For more than 40 years plastic items have been turned into promotional messengers in the small German city of Homberg. Within this time, the company Hepla has developed from a garage workshop into a major player in the promotional products industry.
It all began in 1973. At the time, the businessman from Hessen, Jürgen Schwab, came up with the idea of marketing an Italian desk writing set and he quickly realised that his product was particularly popular with banks and saving banks. In those days, the individual branches were often still autonomous companies, who carried out their customer acquisition measures locally – and Schwab’s product was ideal for this purpose. In the meantime, he had expanded his line-up to include writing instruments, further office items and give-aways. He additionally had own injection-moulded promotional products manufactured: The first product was the classic memo box, which is still found among Hepla’s assortment today.
As the bank subsidiaries gradually lost their independence in the rise of the centralisation measures, which increasingly resulted in fiercer price wars, Schwab decided not to sell to his customers directly anymore, but instead to market his product range via promotional products distributors. A concept that Hepla has remained true to until this very day.
Although Schwab outsourced the production of his injection-moulded products, from 1975 onwards the goods were picked, packed and customised in his home garage and in other rented garages. However, he soon ran out of space – in 1978 the firm moved into the basement rooms of Schwab’s new home, which was also bursting at the seams by 1987. Schwab decided to build new premises in the industrial area in Homberg. The office, warehouse and printing surfaces were considerably expanded. In 1993, a second hall was added to the building, which meant the company had 2,300 m² of production and warehousing space with room for 2,500 pallets, a 400 m² printing shop and 300 m² of office space at their disposal.
Today, Hepla is one of the largest screen, pad and digital printing shops in the structurally weak area of North Hessen, just under 100 employees work in the company’s different departments.
Furthermore, parallel to the expansion of the location in Homberg’s industrial area in 1993, Hepla advanced from being solely an embellisher into a manufacturer too: Schwab purchased injection-moulding machines so that they could also produce products themselves. Since then more and more machinery has been acquired, Hepla’s assortment of products is characterised by the mixture between import and own production. Moreover, since 1998 the company has maintained its own office in China: After his first visits to the Far East, Jürgen Schwab chose a Chinese partner with its own tool-making and production departments in the same year and in fact still works closely with this company today.
Classic assortment, short routes
“Basically, Hepla’s recipe for success has hardly changed: We offer the promotional products trade a wide-selection of products with a good mixture between imported and own products, our own printing shop enables short delivery times, good customer service and we are strictly loyal to our distributors,“ explained Diana Meier, who took over Hepla from Jürgen Schwab in 2006 together with her partner, the graduate product designer, Knuth Fischer. Both were very well acquainted with the company at the time: They worked at the advertising agency that served Hepla for 15 years.
Hepla’s line-up comprises of 600 products today. Around half of the products are “made in Germany“, the company owns 380 different injection-moulding tools. Whereas the first catalogue that was published in 1985 contained 20 pages, the 2014 catalogue boasts 164 pages and is available in four languages. “Companies in the promotional products industry who are looking for low-priced plastic give-aways such as ice-scrapers, bottle openers, parking discs, rulers, clipboards, shoe horns, fly swats or memo boxes, can hardly find a better partner than Hepla,“ stated Fischer. “In terms of price we are on a par with the Far East and we offer the additional advantage of short delivery times.“
Since 1997, Hepla has had a subsidiary in Spain and an office in France since 2000. The company also regularly attends the European promotional products trade fairs.
Boat trip instead of champagne
Down-to-earth, which is how Hepla describes itself, the company didn’t crack open the champagne bottles or celebrate jubilee parties on its 40th anniversary last year: Instead, the management invited the staff to spend a day out in the country. And a few days after the official jubilee, the company founder Jürgen Schwab, who spends most of the year in Spain in the meantime, popped by in Homberg to drink a toast to his life’s work with his successors.