LAMELLO: A JOURNEY BEHIND THE SCENES
Last spring Lamello and Colonial Saw issued the Lamello Dealer
Challenge, an unprecedented contest to grow Lamello and the Zeta P2
markets in the United States and reward top-selling dealers. The prize:
an all-expense paid trip to Switzerland to tour the Lamello factory,
participate in hands-on demonstrations and enjoy Switzerland’s natural
Six dealers rose to the occasion and found themselves on a transatlantic
flight this April:
• Larry Robarge of MacMurray Pacific in San Francisco, California, and
his wife Mimi
• Keith Varley of Häfele USA in Salt Lake City, Utah, and his wife Lisa
• Tara Reardon of Reardon Custom Tooling in Florida and her husband
• Jonathan Nichols of Häfele USA in Nashville, TN, and his wife Amber
• Elaine Koelmel of Select Machinery, Inc., in Sarasota, Florida
• Joel Robertson of K&L Sales in Hartland, WI, and his wife Peggy
Joining the trip were Alex Mohr (translator extraordinaire) and Dan
Dempsy (the new guy) of Colonial Saw. During the trip several toasts
were made to Chris Hofmann (the rock) of Colonial Saw who truly
championed the contest and stayed behind to hold down the fort.
“I think this trip facilitated the creation of lifelong Lamello fans,” Mohr
said. “A trip like this has never been done before and it was a huge
success that we will build on. We’re creating the best educated dealers
out there, providing a level of understanding they didn’t previously
Similar sentiments were shared from Lamello headquarters by Alex
Leuenberger, Marketing Communications Coordinator. “It was a
success in every aspect. Sharing experiences and success stories offered
new, inspiring insights. In addition, visitors can feel the passion and
professionalism with which our products are made, strengthening the
positive relationship. Experience has proven that people who visit our
company leave with a different point of view.”
THURSDAY, APRIL 5
Lamello’s Marco Ress, Field Sales Manager and first-class guestshepherd,
greeted the group at the airport. For the next five
days, he was our constant guide, driver, translator and teacher.
He went overboard to ensure everyone was engaged and happy,
and was pleased to do so.
“You never know what’s going to happen with group dynamics,”
Mohr said, “but from the very first moment at the airport there
was a positive connection, not a competitive feeling. People
were excited to get to know each other and their businesses.
That grew throughout the trip.”
Though tired from traveling, the trip from the airport was
punctuated by Mimi’s exclamations over the construction cranes
as we passed through beautiful countryside. Safe to say we’ll
never look at cranes the same.
Arriving at the luxury Hotel Bubendorf, we were welcomed in
our rooms with a personal note and chocolate Lamello biscuits.
After unpacking and resetting our internal clocks, the group
got to know each other over drinks and dinner at the hotel’s
Michelin award-winning Osteria TRE restaurant, a multi-course
gourmet experience that left us exclaiming, sated, and ready
FRIDAY, APRIL 6
The day had a great start with a presentation from Lamello’s Raffael
Gomez, Sales Manager, who welcomed the 2018 U.S. champions and
set the tone for an inspiring exchange of ideas about markets and sales.
“We want to surprise and inspire people,” he said. Mission accomplished
on both fronts.
He gave a brief rundown of the company’s 80-year history and then the
group was off for a tour of the factory with Marco, covering every step
from beech tree to biscuit. Beech is used because of its local availability,
relatively fast growth and ability to absorb glue.
Marco started outside at a pile of two-foot diameter tree trunks waiting
to be made into biscuits and asked us to think throughout the tour
of how much of the tree would eventually become biscuits. He also
explained their no-waste strategies, where every splinter of the tree is
used for something, whether scraps for wood stove heating or saw dust
for animal bedding. Though it fits with today’s environmental trends,
Lamello has always been expert at not wasting resources since Hermann
Steiner founded his joinery in 1944 – it’s just in the company DNA. By
using the scrap for heat, Lamello saves 250-300 tons of oil each year.
As conveyor belts moved the tree trunks along the production line, they
were cut into sticks and rejects were shunted aside. The “Cabinet of
Horrors” showed how trees could grow around rocks or other debris
(or in the past bullets from the army practice fields) and damage the
saws. The sticks were cut into thinner slices, out of which biscuits were
stamped with the trademark crosshatch. The stamping machine is
checked for quality every hour to ensure each biscuit is within 1/10 mm
of tolerance. As a final quality test, each biscuit passes through a laser
to test its shape before being shot into the shipping box. Rejects again
are set aside to use for heat.
“It was an extraordinary experience to watch a huge beech log
transformed step by step in to a small #20 Lamello Joining Plate, like
showing a child that milk actually comes from cows and how,” Elaine
The tour moved on to the area where the P-system connectors are
manufactured, a blend of robotic and hand manufacturing, then upstairs
to see how the machines such as the Zeta are created. Each is assembled
by hand and every single part of the machine is quality checked at every
step, a large reason the machines are so precise and long-lasting.
