Having shrugged off world wars, countless cobbled climbs and some envious competition, the SKS of today has seemingly never had such a bright future. BikeBiz talks to export manager Robert Schatton about why dealer’s shelves should be sporting the iconic orange logo…
It was 1921 when Karl Scheffer-Klute opened a small curtain rail making business in Sundern, Germany. Passing the business on to son-in-law Wilhelm Blome just a few years later, it wasn’t until 1932 that SKS ‘went off the rails’ and turned its focus to bicycle pump manufacture, taking over a local company that had gone bankrupt. Though almost closed following the Second World War, SKS approaches its 95th birthday and is now represented in more than 50 countries worldwide, with Zyro exclusively handling UK sales.
Now the family-run business is in its fourth generation and is exceeding (in 2014) a €50million annual turnover – more than ever, SKS is investing in its future, with the company now boasting 69 huge injection molding machines, three times more than when they started, with a further two set to be added shortly. SKS’s total turnover figure doubles to more than €100 million when you add on non-bicycle related turnover from sister enterprises Blomus, synonymous with well-designed, stainless steel home accessories, and Schoett, aluminium die-casting products. When it comes to automotives, SKS’s plastic parts can be found in cars from Audi, Porsche, BMW and Bentley, all of whom rely on the firm’s precision engineering for small parts, generating up to 35 per cent of the turnover.
“Cycling is 65 per cent of the entire business, the largest piece of the pie,” explains export manager Robert Schatton. “The past five years have seen the greatest level of investment in machinery in our history and we’re now home to over 333 employees and 20 trainees, most of whom are from the local region. We’ve fiercely resisted outsourcing production and labour abroad, with 99 per cent of our goods made here, in and around Sundern. We’ve even supported sheltered workshops for the handicapped in the region who handle some of our product assembly. Rather than outsource to the Far East, we prefer to support the local economy wherever possible.”
Inside the Sundern HQ you’re met first by a world class showroom, behind which an enormous network of production lines is hard at work. “Many don’t realise that a simple mudguard or pump requires such an enormity of investment into design, testing, production and of course all of our unique moulds. All of these are made in-house and cost anything from €15,000 to as much as €120,000 for a complex part we make for the sanitary industry,” says plant manager Michaela Fleige.
“When we quote prices for moulds, that’s for one individual component making up the finished product, so expertise in design and engineering is essential. With an average mould cost of €60,000 per unit, we can’t afford to make mistakes.”
Deep inside the 36,000 square metre facility are rows upon rows of these moulds, some still in use, some stored. To create just the body for the
renewed Air X-Press track pump, a two-piece 2.5 ton steel mould is needed. The injection moulding process can apply up to 350 tonnes of pressure to create an imperfection-free product (Other industries can apply even more.) One such machine spotted on our tour was churning out 15,000 two compound pieces in a 121 hour cycle for their very popular X-Blade clip-on MTB mudguard.
The same enormous numbers from production apply in the testing too.
“Our testing is often excessive,” says Karsten Grabski, from R&D. “Nobody in the real world takes a pump up to 150 psi 50 or more times in a row.
“We ensure that when the pump reaches this high pressure, there is no leakage at all. Even with the heat generated our plastics survive comfortably.”
BikeBiz walked in on the testing of the revised Raceblade Long mudguard, which was being subjected to brutal vibration tests on a machine that tortured the bike to the tune of 825 x five-minute cycles simulated over various terrain and at differing speeds and with a 95kg rider weight. SKS is of the view that if a mudguard can survive British roads and British weather, they can survive anywhere. The result? The mudguard was absolutely perfect, whereas the bike’s tyre had worn dramatically, depositing a fine rubbery micro-film over the testing equipment.
So, the product’s robust, many dealers knew that, but what’s in store for 2016 onwards that provides a compelling reason to stock up?
“A combination of in-house production and buying in Euros has helped us keep prices steady at a time when the rest of the industry is struggling to do the same,” according to Schatton. “We’re thrilled to now have a single distributor in Zyro. That should allow dealers to maintain their margins and stop some of the pricing issues we had in the past. Zyro has just launched some key offers to stock up on pumps and mudguards in preparation for winter and these will suit all sizes of independent retailer.”
It’s not all aftermarket sales, however. SKS has long been a supplier to a strong portion of the world’s premier bicycle makers, with KTM, Focus, Giant, Cube and Brompton just a few using often customised SKS products.
“We offer OEM suited product from as little as 200 pieces,” says Schatton. “With that in mind we’re seeing good business from a variety of brands large and small on the OEM front and it now represents around 22 per cent of sales.” With Eurobike later this month, you’ll no doubt see many SKS goods without having realised. The firm does however invite people to its stand to check out some new goods. Among others, these launches will include three new colours for the Airboy pumps, an innovative tool-free clip-on front mudguard for road and gravel bikes and a specific fat bike mudguard set. A new website will also debut at the show in Friedrichshafen.