Functional, stylish and nevertheless sustainable – that is a rare combination that only applies to a few products. The drinking bottles of SIGG are among these. The Swiss company that was founded over 100 years ago, has succeeded in combining tradition with innovation. SIGG bottles have cult status today because of their timeless design and are no longer limited down to use by hikers. They are becoming increasingly popular as promotional products for all target groups, after all everyone has to drink.
The flags in front of the company headquarters are waving slightly in the wind. The four letters are identifiable from a far distance already: SIGG. They make a very solid impression, similar to the castle of Frauenfeld with its impressive keep that dates back to the 13th Century. SIGG has been located here, in the small city in the East of Switzerland, since 1917. When Ferdinand Sigg and Xaver Küng founded the company Küng, Sigg & Cie, in 1908, initially in Biel, they most certainly never dreamt that the company would become famous worldwide one day. At the beginning they offered a wide range of products encompassing leisure time and sports items as well as household goods. The “wonder bottle” was added to the line-up in around 1910 and it paved the way for the company’s success today. Because even if detours were taken via pressure cookers, dehydrating devices and aluminium bottles for storing petrol, the triumphal march of the designer drinking bottle was ongoing and has even secured SIGG a place in the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Since 1997, the company has indeed been focusing completely on the production of drinking bottles. These products that are famous for their durability are long since not just found in the rucksacks of hikers and mountaineers, but indeed on office desks, in kindergarten bags or the hands of top models as functional and stylish utensils. Today, the customers can choose between a multitude of colours, diverse executions and four different materials: The renowned aluminium bottle that has been completely manufactured in Frauenfeld for over 100 years, has been joined by a variety of different models made of double-walled stainless steel, plastic and glass. A product palette that is as wide as the logo would suggest.
Stefan Ludewig, CEO of SIGG Switzerland AG, recounted: “We offer drinking bottles for every application. We make sure that we continually further develop our products.” When Ludewig says “we”, he explicitly means himself too. A new product made of polypropylene with a Tritan bottleneck, a drinking spout made of silicon and a silicon gripping strip for a better hold, is actually stood on his desk right now, which he co-designed in close collaboration with his employees and which he tested himself: SIGG’s first “squeezable” bottle for the outdoor sector, which only releases the liquid when squeezed. “This product is very high quality and decisively upgrades the traditional cyclist’s bottle. It is highly functional: As a result of the wide bottleneck the bottle can be cleaned easily and also filled with ice cubes. Even when the bottle is turned upside down with the drinking spout open the model doesn’t leak,” is how Ludewig described the characteristics of the Hero Bottle, which will be available with a capacity of 0.6 l and in the five colours transparent, blue, berry, green and charcoal from 2017 onwards – also as a corporate gift. “The individual logo can be printed onto the bottle or onto the silicon grip depending on the order volume,” stated Ludewig.
Hot & Cold One that is made out of doublewalled stainless steel is a further example of a new addition to the SIGG line-up. It comes in the sizes 0.3 l and 0.5 l and like the other members of the Hot & Cold family allows hot or cold drinks to be transported conveniently and without leakages. At the same time, thanks to the innovative closure the bottle can be opened and closed using just one hand. “That is very useful for instance on a car journey,” he stressed and also underlined the attention to detail of the design by outlining another aspect: “12% of the population are left-handed. That is why the plastic drinking lip can be moved to the other side.” As a promotional product the Hot & Cold One – depending on the capacity chosen – features a printing area of 80 or 130 x 203 mm, which can be individually designed.
High quality standards
Tradition paired with innovation – that is the recipe for success that has enabled SIGG with its over 100-year history to advance into becoming the leading supplier of drinking bottle solutions. Every year a new catalogue including 300 products is published, 100 of which are new additions – but each individual bottle complies with the same quality standards that SIGG is committed to. Ludewig: “The cornerstones that justify the price are our clear and timeless design, the functionality of our bottles and of course the reliability, i.e. the famous high-quality workmanship and the transparency with a view to the origin.” An important keyword. Because just recently in February earlier this year, the owner of SIGG Switzerland AG switched over from the American Riverside to the Chinese drinking bottle manufacturers, Haers: Haers have been strategic partners of SIGG for four years. According to Ludewig, the sale implies “exclusively very good consequences” for the location Frauenfeld in Switzerland. “We will always implement the quality standards that correspond to the brand SIGG – regardless of where we produce.”