“Seeing how the equipment was made and the craftsmanship and pride
that goes into every piece of machinery was remarkable. I was most
impressed with the amount of belief that every single person has in their
product,” Joel said.
One example Marco pointed out were the metal pieces cut by CNC that
are hand cleaned and checked to ensure they are within a hundredth of
a millimeter tolerance. When fully assembled, each machine is tested by
an experienced hand to ensure the motor vibration is just right, if not it
gets recalibrated. Then it’s tested by a master craftsman to ensure each
cut is precisely the same size and final adjustments are made before the
base plate is attached.
“I loved seeing the old-timer assembling the Zeta in the same
room with the younger guys, sharing experience,” Larry said.
“What impressed me most about the tour was Raffael, Marco
and Alex. They were extremely wise and humble, like magnets –
they made you want to be part of their team. In his interactions
with the people in the plant, Marco seemed to live out what
Susanne [Affolter, CEO] expressed; that everyone’s function is
After the tour, the group’s overall impression was of a wellorganized,
super-efficient, ultra-clean factory run by craftsmen
who are invested in taking care of the details. “I was most
impressed with the way they were carefully measuring variances
and tolerances in the tools during the assembly process,” Keith
Jonathan was similarly impressed. “Lamello is a legendary
manufacturer that has a tremendous amount of history under
their belt and it shows within their state of the art facility.
They have a very fine-tuned, systematic approach to their
manufacturing that has been perfected through the years and
it shows. They embody the perception of Swiss manufacturing
approach: meticulous, precise, forward thinking, innovative,
tested and proven. I was impressed with their processing of
material start to finish: precision, hand-assembled and every
piece of equipment bench tested. I even really appreciated the
relaxed environment and uniform standards.”
Tara agreed. “Before the trip we were not aware of the intricate
hands on attention during the assembly of the product nor the
fact Lamello will stand behind their products 100%. During
the tour, certain words kept popping in our heads. Dedication
from many of the employees that have been there over 10 years
and some over three decades. Tradition, while using the same
precise techniques that have defined Lamello’s excellence. And
Quality, with the precise measurements and materials that are
At the end of the tour, Marco asked for guesses to his original
question. Most answers ranged from 50 to 80 percent of the
tree used for biscuits. All were surprised by the truth: 20-30
percent of each tree becomes a biscuit. The rest is reused and
The group then split up: Tara, Eric, Elaine, Mimi, Lisa and Amber
left for a castle tour and luncheon. Jonathan, Larry, Joel, Keith
and Dan stayed at Lamello for some classroom work and lunch
in the immaculate Lamello cafeteria, followed by a hands-on
practicum, demonstration and sharing.
Third-generation owner and Managing Director Susan Affolter
stopped by to greet the dealers and thank them for all their hard
work, and impressed the dealers with her genuine approach.
As the afternoon moved forward, the dealers exchanged ideas
and sales techniques, and created new sales arguments they can
use in the future in an organic and free-flowing conversation.
Jonathan shared a key to sales: “It’s about identifying
opportunity. Show the machine’s benefits and illustrate how it
can save the customer time and effort.”
Joel agreed. “If you’ve got a builder working on a high-rise
condo project in Chicago and you can save him hassles with
union elevator operators with a flat-packed product, that’s a
All the dealers agreed, their demo block is a useful hook but
doesn’t tell the whole story. Customers want to see and feel
the magic for themselves with a demo machine for a few days.
“Once they get their hands on the machine, they find a way to
justify the cost,” Jonathan said.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent on a hands-on
practicum and learning everything the machines and connectors
can do. Curious and engaged, the questions flew along with the
time. “The hands-on training is invaluable. I’d rather learn and
make a mistake here than in front of a customer,” Larry said.
“I had a feeling this was a good company, but seeing with my
own eyes, hearing with my own ears…doubting Thomas comes
to mind. “I will not believe until I put my hands on his wounds.”
There is no room for doubt now.
The hands-on time was much appreciated. “We should do more
of these, it’s very helpful. I now have a better idea why the tools
cost so much and are such a good quality,” Keith said.
“The Lamello joinery system (old and new) is innovative and
a must have for any woodworker. It’s not a gimmick, it’s
another approach to a problem commonly encountered by
woodworkers of any facet. This trip did galvanize in my mind
the justification for an expensive tool. I can say now more than
ever I am proud to sell this product and can easily stand behind
its recommendation…and will be more excited to use it for my
own personal use too,” Jonathan added.
