our customers are big sports fans. Over the years, Strauss has launched many exciting collaborations with great partners: UEFA and DFB, the Stuntmen’s Association in Hollywood, FC Bayern Munich, the men’s and women’s national soccer teams, Metallica, the Kansas City Chiefs, Nintendo or most recently the production crew on the set of Fast & Furious. We’ve been relying on strong images and the big screen in our commercial productions for about 15 years. Through my studies in Los Angeles, I have a personal connection and love for the film and entertainment industry.
So Strauss is always good for an amazing surprise – what can we look forward to next?
I would love to equip the crew of the mission to the red planet. (laughs)
Information about Strauss GmbH & Co. KG: https://www.engelbert-strauss.de/
German Brand Award
The German Brand Award, initiated by the German Design Council, honours successful brand management in Germany. It discovers, presents and awards unique brands and brand makers. This year, the jury awarded four honorary prizes, whose laureates we present. Steffen and Hennig Strauss, owners of Engelbert Strauss GmbH & Co. KG, are the “Brand Managers of the Year”.
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