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With the production of plastic boxes for car boots, Carbox has developed into a global market leader in its industry over the course of its 100-plus years in existence. The company's success story began in 1908, when Ludwig Jorns and Otto Vahland founded their wool trading company Jorns & Vahland in Bremen.
In 1945, the qualified wool merchant Carl Bellinger took over the business. In 1949, he married Renate Vahland, Otto Vahland's daughter. Due to his involvement in the wool trade, Carl Bellinger had contacts in the wool, and later, the plastic industries. In the 1950s, he procured a "patent for a product designed to protect car boots", and in Frankfurt he developed a deep-drawing machine with which he could manufacture the plastic tubs.
By 1963, Carl Bellinger had long moved on from the wool trade and moved the production of Carbox to Bremen, and then six years later to Achim. His son Stefan joined the business in 1982 and became Managing Director in 1987 and later partner.
He built up the company to a global market leader, the exports alone have risen to more 50 percent over the past 25 years. The number of employees rose from nine to 30. Carbox is today a tier-1 company and, as a result, is a direct supplier of automobile manufacturers such as BMW, Nissan, GM, Porsche, VW and Audi, as well as of the independent automobile accessory market.
From banker to managing director of a company that manufactures plastic shells – Stefan Bellinger was being thrown in at the deep end when his father gave up his role in the company in the mid-1980s. Step by step Carbox grew to become a global market leader, Stefan Bellinger put the emphasis on quality and an international sales network
Carbox experienced a lot of changes in the early 1980s. In 1978, the Carbox patent had expired and competitors entered the market. Carl Bellinger, now well into his sixties, began to withdraw from the company and his son Stefan began taking over the reins as Managing Director. The transition was gradual because after graduating from the Hermann-Böse-Gymnasium secondary school in 1980 and training to be a banker at the Bankhaus Neelmeyer, he joined the company directly in 1982. "I was thrown in at the deep end, and there were no swimming aids", he says.
When he started at Carbox, he knew: Carbox was a family-run company, and it was going to stay that way. "The first few years at Carbox were not always easy", he says. "My father allowed me to make my decisions, gave me responsibilities, but we didn't always sing from the same hymn sheet at the beginning." In 1987, the change of generation was finally completed: Stefan Bellinger became Managing Director and then Managing Partner at Carbox.
From banker to managing director of a company that manufactures plastic shells, Stefan Bellinger made a conscious decision for Carbox, although he had to forego other things in return as a result. In 1982, when his father was 67 years old, Stefan didn't just have to make a decision; it had to be made quickly. "I would have liked to have gone to university or gone abroad", he says. "But I wouldn't have been able to take over from my father, and I wouldn't have had the valuable years of working with him if I had."
Even when he assumed the role of Managing Director, the learning certainly did not come to an end. On the contrary. Regular further training remains very important to him right up until today. It goes without saying that he and his employees take part in further training at least once every year in order to learn as well as to share their experience with the other participants.
Stefan Bellinger is also an active networker: he volunteers in many clubs and associations; on the one hand due to his personal convictions, on the other because he wants to meet and discuss with business partners and entrepreneurs from other industries. This and his "learning-by-doing" approach have equipped Stefan Bellinger with the necessary expertise and confidence not only to manage the Carbox company, but also to give it an international footprint and make it competitive on the world market.
In the early 1980s, Carbox had nine employees, today it has 30. The percentage of products that are exported has risen from less than 20% to over 50% during the same period. The products go on the one hand to specialist retailers. Carbox is the exclusive supplier for large car accessories retailers and has many distribution partners across the globe. Overall it is several thousand retail customers, the majority in Germany and Europe.
On the other hand, Carbox produces directly for automobile manufacturers as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). Being a tier-1 supplier, Carbox delivers directly to companies like Audi, BMW, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Porsche, Suzuki, VW and many more besides, which offer Carbox products as their own, exclusive original accessories. "Manufacturers are our key accounts", says Stefan Bellinger. "We develop the products together with automobile manufacturers in order to find the optimal solution for their cars and customers."
"It is not about cheap solutions, it is instead about products that are "worth the money". I always say "worth the money" and try to make this clear to our customers. And there is always going to be someone that charges less than we do, but they definitely won't be better. Quality is when the customer comes back and not the product. We don't want to deliver our product just once; we want to establish partnerships with our customers that will exist for many, many years. And these customers are beginning to realise that a good product has a reasonable price and is worth the money, so to speak."
