We recently brought about a dozen of our business partners from photo dealers and photo rental houses to Switzerland for a non-stop action-packed dealer trip. We zig-zagged back and forth across the tiny country of Switzerland for about a week visiting Bron Elektronik (makers of broncolor, Kobold, and Visatec), Sinar AG, and Foba AG.
If the snapshots from the trip that were posted on facebook after our return are any indication, this wasn’t a typical factory training trip. The attendees showed great discretion in keeping most of the really incriminating images off of Facebook. From the sleepy Sunday AM arrival and a bunch of everyone-on-their-best-behavior reserved introductions, to the final fondue-filled night of Kirsch toasts, our guests developed a greater understanding and appreciation of why we all have such a passion and commitment to the products we represent.
The first stop on the trip was at broncolor and the bedroom community of Allschwil just outside of Basel. Training was held in the famous broncolor school house. The schoolhouse is in the building that housed the original broncolor factory. The building was converted from a barn, to a factory, and then to its current incarnation – a modern day commercial studio on the first floor and a school room and training center on the second floor.
We spent a good deal of our time reviewing the tech specs and philosophy behind the completely new Scoro Packs. From the group you heard the question several times: “Why don’t other manufacturers do it that way?”. Our well mannered hosts were gentlemen enough to let that pass. The bron training sessions were not marketing sales days. Instead, they were hard core technical reviews of the products and how they outperform the competition. The folks at broncolor even went so far as to review their new patent on the ECTC color control technology that makes the Scoro the untouchable unit that it is. I don’t think you’d get the same openness from our competitors.
Marcel Greissman, the technical manager for Bron Elektronik, presented the technological overview and is just a brilliant man to listen to. One of my favorite comments from the group was: “This guy is just really cool and fun to listen to…. and he’s an engineer, where do you find that!”
You need to understand something about this group. These guys aren’t wet behind the ears, newbies to the industry. They’ve seen it all and pulled most of it apart. They know the value of “matched capacitors” and understand the difference between being compatible with “sine wave or square wave” generator output. On the walking tour of the factory led by Jacques and Claude Bron themselves, you heard a lot of “look at that construction!”, a good deal of knowing nods, and some more of “why doesn’t anyone else build them like this?”.
Our next stop on the tour was at the FOBA factory. FOBA is a hard-core precision machine shop. They can make anything and everything you could possibly need that could be coaxed, twisted poured or hammered out of metal. I think everyone was struck by the diversity of the FOBA line. The product is just a dream for any grip out there. Philippe Von Ehrenberg – the owner of FOBA – was gracious enough to show us the line and treat us all to a traditional Swiss luncheon. Mr. von Ehrenberg is so obsessed with product quality that I once saw him scrap a pallet of lead counterweights because the molds used to make them were not clean enough. All the Foba products are built and tested by hand…and they are all made to last for generations. If Philippe doesn’t think it will last longer than a lifetime then he just wont sell it. His tour was packed with new ideas – how to use combitube to mount cameras to automobiles, how to connect a DSLR to a Sinar view camera, how to make a pulley for seamless last forever, and how to drink lots of wine at lunch and still be fully functional in the afternoon.
When we pulled away from FOBA, Philippe and his daughter stood by the front doors waving goodbye. From the back of our tour bus, one of our guests commented, “Look at them, I just met them and I love those guys!”. I think that’s the basis of why these companies are so successful and put out such a great product. Broncolor and FOBA are both family organizations. When you visit these places you understand that everyone in the company belongs to that family. It shows in the commitment to the quality of the product, a genuine pride in what they’ve all accomplished and the achievements they’ve reached.