60 years ago
Start-up in a chicken coop
Spring 1958 in the small town of Morsbach in the Oberbergisch district of Germany: young Walter, second child of Berta and Peter Solbach, has no money, but a vision. Only a few months earlier, the 24-year-old had passed his master craftsman's examination in blacksmithing. He is already familiar with the industrial world through his work at Rheinelektra in Mühlheim, the building fitter's shop in Müngersdorf, the German Federal Railways and the metal construction company Josef Hermann in Steeg.
Walter wants to start a family with his wife Maria, née Hermann, and set up his own business. For 680 German Marks he buys his first equipment from his former employer: a two-piece forge and an anvil.
There was work enough,
but no money!
– Walter Solbach
The family business
The first steps
They are simple circumstances in which the "miracle of company foundation" is taking place. Its first address is the old, just 25 square metre henhouse behind the parents' home. Walter and Maria Solbach are devout people and their Christian-influenced view of humanity and their trust in God will not desert them, not even as entrepreneurs – nor will their pragmatism and Bergischer humour.
The young couple set to work together. Although Maria doesn´t pound the blacksmith´s hammer herself, she helps wherever she can; while simultaneously taking care of the children. The company's first customers are the farmers in the area: Walter Solbach repairs their agricultural machinery, shoes horses and oxen.
1958 – traditional blacksmith craftsmanship was the basis
The economic miracle
Walter Solbach seizes the opportunities
Ludwig Erhard, German Federal Minister of Economics, also has a vision. His paper "Prosperity for All" was published just one year before Walter Solbach's courageous step into self-employment. Poverty still prevails in Germany at this time. A few years after the war, Walter Solbach's customers often lack money for the most basic needs, but that is about to change. Germany experiences its legendary economic miracle.
The young company continues to grow with the general economic upswing. Already, after six months in business, the first building addition for the shoeing of the animals is necessary. At the same time, a kind of specialist store for agricultural equipment is established. Solbach manufactures railings, windows, doors and the steel construction for the Morsbach school. In addition, contract work for industry in the region helps the fledgling company.
The first success brainchild
Through these contract manufacturing orders, Walter Solbach quickly recognises the advantages of series production for his craft business. First of all, he processes larger quantities of pallets on which he stores glasses. At the end of the sixties, the company founder then has a brilliant idea. He wants to produce showcases in large quantities and secures a protective right to do so. An overhead hinge holds the door, which can thus be opened and closed easily. The modern, weatherproof showcase, made in Morsbach, replace wood with aluminium. It is based on a DIN grid for notices and features rubber grooved rear panels, or alternatively a metal rear wall to which magnets adhere.
The new showcases naturally also need to be sold. The Solbach couple therefore act like a professional advertising agency on their own behalf, designing their own brochures, buying addresses from church communities and local authorities. In the evening, Maria sorts the mailings by postcode at the dinner table at home; this makes postage cheaper. She writes to 25,000 parishes alone. Returns are meticulously recorded. "There were even love letters from interested parties," Maria Solbach remembers. Follow-up campaigns are started. Orders come in!
From small beginnings, WSM picks up speed with new developments.
The spectrum widens
Shelter and bicycle parking systems
Whenever the day-to-day running of the company allows, Walter and Maria visit exhibitions or trade fairs. They travel to the USA. There, in many areas, they are already much further along than here in Europe. Thanks to his new contacts, Walter constantly keeps abreast of the new developments. He knows what's going on in the world and is always looking for new inspiration.
Since 1969, bus stop shelters have been part of the craft enterprise's range of products. So no one is left standing in the rain – especially not in the cold and wet Eifel region, from where the first orders for bus shelters arrive.
Walter Solbach soon discovers the market for bicycle parking systems, which can also be roofed. His bicycle racks initially come from the Netherlands. They are sold together with a Dutch partner. It is not until ten years later that the first ecologically oriented party is founded in the west of Germany, which will also make environmentally friendly mobility by public transport and bicycle a topic of discussion.
With shelter and bicycle parking systems, Walter Solbach has again tracked down new trends and introduced them to the market successfully for the company.
1969 – the first shelter systems are manufactured at WSM
A lived slogan
Quality in metal
The fact that Walter Solbach comes from a craftsmanship background sharpens his eye for his company's products. Above all, the quality must be right. The company motto is therefore simple but self-assured: "Quality in metal".
This means high-quality raw material – which Solbach usually obtains from suppliers he knows well, mostly from nearby Siegerland – and perfect welding technology. In 1964, he therefore certifies himself as a welding specialist in Duisburg and in 1967 in Frankfurt as a specialist welding engineer. The fact that the products last so long even in wind and weather makes them popular with customers. In order to guarantee the high quality standards in the tough everyday production environment, the company is certified according to DIN ISO 9001 for the first time in 2000.
We were a small store.
That was our advantage.
– Walter Solbach