Stefan Bellinger always stuck with his step-by-step approach. That also applies for the expansion of the company at Achim. The production and warehousing capacity is continuously expanded, the very latest structural expansions were inaugurated in 2000. The production was also modernised over the past two decades.
The original production principles have remained, however: deep drawing of plastic sheets and films (thermoforming). The delivered plastic sheets are heated and then formed. Depending on the relevant product, the edges are either punched off or cut off. "Our very complex, fully-automatic series production is effective and therefore perfect for large numbers of product units in global sales but we also manufacture small production volumes with a lot of manual craftsmanship, right through to individual manufacturing. We can do both, exactly the way the customer or the product needs it. We are very customer-orientated and let the market decide", says Stefan Bellinger.
Carbox has also developed specialist manufacturing methods in order to, for example, use less material. That not only reduces the product price and weight; it also saves fuel consumption in the cars that feature Carbox products. The company policy is to use only fully recyclable plastics. Since 1987, customers can return all Carbox products in order for them to be recycled. "And in the anniversary year, we will install solar panels on the flat-roof of a production hall in Achim", says Stefan Bellinger. "In the countries where our international competitors are based, electricity is cheaper than in Germany; these solar panels will allow us to reduce this disadvantage somewhat, while we will also be doing something for our environment!"
Speed and flexibility, those are the magic words with which Carbox has not only established itself on the international market, but with which it has risen to the very top. "Our three core competencies are under one roof: design, production and sales", says the Carbox Managing Director. "That is why we can react quickly and implement customers' wishes immediately." That is why he made the conscious decision to continue to manufacture only tried and tested products. "We are sticking with what we can do best. That is our strength and that is why we are able to provide our customers with the best possible service and flexibility." And customers know and appreciate this. After all, being a tier-1 supplier, Carbox supplies directly to the automobile industry.
And all that as a medium-sized company. "We compete with major accessory manufacturers with large staff departments for the automobile industry. But the quality management and material testing requirements are the same, no matter how large the company."
Our international competitors have many supposed advantages. "Their taxes and wage costs are lower, there are less regulations and duties and the employment conditions are more favourable – such conditions would be a dream come true", says Stefan Bellinger. "We have too much baggage in Germany; in particular us manufacturers, we are put at a disadvantage compared to international competition. This means that we must really try harder and do more than the rest. We certainly won't be getting fat and sluggish. We do more than others, and that in all areas, every day, each and every employee."
And all have to pull together in one direction so that this works. In Stefan Bellinger's office is the grandfather clock which used to belong to his grandfather, the company founder Otto Vahland. Even after 100 years, the clock is still right (though always five minutes fast). "Our employees work just like the clockwork inside it. The gears engage absolutely exactly, and always at the right speed. But if only one small gear stands still, nothing works. That is something that all employees have to understand; each and every member of staff is important for and a part of our shared success."
Otto Vahland died in 1945, and the company more or less existed just on paper. Carl Bellinger then took the reins.
He tried his luck selling cuckoo clocks, lighters and pearl buttons, before, with lots of courage and a pioneering spirit, developing and producing plastic boxes for car boots.
Carl Bellinger was 30 years old when Otto Vahland passed away. He had never met him but he was the one who would breathe life back into the company following Otto Vahland's death. Carl Bellinger had learned the profession of wool merchant at the company Nordwolle in Delmenhorst and was an active officer during the war. He was asked if he would like to take over the business Jorns & Vahland.
In September 1946, he as Managing Director and Hedwig Vahland, Otto Vahland's widow, as owner applied for a licence to operate Jorns & Vahland as
a wholesale wool business and agencies for the export and domestic markets.
The company delivered to the worsted yarn and woollen yarn industries, but first and foremost to woollen yarn companies: cloth, fleece, blanket and hat manufacturers, woollen yarn spinning mills and others.
As an old member of the Bremer Wollverein [Bremen Wool Association], the company was assigned a considerable quota for any wool already imported or expected from the British military government and was to receive many contracts, as in previous times. The company hoped to get back to the old number of 8 to 10 staff as quickly as possible (as stated in the application registered on 30 September 1946).
