In the small German town of Dornach, east of Munich, a father-and-son team are revolutionizing elevators with their mid-sized, family-run company. That’s right, elevators. At Vestner, whose delightfully cheesy catchphrase is “elevating people,” the burning question is how getting from one floor to the next can become more modern.
If its family managers have their way, elevators will not only move up and down – they’ll become an integral part of smart buildings, connected to cell phones or voice-controlled assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa. This means, for example, you might not just order a pizza using Alexa, but have an elevator sent to the ground floor, just in time for the delivery guy. Or an elevator can open automatically as soon as a limo slides into the parking garage, thanks to a smartphone’s near-field communication.
Sensors in factory elevators will detect when a cargo truck enters an unloading dock, immediately following their vertical trajectory to the correct floor. Vestner’s elevators can even track their own performance and note when one suddenly takes longer to operate, signaling a technician it’s ready for a tune-up. These futuristic systems should even include dashboards with real-time information about the technician’s dispatch and time needed for repair.
Elevators will not only move up and down – they’ll become an integral part of smart buildings.
Most of these ideas come from the 40-year-old Simon Vestner, who joined his father Paul at the Mittelstand firm in 2005. Their partnership is divvied up across their strengths. The senior Vestner, now 72, excels at preserving the foundations of the company and focuses on the basic technology that makes elevators work, while the son closely follows changes in the workplace and innovations using the Internet of Things.
Despite being a small player in its field, Vestner’s sales have been growing steadily over the last decade. In 2018, the company expects around €75 million in revenue: 50 percent from service and maintenance gigs, 40 percent from new projects and 10 percent from modernizing outdated elevators.
They’ve had a couple of strokes of luck. The elevator market in Germany doubled in size after the 2007 financial crisis, when foreign investors plowed into German real estate. Meanwhile, competitors Otis, Thyssen-Krupp, Schindler, and Kone were caught price-fixing and carving up markets, then fined a record €992 million ($1.2 million) in 2007. Many customers who suffered from working with these companies switched to Vestner.
“It’s impressive what this hidden champion from Dornach has brought to this field,” said Claudia Linnhoff-Popien, a professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University’s Institute for Informatics in Munich. In her opinion, Vestner is among the “best in its industry.”
Lisa Priller-Gebhardt wrote this story for Handelsblatt.