Lamello 2018 Travelogue

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August 31, 2018
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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 beauty.

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 Eric • 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 have.”

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 for sleep.

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 said.

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 valued.”

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 said.

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 used.”

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 recycled.

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 win.”

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 exciting ideas.

“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 instead.

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,” Elaine said.

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 something better.”

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.”

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THE TAKEAWAY

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 me greatly.”

“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 said.

“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 tradeshows.”