Friday evening’s highlight was a walking sightseeing tour
through Basel past beautiful churches, amazing architecture and
serene plazas. Basel is located on the Rhine where the Swiss,
French and German borders meet and was often the site of
peace negotiations and other international meetings. To get to
dinner, we took a ride on a cable ferry which uses the reaction
of the river’s current against a fixed tether on an overhead cable
to propel the vessel across the water. Another nod to Swiss
efficiency, this form of transportation is completely hydraulically
driven, requiring no outside energy source.
Once across, we all thoroughly enjoyed a gourmet dinner at the
Cordon Bleu specialists, Gifthüttli, in the heart of the historical
part of Basel that is closed to traffic. A highly renowned a-lacarte
restaurant, it combined delicious cuisine with a welcoming
atmosphere and helpful staff, though Raffael and Marco were
awesome translators too. Conversation buzzed about all we had
seen and learned that day, clearly everyone’s brain was full with
“It was wonderful to explore the city and experience the boat
ride and authentic Cordon Bleu,” Peggy said. “Marco and
Rafael were constantly ribbing one another about their various
hometowns and yet they were both so proud and honored to
share them with us.”
SATURDAY APRIL 7
The group was up and out early for a trip to Vitznau and the Rigi, a 1798
meter altitude peak. The van trip gave us our first glimpse of the Alps
and the lakes complete with beautiful reflections. With so much to see it
was hard to decide which way to look, though Tara’s “Oh gosh, look!”
exclamations alerted us to something new to see.
In Vitznau right on the shores of Lake Lucerne, we boarded the Rigi
Kulm cogwheel railway, which opened in 1871 and was Europe’s first
mountain railway. Marco had secured an entire car just for Lamello and
we took full advantage, bouncing from window to window for the best
view. In the historic and beautifully restored open-air carriages dating
from 1871 to 1911, we rode to the summit with stops for breathtaking
views as the rail man delivered mail for the people who lived nestled
into the mountainside. We could not have asked for better weather,
clearer skies or more exuberant company.
A short climb to the top and observatory did not disappoint. At 1798
meters (5898 feet), Rigi Kulm is the highest peak of Mount Rigi which
treated us to a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view. From there we
could see 13 lakes including Lucerne and Zug, and what the Swiss called
a “Sea of Peaks.” It truly felt like we were on a movie set. After drinking
in the view and at least one unauthorized climb up the communications
tower (ahem, Joel), we began our descent by foot. Marco’s and Raffael’s
patience and guidance made it easier. Along the way laughs could be
heard echoing down the valley as some of us slipped in our inappropriate
footwear and random snowball fights broke out as we enjoyed the warm
sun and camaraderie.
Approximately a quarter of the way down the mountain at 1450 meters,
our next destination came into view like a desert mirage. The Hotel Alpina
rose from the Rigi Kaltbad hillside, shimmering in the sun bouncing off
the snow. An al fresco lunch on the terrace was framed by a spectacular
view across the Alps and down to Lake Lucern. Of course, a sip or two of
the local beer was in order and never has a beer tasted so good as after
that climb. Tired and full we boarded the cog railway down to Vitznau
where Keith and Lisa treated us to Swiss chocolate covered cookies.
Next stop was Brunnen for a quick run to the Swiss Army knife store and
museum for souvenirs, because hey, you’re in Switzerland! There were
knives with every tool for every occasion, outdoor gear, and a Victorinox
fragrance! Peggy even found a pink knife for her daughter. Fun Fact:
founded in 1884 by Karl Elsener I, he named the company after his
mother, Victoria. In 1921, the invention of stainless steel was a highly
significant development for the industry. With “Inox” the international
term for stainless steel, the combination of the two words “Victoria” and
“Inox” became the name of the company and brand today – Victorinox.
Boarding the van, many of us thought we were headed back to the hotel
after a full day but Marco and Raffael had another great surprise in store
for us: a stop in Zug for a terrific tour of the historic trading port on Lac
Zug from Heather. The name Zug literally means “to pull fish out of the
water,” and archaeologists have dated the first pile dwellings here to
6000 years ago. The town’s clock tower (which first served as a prison
cell for drunks) dominated the skyline, surrounded by a wall built in the
1200s to control access to the market and levy taxes. The bell, installed
in 1291, still rings. In 1574, four clocks were installed, all revolving at
different speeds to measure the time, the day of the week, the zodiac,
and the moon phase. It was the status symbol for the age and incredible
feat of Swiss time technology for the 1500s.
After a climb up 90 steps to the top of the clock tower for yet another
spectacular view, we walked around town to take in the architecture and
artful public fountains. Surprising to the U.S. visitors, the fountain water
was safe to drink, though some preferred a playful splash to others
The town showed us the beauty and danger of lakefront life. Lake
Zug is the 10th largest lake in Switzerland and one of the earliest fish
hatcheries but is not without heartache. In 1435 a street built on the
shore fell into the lake, taking 26 houses with it. Later a promenade was
built on the shore but the pilings didn’t go deep enough into the lime
bog. Sand shifted over time and in 1887, houses again fell in the lake,
leaving 11 dead and 300 homeless.