In the summer of 1947, Jorns & Vahland made an application to the Bremen Senator for Economics and Labour for the wholesale trade with small hardware goods as well as household and kitchen appliances. But the Senator rejected the application on the one hand because Jorns & Vahland could not prove that it was "in a position to provide additional supply of goods for Bremen" and on the other hand because they did not consider the connection between wool, textiles and hardware goods as a good one. That did not stop Carl Bellinger from trading with other products, which had nothing to do with wool. He of course continued to trade in wool, but in the post-war years flexibility was required if you wanted to do business.
Cuckoo clocks, modern lighters and pearl buttons were just a few of the many goods that ended up in the office in Birkenstraße. In 1948, Carl Bellinger became the sole owner of the company and was then able to orientate himself in a new direction. Through the wool trade, he had contacts to the textile industry and traded with pearl buttons which were replaced in the late fifties by more durable plastic buttons. The demand grew, Carl Bellinger wanted to produce the buttons himself and looked for a machine with which to stamp them. He had a friend in the chemical company Hoechst in Frankfurt. At that same time, Hoechst had developed polyethylene further and produced boards of it but was then looking for companies that would use them. Hoechst wanted to sell the boards of course, but first it needed to find "useful polyethylene products".
Carl Bellinger applied for a "patent for a product designed to protect car boots", he stopped trading buttons and, with the application technology available from Hoechst, he developed a deep-drawing machine with which such tubs could be produced. The manufacturers of "thermoforming machines", which are well known today, were also only starting out at that time. It certainly was a pioneering accomplishment to develop this machine. For three years, from 1960 until 1963, Carl Bellinger travelled between Frankfurt and Bremen, where his family had remained. He would spend two weeks working on the construction of a plastic-processing plant, and then two weeks in the wool office in Bremen. In the meantime, he had relocated the office from Birkenstraße to Hermann-Böse-Straße, into the house that Otto Vahland had bought around 1910. The house remains the company's Bremen headquarters right up until today.
In 1960 (the year in which Stefan Bellinger was born), the development that would later take place in the wool trade could not yet be predicted, however Carl Bellinger acted with a great deal of foresight when he bid farewell to the wool trade completely and concentrated completely on the production of tubs. With success: in 1963, the manufacturing workshop was moved from Frankfurt to Bremen-Vegesack. In these years, it was not only the product that required development, but customers and sales avenues also had to be found.
This automobile tub was first envisaged to be used by butchers. It would allow them to easily transport the meat from the slaughterhouse to their businesses for processing. A light container that could be easily placed in the boot, but which still fitted in exactly, suitable for food and also easy to clean, all you had to do was rinse it out.
The product combined so many positive properties in one; all that had to be done was to convince the butchers. "My father would drive his Mercedes 280 S, which he always kept spic and span, to a slaughterhouse in the early morning, open the boot of the car which contained the – then white – Carbox and a stack of brochures and he would wait", remembers Stefan Bellinger.
"People were wary at the beginning, but curious and were then quickly convinced. The first units were soon sold."
Carl Bellinger often intuitively knew when the time was right. In the early 1970s, the accessories market in the automobile industry really got going. Rims, spoilers, whitewall tyres and leather steering wheels: any product that got a car-lover's heart beating faster was manufactured and supplied. Automobile manufacturers created a retail structure for accessories, from which Carbox also benefited. BMW was the first manufacturer in the early 1970s that made the Carbox part of its accessories programme. A fantastic success for the north German based company, which then had to adapt its production to the Olympic Games: in February 1972, BMW announced that its annual factory holidays would not be in the summer as usual, but would be postponed in order to not coincide with the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich taking place from 21 August until 12 September.
The tub for butchers had become a real car accessory. In 1974, "JV Carbox" was registered as a word and design mark, a combination of the initials of "Jorns & Vahland (JV)" and "Carbox"
"My father had many abilities but English was not one of them", says Stefan Bellinger. "And he of all people came up with the name Carbox!" It was only in 1998 that "Carbox" could be registered as a European trademark. "It is just fantastic that we were able to get this name protected. Carbox is today our trademark. And the product could not be described any better", says Stefan Bellinger.
