Growing with a sense of proportion: The WSM brand is created

We were a small store. That was our advantage. We were always able to keep track of our costs and I only ever did what I could. Slowly, slowly we have grown. Every year it got better. If it stayed that way, then we were satisfied," Walter Solbach recounts cheerfully.

"A tough business it was"

"People always had to have work," adds his wife Maria. The people, that is for a long time five to six employees. They work a lot and well, enjoy life, even together with the boss. If there is more work to be done, new colleagues are hired and trained for the company. Privately, the entrepreneurial couple lives frugally. What is left over is invested, including in warehousing. This allows Solbach to deliver quickly and on time. Customers' payment difficulties are bridged with the company's own overdraft facility. "A tough business it was," he recalls. Taking on outside capital was out of the question for him at the time. Autonomy and independence are important to him.

In 1973, steel construction is relocated to a much larger building in Waldbröl. In the same year, Solbach founded WSM - Walter Solbach Metallbau GmbH. The managing directors are Walter Solbach and Leopold Wendler. Soon, WSM will be able to sell its first products throughout Germany, also through renowned trading houses. The turnover in 1973 amounts to 1.23 million D-Mark. This means that it has increased a hundredfold since the company was founded!

Continuous expansion: room systems and international locations

In 1974, the legendary R-House saw the light of day. The room system is versatile and unmistakably distinctive thanks to its rounded corners. Responsible for this are the rubber bonds between the metal components, which are thus much easier to join together. Walter Solbach succeeds in creating a design classic that is often copied. Transportable rooms for foremen's offices, control rooms, reception facilities and porter's cabins are created. Mobile room systems for indoor and outdoor use, manufactured on a modular basis, go into series production for the first time in 1980.

But there is more going on in Waldbröl: In 1986, WSM's first administration building is built. Six years later, the first high-bay storage system is installed, which significantly reduces product delivery times. Room and Shelter systems are assembled in a new 6,000 square meter hall.

The year 1989 brings the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many German companies are drawn to the East, to new markets and comparatively low labor costs - a trend that is hard to escape due to the competitive situation. WSM has been manufacturing particularly labor-intensive assemblies in the small Czech town of Březnice since 1997.

When you clad a bus shelter all around,
Windows and doors put in,
you get a room system.

- Walter Solbach

1974 - from the demand for closed roofings the product range "modular room systems" develops

Always active: Even in retirement

In 2017, Walter Solbach receives the Diamond Master Craftsman's Certificate from the Cologne Chamber of Crafts. One year later, WSM celebrates its 60th anniversary. For Maria and Walter Solbach, an occasion to look back with great pride on an amazing life's work at an advanced age.

The founder, who is a lifelong photographer, has created a park next to the company's property in Waldbröl. There you will find steles that he had carved from wood. Sometimes you still meet him on the company premises.

The generation change: preserving values, open to innovation

The generational change, a challenge for every family business, has been successful at WSM. Peter Solbach and Werner Schenk take over as managing directors. Peter Solbach takes care of production, Werner Schenk of sales, Elisabeth Schenk and Eva Solbach of human resources. Strategic decisions are made jointly. WSM continues to pursue its goal of medium- and long-term success.

WSM always has its finger on the pulse. Like its founders, the company focuses on new ideas, recognizes trends, modernizes itself. If a company grows by its own efforts and not by acquiring others, this is referred to as "organic growth". This is exactly what WSM lives. The foundation is formed by the four business units that emerged from Walter Solbach's ideas: Mobile room systems, Shelter systems, Bicycle parking systems and Information systems.

With continuity into the future: WSM was and remains a family-run company.

Everything from a single source: WSM becomes an integrated solution provider

In its 60th anniversary year 2018, WSM is an international metal systems construction company, organized as an international group of companies, with approximately 33 million euros of consolidated sales per year (2019). Six decades and 25 square meters of operating space have become 25,400 square meters of office, production and warehouse space in Waldbröl and Březnice - over 1,000 times more than when the company was founded! WSM has sales companies in Salzburg and south of London. Well-known customers rely on WSM, including Audi, Ford, Rewe, Abus, the trade fairs in Köln and Düsseldorf, Linde, BASF, Lufthansa and Procter & Gamble. The new Aldi pylons, visible from afar at over 1,400 locations, are from WSM.