“Zug was the most beautiful town I have ever seen, with ancient clock
towers and beautiful old Swiss houses separated by narrow cobbled
streets. I also loved the velvet green gentle hillsides with small villages,”
Next up: a short jaunt to Baar and another fabulous gourmet dinner
treat at the Restaurant Brassierie Maienrisli. The entire four-course meal
was amazing, but dessert was a highlight with fresh strawberries, ice
cream and strawberry liqueur. Many of us could not believe we packed
so much into one day, and several commented that it made our short
3-day tour feel like a week.
With so many wonderful experiences, it was hard for many to choose
one favorite experience, but Tara gave it a go. “Hiking in the Alps, eating
Swiss chocolate by the handfuls, crossing the Rhine river by boat, and
touring historic towns while eating, eating, eating.”
SUNDAY, APRIL 8
This was Black Forest day, or what Larry called “the most beautiful place
on earth.” Most of the group traveled to Triberg to see waterfalls (one
500 feet tall!), the Black Forest open air museum, and the largest cuckoo
clock in the world which was the size of a house. Studying the different
home designs in the Black Forest museum gave a hint as to the area
it came from, for example, thatched roof versus shingles where rye for
thatch did not grow.
“A highlight of the trip was hiking up into the Black Forest in Germany
with its huge mossy boulders, waterfalls, streams and beautiful old
forests of tall spruce trees, as well as the incredible food Lamello treated
us to,” Elaine said.
The evening featured another fabulous dinner at the Schweizer Hof, a
500-year-old restaurant, where smooth-talking Alex got the group in
though space was in short supply and elbow room was tight. The group
was also tight-knit by now and many side-splitting laughs were shared
along the way. “Like when Mimi came back from the rest stop bathroom
saying the water attacked her,” Tara remembered.
Joel’s favorite part was getting to meet dealers from across the U.S. “It
was great seeing how different everyone was but how well everyone
meshed together during the trip. The different personalities and
backgrounds really contributed to the overall atmosphere and enjoyment
of this spectacular trip.”
MONDAY, APRIL 9
One more wonderful European buffet breakfast and then the
dealers went back to Lamello for a Divario hands-on experience.
Marco discussed how to help a customer diagnose a machine that
might not be working. Mistakes were made, tips were shared, and
guidance was given. Marco’s quote for the day: “Yes, you can make
a mistake, but a very precise mistake.”
In summing up Lamello and the trip, Larry likened it to watching
skaters or skiers on the Olympics. “You see one amazing jump after
another and just when you think it can’t get any better, they do
Alex Leuenberger agreed, that choosing just one favorite moment
was near impossible. “The whole five days were packed with
memorable anecdotes. This event allowed us to show our country, its
history and its beautiful landscape and send the group back home
with unforgettable memories and new friends.”
1 800 ALAMELLO
Both Lamello and our host country left a deep impression on the group.
“I feel this trip will help me be more successful,” Keith said. “I can now
explain part of the manufacturing process and what goes into making
the product. Which will also let me explain to the customer why they
are paying so much for the tool, and that it is worth it. I feel more
committed to Lamello since they committed so much to me and my wife
for this trip. They really went all out to show us a good time and let us
experience a variety of things in Switzerland/Germany.”
“I absolutely learned a lot and felt welcomed as part of the Lamello
Team partnership,” Elaine said. “The demonstrations, training and tour
of the Lamello Factory were inspiring. The respect and appreciation
given to each and every person working in the factory also impressed
“We can now back up our facts with real life experiences from the
factory and from the relationships we are building with the Lamello
team,” Tara said.
“Just knowing that a team like that backs up every single product
that comes out of the factory, allows me to boldly communicate and
demonstrate this product to our current and potential customers,” Joel
“I learned this is a great company that is still on an upcurve in quality
and growth and I am proud to sell their product,” Larry said. “I love that
the factory is so efficient and employees have good jobs that enable
them a decent living standard and with jobs that are not burdensome.
While talking with Raffael over drinks, it came up that the final step of
the hiring process at Lamello is having prospects work a day. Raffael
explained, this way you learn more about a person than you can in an
interview. You see how he reacts with people, you eat lunch with him.
Similarly, being Lamello’s guest for four days showed me so much more
about the company than you learn can in a sales presentation. And what
I learned about them was very good.”
While there was much to love, Jonathan narrowed it down to the people.
“Not one single story stands out as a favorite, I think every minute of
every day we were together has its own little nuggets of memory to hold
tight to. But one favorite would have to be my new found friendships,
both with the other participants of the trip but more importantly the
folks at Colonial Saw and Lamello. I am so thankful for the opportunity
to take this trip and their hospitality. I can say with excitement that I am
already looking forward to seeing our new friends at some upcoming