The demand for Carbox grew. That is why the production needed to be increased. The space in Bremen-Vegesack had become too small, so Jorns & Vahland moved to Achim in 1969. A small step to Bremen's urban fringe, but a giant leap for the company with its new production area on a site measuring 7,500 square metres in the Achim-Ost industrial estate.
The company moved to Lower Saxony although Jorns & Vahland would have liked to stay in the Bremen city area. But Bremen was more interested in large companies. Medium-sized companies were treated like "second-class businesses"; despite the growth achieved, Jorns & Vahland was not provided with sufficient production space. So the company went to Achim, roughly 10 km south of Bremen. At that time, Jorns & Vahland was only the third company to base itself in this area right by the Autobahn 27 motorway. The property was extended by a further 5,000 square metres meaning that Carbox is now on a site measuring 12.500 square metres.
In June 1976, the name "Jorns & Vahland Kunststoff-Verarbeitungs-Werk, Inh. Carl Bellinger" was changed to "JV Carbox Carl Bellinger GmbH & Co. KG". "The name was sometimes confusing", explains Stefan Bellinger. "In some trade-fair exhibitor indexes, we were listed under either B (Bellinger), C (Carbox) or J (JV Carbox)."
Stefan Bellinger was of the opinion that the brand was very important, it characterised the company. For that reason, the family-run company has been called "Carbox GmbH & Co. KG" since 2005.
The wool trading company Jorns & Vahland was founded in Bremen in 1908. While Ludwig Jorns left the company again shortly afterwards, Otto Vahland stayed true to himself and remained loyal to his company and the wool trade. The company's first premises were in Vahland's private home, and then later in Bremen city centre.
Up until 1850, Germany was primarily involved in the export of wool. That changed in the middle of the 19th century: the demand for wool grew as a result of the mechanisation of the wool industry, while at the same time the wool production went down. On the one hand, there were modern methods applied in agriculture with which higher yields could be gained from even poor soil. That saw the breeding and keeping of sheep in Germany become increasingly uneconomical. On the other hand, cheaper wool from abroad was sold on the German market. For example from Australia. It is estimated that in 1825, there were a mere 238,000 sheep in Australia; in 1860, it was around 20 million and in 1880, it was more than 62 million.
for more than 800 years. It was not located near the large wool-processing centres and the export from the inner German region mostly took place via Frankfurt am Main or Hamburg. From the middle of the 19th century, Bremen began to develop into an import harbour for wool from abroad. The imports were sporadic at the start, but from 1860, whole ship loads of raw wool started to come with increasing regularity to Bremen from abroad. In October 1868, a total of 1284 bales for eight Bremen import companies are said to have been imported.
Bremen's position on the German wool import market became ever stronger; in 1870, a sixth and in 1872, almost a quarter of all German raw wool imports came through Bremen.
Around the turn of the century, there were said to be around 200 wool importing companies in Bremen. Ludwig Jorns and Otto Vahland did not miss out on the wool trade, which was a lucrative business at the time. Vahland had already founded the wool trading company Form & Co. in 1896, which he left on 30 September 1908. A day later, on 1 October 1908, Otto Vahland and Ludwig Jorns founded the wool trading company Jorns & Vahland in Bremen. Jorns left the company again very shortly afterwards but Otto Vahland stayed true to himself and remained loyal to his company and the wool trade. He hired Otto Heidorn on 1 December 1908 as an aid, who remained with Jorns & Vahland until August 1910.
The office and telephone were initially in Vahland's own home in Horner Straße 111; in early 1909, the entrepreneur found two rooms in the building in Wachtstraße 40 in Bremen city centre. Jorns & Vahland later had its office in Birkenstraße 15.
Only a few documents still exist from the period before the Second World War because the office and Otto Vahland's private home completely burned out during the war, and almost all documents were destroyed in the fire.
The Bremen Chamber of Commerce documented that the company had formed a war partnership with Alfred Meyer & Co. in April 1942. This was meant to save on workers, offices and materials. Alfred Meyer & Co. then surrendered its office and gave the senior role in the war partnership to Jorns & Vahland. Otto Vahland died in 1945. Immediately following the Second World War, the company more or less just existed on paper. That's when the qualified wool merchant Carl Bellinger, born in Fulda in 1915, took over the business Jorns & Vahland. In 1949, he married Renate Vahland, Otto Vahland's daughter.