Customers include transport companies, municipalities, project developers and private clients. New York's commuter rail also orders Notice boards for its stations from WSM. Strong-selling series products make the company an attractive partner for catalog and mail order companies. In 2019, about 25,100 orders are on the books, of which about one-third will be delivered via 24-hour shipping service. The offer includes over 2,100 different items. Our own fleet with truck-mounted cranes and in-house fitters takes care of the delivery and assembly of room systems and roofing. The industrial area Waldbröl, where WSM was the first company to settle, supports the growth through its fast highway connection.

The recipe for success: Strategically opening up new markets

It is unlikely that such success is due to chance or fortunate circumstances. So what's behind WSM's immense growth? "A company needs not only good products, but also a strategy and a plan," explains Peter Solbach. "You can't live in the day and wait to see what tomorrow brings. After all, we know what products we have, and we have learned to place them in the market again and again through further development. Zeitgeist and product, that has to come together. We have become better and better at this over the years," adds Werner Schenk.

Further developments sometimes also begin with a new look at what already exists: "We called our canopies bus shelters for far too long," Schenk recounts. "Then, when the legal smoking bans also came to Germany in 2005, we quickly realized that we could also turn the bus shelters into smoking rooms by replacing the previous sheet metal cladding with glass, printing a smoking room inscription or symbol, installing an ashtray, and that was it. It was the right product at the right time for a new market."

We make useful things for people.
- Peter Solbach

The compass: Remain independent

Products that fit the market and comprehensive service - from consulting to delivery - form the basis. A clear ethical compass provides orientation in everyday business.

Like Walter Solbach, the second-generation management team also attaches great importance to independence. Because you don't want to be talked into it by anyone, neither by investors, nor by banks, suppliers or major customers. By the way, this is definitely not a hollow phrase: A business partner with whom WSM makes almost a quarter of its sales at the time set unacceptable conditions for WSM in 2007. Of course, the decision is not easy, but WSM remains true to its line and refrains from further cooperation. Years later, the business relationship revived and is now better than ever. Independence has proven its worth.

Fairness in dealing with business partners and employees: WSM management also attaches great importance to this. "We want to do business with our partners, not at their expense," Werner Schenk emphasizes. The rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" cannot be expressed in figures and KPIs. But it creates mutual trust and that always pays off in the end. This is also a heritage that is lived.

Independence from banks, suppliers and
Key accounts - that's something like our mantra.
- Werner Schenk

Environmental protection: A benefit for nature, employees and customers

"Creation," as Werner Schenk says with Christian conviction, "we must preserve." For the medium-sized company, this means using natural resources sparingly and burdening the environment as little as possible.

When a larger painting hall goes into operation in 2011, WSM switches to a new process. From now on, dry ice is used instead of solvents for cleaning. This is environmentally friendly, as hardly any harmful residues are produced. At the same time, the cleaning result improves. High-solids coatings with a low solvent content are used - a benefit for the environment and the employees in the paint shop. Solvent residues and energy are largely recovered.

This is also an advantage for the customers: Through a homogeneously coordinated paint structure, WSM achieves a better result than with the otherwise usual simple powder coating. Quality in metal also means quality in painting and corrosion protection. Because what is better painted, simply lasts longer.

Careful workmanship and long durability - this also benefits those for whom WSM products are ultimately made. "When you look at what we offer, you realize that we make useful things for people who use them every day," Peter Solbach knows. This applies to partition walls and machine enclosures, meeting rooms and master craftsmen's offices that protect employees from noise and other hazards, as well as to schoolchildren waiting for the bus or cyclists who want to park their expensive bicycle or e-bike as safely as possible.

Pointing the way forward: new approaches to sales

"We can inject more dynamism into our business with dealers precisely when we know what makes their end customers tick. We are therefore happy to work intensively with those responsible for marketing, online media and sales," explains Werner Schenk.

Online marketing has become an important tool for WSM. The website not only presents the company and its products, but also offers useful information from the product worlds. In order to make WSM and its products findable on the Internet, the search engines of Google, Bing & Co. must be constantly re-fed. On the web, most customers are found through attractive, target group-oriented content, written in a journalistic manner. The best example of this is WSM's e-book, "Germany on the Saddle. Facts and Trends in Cycling." It is very well received by all those involved in promoting bicycle mobility. Classic advertising is less in demand.

Trade shows are also an excellent way to make initial contacts with buyers and planners from industry and the public sector. WSM is therefore regularly represented with its own stands at international trade fairs.