The third Generation
Carbox experienced a lot of changes in the early 1980s. In 1978, the Carbox patent had expired and competitors entered the market. Carl Bellinger, now well into his sixties, began to withdraw from the company and his son Stefan began taking over the reins as Managing Director. The transition was gradual because after graduating from the Hermann-Böse-Gymnasium secondary school in 1980 and training to be a banker at the Bankhaus Neelmeyer, he joined the company directly in 1982. "I was thrown in at the deep end, and there were no swimming aids", he says.
When he started at Carbox, he knew: Carbox was a family-run company, and it was going to stay that way. "The first few years at Carbox were not always easy", he says. "My father allowed me to make my decisions, gave me responsibilities, but we didn't always sing from the same hymn sheet at the beginning." In 1987, the change of generation was finally completed: Stefan Bellinger became Managing Director and then Managing Partner at Carbox.
From banker to managing director of a company that manufactures plastic shells, Stefan Bellinger made a conscious decision for Carbox, although he had to forego other things in return as a result. In 1982, when his father was 67 years old, Stefan didn't just have to make a decision; it had to be made quickly. "I would have liked to have gone to university or gone abroad", he says. "But I wouldn't have been able to take over from my father, and I wouldn't have had the valuable years of working with him if I had."
Even when he assumed the role of Managing Director, the learning certainly did not come to an end. On the contrary. Regular further training remains very important to him right up until today. It goes without saying that he and his employees take part in further training at least once every year in order to learn as well as to share their experience with the other participants.
Stefan Bellinger is also an active networker: he volunteers in many clubs and associations; on the one hand due to his personal convictions, on the other because he wants to meet and discuss with business partners and entrepreneurs from other industries. This and his "learning-by-doing" approach have equipped Stefan Bellinger with the necessary expertise and confidence not only to manage the Carbox company, but also to give it an international footprint and make it competitive on the world market.
In the early 1980s, Carbox had nine employees, today it has 30. The percentage of products that are exported has risen from less than 20% to over 50% during the same period. The products go on the one hand to specialist retailers. Carbox is the exclusive supplier for large car accessories retailers and has many distribution partners across the globe. Overall it is several thousand retail customers, the majority in Germany and Europe.
On the other hand, Carbox produces directly for automobile manufacturers as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). Being a tier-1 supplier, Carbox delivers directly to companies like Audi, BMW, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Porsche, Suzuki, VW and many more besides, which offer Carbox products as their own, exclusive original accessories. "Manufacturers are our key accounts", says Stefan Bellinger. "We develop the products together with automobile manufacturers in order to find the optimal solution for their cars and customers."
"It is not about cheap solutions, it is instead about products that are "worth the money". I always say "worth the money" and try to make this clear to our customers. And there is always going to be someone that charges less than we do, but they definitely won't be better. Quality is when the customer comes back and not the product. We don't want to deliver our product just once; we want to establish partnerships with our customers that will exist for many, many years. And these customers are beginning to realise that a good product has a reasonable price and is worth the money, so to speak."
Stefan Bellinger always stuck with his step-by-step approach. That also applies for the expansion of the company at Achim. The production and warehousing capacity is continuously expanded, the very latest structural expansions were inaugurated in 2000. The production was also modernised over the past two decades.
The original production principles have remained, however: deep drawing of plastic sheets and films (thermoforming). The delivered plastic sheets are heated and then formed. Depending on the relevant product, the edges are either punched off or cut off. "Our very complex, fully-automatic series production is effective and therefore perfect for large numbers of product units in global sales but we also manufacture small production volumes with a lot of manual craftsmanship, right through to individual manufacturing. We can do both, exactly the way the customer or the product needs it. We are very customer-orientated and let the market decide", says Stefan Bellinger.
Carbox has also developed specialist manufacturing methods in order to, for example, use less material. That not only reduces the product price and weight; it also saves fuel consumption in the cars that feature Carbox products. The company policy is to use only fully recyclable plastics. Since 1987, customers can return all Carbox products in order for them to be recycled. "And in the anniversary year, we will install solar panels on the flat-roof of a production hall in Achim", says Stefan Bellinger. "In the countries where our international competitors are based, electricity is cheaper than in Germany; these solar panels will allow us to reduce this disadvantage somewhat, while we will also be doing something for our environment!"
Speed and flexibility, those are the magic words with which Carbox has not only established itself on the international market, but with which it has risen to the very top. "Our three core competencies are under one roof: design, production and sales", says the Carbox Managing Director. "That is why we can react quickly and implement customers' wishes immediately." That is why he made the conscious decision to continue to manufacture only tried and tested products. "We are sticking with what we can do best. That is our strength and that is why we are able to provide our customers with the best possible service and flexibility." And customers know and appreciate this. After all, being a tier-1 supplier, Carbox supplies directly to the automobile industry.
And all that as a medium-sized company. "We compete with major accessory manufacturers with large staff departments for the automobile industry. But the quality management and material testing requirements are the same, no matter how large the company."
Our international competitors have many supposed advantages. "Their taxes and wage costs are lower, there are less regulations and duties and the employment conditions are more favourable – such conditions would be a dream come true", says Stefan Bellinger. "We have too much baggage in Germany; in particular us manufacturers, we are put at a disadvantage compared to international competition. This means that we must really try harder and do more than the rest. We certainly won't be getting fat and sluggish. We do more than others, and that in all areas, every day, each and every employee."
And all have to pull together in one direction so that this works. In Stefan Bellinger's office is the grandfather clock which used to belong to his grandfather, the company founder Otto Vahland. Even after 100 years, the clock is still right (though always five minutes fast). "Our employees work just like the clockwork inside it. The gears engage absolutely exactly, and always at the right speed. But if only one small gear stands still, nothing works. That is something that all employees have to understand; each and every member of staff is important for and a part of our shared success."