H. STOLL AG & Co. KG is an internationally operating manufacturer of flat knitting machines based in Reutlingen, Germany, founded in 1873, with around 1,000 employees worldwide. STOLL exports to more than 70 countries and offers integrated services through affiliated companies, sales and marketing center and numerous agencies. The STOLL product portfolio comprises 3D knitting machines and patterning software, which are used for the production of fabrics for fashion as well as for technical applications. To find out more, our editorial team from Bangladesh recently met CEO, Thomas Hoffmann recently ……..
What was the reason behind setting-up an own office here?
Bangladesh has become our key market. We came up with our own subsidiary in order to take our responsibilities and to show our customers that we intend to stay here and not just to take business quickly and then leave. With our direct presence in the region, we want to contribute to the long-term success of our customers by providing comprehensive support in all matters.
Please tell us more about the set-up and strength here?
Our strength is that we do not take care of any other product than STOLL machines at our new set-up here. We are fully concentrated on our machines and on the needs of our customers. On the technical sides of our machines, we do not have any agency for anybody else and are 100 per cent assured about what we offer. I am working with more than 40 employees in Bangladesh to expend the company’s direct support of customers and partners in the region.
How has your experience in Bangladesh been so far?
People are very demanding, the market is very demanding because buyers are very demanding. According to that, our customers also have very demanding customers on their side. Bangladesh nowadays is the market for basic knitwear. I would expect the market to go for more sophisticated products in future. For the time being, Bangladesh is the country where business will grow.
What is the market share of STOLL in Bangladesh when compared to other leading brands?
You have various players in this industry. There is a market for Chinese machines making the basics, sleeves, and backs. There is a market for more sophisticated machines like ours and Japanese brands. Two of us fight for the leading position in Bangladesh. The basics, which are supplied by Chinese, are impossible to fight against. Therefore, ours is more sophisticated part of the Bangladesh market. Concerning the number of pieces Bangladesh last year was more important for STOLL than China. When I came to Bangladesh 10 years ago, we had a zero market and could only occasionally sell some second hand machines. I never had expected such an outcome. I never would have thought that Bangladesh one day could become one of the most important markets, but now it is.
How many machines have you installed here? Have you set your target for this year?
We have installed around 12,000 machines in Bangladesh so far. We delivered around 1,500 machines in 2016 and over 2,000 the following year, with sales increasing by more than 40 per cent and hopefully looking forward to increasing our sales this year. It looks good, though the year has started so slow but has picked up in the meantime and I hope we are going in the right direction.
How do you look at the Bangladesh market when you compare it to other Asian markets?
Bangladesh is currently one of our most important markets, offering above-average growth and large-scale production particularly in the area of basics. In its highly competitive market, I can see both sides, buyers’ side and manufacturers’ side because most of the buyers are Europeans. The country has become more competitive than it was five years ago. Consequently, we also have to face this competition. For me it will be a growing market for the next five years but there is always pressure on prices.
How do you look at growing competition from Chinese technology manufacturers in Bangladesh?
As mentioned earlier there are different segments of markets. We are catering to the high end of the market. We can show off our technology competence, our innovative software and Stoll’s new networking concept knitelligenceR, the technical experience, the staff we have, and all the technical support we give to our customers to show that it’s worth to buy STOLL. The Chinese are also improving their technology but I don’t think they are competitors.
What are the latest knitting innovations you are offering?
We don’t reinvent the knitting as it is a quite familiar job. What we have come up with are some sophisticated machines that can do designs that no other machine can do. We have come up with a shoe knitting machine which lets you knitshoe upper in one piece so we are trying to diversify from the fields of activities for us and our customers. We are trying to offer our customers additional field of activities so that they can survive in this hard times – such as knitelligenceR. knitellligenceR is our innovative networking concept which combines all the software solutions from Stoll and thus covers the entire value creation chain of flat-knitting production. With our machines and knitelligenceR our customers benefit from more consistent workflows, short, transparent production cycles and an increase in quality, productivity and overall plant efficiency. It’s all about innovative application.
Are the machines you are offering in Bangladesh ‘Made in Germany’ or ‘Made in China’?
Most of the machines we produce are made in Germany. The model that we sell here in Bangladesh is assembled in China. The crucial and essential parts of the machines are made in Germany and the assembling happens in China.
What are the latest knitwear trends you are witnessing?
As we said, we are now diversifying into a new business giving the customer additional value. Trend wise sweater industry or the sweater market is a basic these days. There are not many accepted designs nowadays.Maybe instead of developing anything, we set a trend a trend for designs that are a little bit more sophisticated.
As a technology supplier from foreign, is there any issue you are facing here? Do you face any demands from the Bangladesh Govt.?
I am not in the position to request things that we can very well take care of ourselves. I had a meeting lately with BGCCI where I was asked pretty much the same questions, and frankly speaking, we can take care of our business by ourselves. If we could have a little bit less of administrative hurdles and a little bit more transparency, it would make our life easier.
What is your message to the knitwear industry in Bangladesh?
My message to the industry is to keep fighting and keep growing. We are there and we will be there in more fields than we have been so far. knitelligenceR is STOLL’s game changer to make factories more efficient, and consequently. We will offer software solutions, production planning and all the things that make factories more efficient, and consequently allow our customers to organise their businesses better. Not only concerning knitting but beyond, we are but beyond the knitting we are trying to be their advisor and core partners on many levels.
How do you see future here?
I say the future is bright. And it’s going to be brighter. We can say that according to all the data we have, the figures we see, trends we witness, the next five years look very good for the Bangladesh knitting industry. Bangladesh has such a sound base in this industry that it will always be growing. On this behalf I would guess that nobody breaks the dominance of Bangladesh because all the skills are here and the people are here, workforce is here and you cannot just imitate that in another country. So, I guess the human capital that is present in Bangladesh will guarantee the ongoing industry.