It immediately becomes clear that this is not just an empty promise. Demonstratively Ludewig takes a Hot & Cold bottle off the shelf in his office and stands an aluminium bottle next to it. “One was made here and one was produced 10,000 km away. The customer is not allowed to detect any difference in quality between the 100% Swiss-made aluminium bottle and the double-walled stainless steel model that was 100% manufactured in China. However, we clearly communicate the origin of our individual products. We owe that to our own demands and the expectations of our customers.” So that there is no scope for interpretation as far as the quality standards are concerned, Ludewig meets up once a month with the new owner in China. “We have several mainstays with regards to the production: Whereas the aluminium bottles are completely produced in Frauenfeld, the plastic bottles come from Switzerland, from Germany – like the Hero Bottle – and Asia. The double-walled glass and stainless steel models on the other hand are made in Chinese production sites, whereas the Classic Glass is a premium bottle, which is hand-blown in Switzerland – incidentally it is an elegant promotional product for special customers. It can be customised with a screen print, laser engraving or sandblasted for minimum order volumes of 250 pieces.” For Ludewig producing in China is a consequent step: “This secures our competitiveness, especially since the manufacturing process for double-walled stainless steel is much more time-consuming and thus more expensive. There are limits to the implementation on the market for European production here. It is not possible to cut oneself off on a global market.” For Ludewig one thing is certain: “SIGG is a Swiss company. Switzerland still stands for the deepest trust, neutrality and quality. We will continue producing here for the justification of our brand alone.”
And this occurs on a large scale: Every year more than 1.5 mil. aluminium bottles leave the factory in Frauenfeld for the market. Before a truck can be loaded with the finished bottles, first off all a compressive force of 600 t makes sure that an original SIGG drinking bottle is extruded out of a simple sheet of 130 g pure aluminium. In total 26 processing steps are needed until the unmistakable form has been achieved. After careful cleaning, the interior coating is injected and baked and the basic colour is applied. Then the item is imprinted. It takes 40 minutes to produce each bottle, before they are packed into boxes and dispatched. Regardless of what the individual design looks like the SIGG company logo is eternalised on each bottle together with the Swiss flag.
The company relies on the screen printing method. For this purpose, two six-colour screenprinting machines are available in Frauenfeld for the aluminium bottles as well as three individual screen-printing machines for the corporate business sector. “We can apply an unlimited amount of colours here depending on the individual requirements,” explained Samuel de los Santos, who in his capacity as the Blanks Production Director works in Frauenfeld. He noted that laser and thermal printing is also possible on request, whereby partner companies are responsible for these two options.
Boom of the corporate gift business
Overall Ludewig has big plans for the location in Frauenfeld: At the moment 60 employees work here. In the year 2019, the headcount is to increase up to 100. “I particularly want to expand the Design, Product Development and Marketing divisions,” he explained and opened the door to a warehouse room that is currently still empty. “The intention is that these are to become offices in three years’ time.” The corporate gifts area is a further reason why SIGG wants to expand, according to Ludewig it has “shown enormous growth” especially in Switzerland over the past years: “Basically every company can implement SIGG bottles as promotional products. Because after all everyone has to drink.” The minimum order quantity is 100 bottles, the delivery time depends on the place of production: “We normally have aluminium bottles manufactured within 14 days after print approval. On the other hand, we only have a limited amount of the products from the Far East stocked in high volumes and thus such orders correspondingly take longer.” The company is present in more than 50 countries worldwide, in Germany, England, Austria and Switzerland with its own administration and sales representatives, otherwise via distributors, who also trade with other sports outdoor products.
In addition to the basic conditions and the advantages in the SIGG partner programme, requests are generally also taken into consideration individually. “One has to decide from project to project,” according to Ludewig. “It is a question of giving and taking. For me a business is a good business, when everyone feels comfortable at the end of a day.” Trust and fairness are the basis, he added. Indeed Ludewig relies strongly on communication. Also internally. He has been working for SIGG Switzerland AG since February 2015 and after a few turbulent years with alternating CEOs he wants to restore the harmony within the company. On touring the factory, Ludewig welcomes each employee personally. “It is important to me that everyone is dedicated here and enjoys coming to work. One only does something passionately if one enjoys doing it. Trusting one another here is indispensable.” “SIGG stronger than ever!” is the motto that SIGG has been conveying since 2015 and which is communicated on CI-compatible stickers.
Turning work into a hobby
Many of the employees have already been working in Frauenfeld for several years. Like Gerald Wernet, who has been working for SIGG for 20 years and who today runs the Décor Department. He has even turned his enthusiasm for the company into a hobby in his spare time: At home he has set up a kind of small private museum for himself. Because Wernet collects SIGG bottles and has taken home a copy of each model that has been produced up to date. “In the meantime, I even have to use the garage to store them. There are about 7,000 different designs,” Wernet laughed. He is not alone with his enthusiasm for the cult bottle either. While doing a tour around the factory, Ludewig comes across a letter, in which the consumer conveys his thanks for the reliable product. The red aluminium bottle has accompanied him for 30 years, from his first day at school and as an adult on three long-distance trips. He had experienced a lot together with the bottle as his loyal companion. As if to prove it, he had sent along the bottle too, “in gratitude for the good quality. Perhaps you can still use it for an exhibition.“ One can tell that it is particularly this enthusiasm that Ludewig wants to see associated with SIGG and what inspires him. Enthusiasm is a good basis to build on.
// Rebecca Klug
photos: Rebecca Klug, © WA Media GmbH (2); SIGG (4)