Ege Carpets: A German-Danish passion for carpets
Sustainability as a journey without limits: Carpet Concept joined the Ege Group in 2016. Starting in May 2021, the individual brands will merge to form the new Ege Carpets. A conversation with Thomas Trenkamp, managing partner of Carpet Concept and Svend Aage Faerch Nielsen, CCO of Ege Carpets, about the future of the new connection and their common motto: don't talk, but do.
The company history of Ege Taepper is one of passionate entrepreneurship. It begins with the farmer's son Mads Eg Damgaard (1913-1999) founding a carpet weaving mill in Herning, Denmark in 1938. From the beginning he has focused on quality. Over the decades he has been continuously expanding his business thanks to a spirit of innovation, technological progress and an unerring instinct for market opportunities. Today Ege Carpets is Scandinavia's largest group of companies in the carpet segment.
Almost half a century after Mads Eg Damgaard, in 1993, Thomas Trenkamp founded Carpet Concept in Bielefeld. With no less high quality standards and enthusiasm, he has developed his company into a trendsetter and market leader for contract carpets over the course of more than 25 years.
Passion for carpets connects the two companies that are successful in the premium segment - Carpet Concept from Germany and the Ege Group from Denmark. From now on, they will break new ground together. What began in 2016 with Carpet Concepts joining the Ege Group has resulted in the merger of the brands. Ege Taepper, Hammer, Bentzon Carpets and Carpet Concept operate from now on under the Ege Carpets label. Svend Nielsen and Thomas Trenkamp discussed the new opportunities and possibilities this step means for companies and their customers in Hamburg.
Mr. Nielsen, Mr. Trenkamp - successful entrepreneurship has many facets. It takes courage, vision, passion and a sense of opportunities and markets. What parallels and common values did you discover in the company stories of Carpet Concept and Ege Carpets?
Svend Nielsen: I've always been a fan of Carpet Concept. Through the special history of the company, through the appearance, the constant search for innovation and the strong brand. In 2016 I said to Thomas Trenkamp: If Carpet Concept should be interested in a partnership in the future, think of Ege. That was a premonition - months later, company shares were up for sale and we started talking. Our Ege values, design, culture and respect, it became clear to both of us early on, are values that go very well with the Carpet Concept philosophy, communal, valuable and progressive.
Thomas Trenkamp: The human, the emotional, but also the special joy in creating an adventure. The textile passion that we will live together in the future. A carpet should tell a story, not with words, but with proportion, design, origin. We speak the same language here and noticed it right from the start. In 1995 I went to Jutland and visited Ege for the first time. That was sympathy at first sight. Carpet Concept had a special affinity for Scandinavia from an early age. The reason was not least the mentality of the people and their understanding of design and architecture. From 2000 our companies worked with a joint producer, namely Bentzon Carpets. Ege and Carpet Concept developed there like little brothers and sisters. When Bentzon was for sale in 2008, Ege took it over. Carpet Concept remained a customer of course, we wanted to develop together, not against each other, even back then. Our values of quality and design, respectful interaction with one another - they go well together. A nice, old-fashioned word comes to mind: decent. In addition to professionalism, dealing with each other and people is what counts.
That sounds harmonious. At the same time, a Danish and a German company have to find each other. Are there any cultural bridges that you and your employees had to overcome?
Svend Nielsen: The “Sie” in Germany - in Denmark you just call each other SIE when you meet the queen. Germany is more formal, and as a Dane you actually have to get used to it.
Thomas Trenkamp: (laughs) Yes, in Germany you have to earn a “Du”. What I perceive as a cultural difference is the shortened communication in Denmark. We carefully write half a page, the Danes return with a short "Yes". This is admittedly economical and practical - once you get used to it.
"You don't talk about things a lot, you do them."
Thomas Trenkamp, the story of Carpet Concept reads like a success story. The carpet label you founded is an indispensable part of the premium office segment in Germany. With Ege Carpets, the company has found a new partner. What does this connection mean for both of them? How much Carpet Concept is there when it says Ege Carpets and what message can you give to long-term customers?
Thomas Trenkamp: In fact, Carpet Concept's DNA will continue to portray itself well in the future. But new things should also happen, for example in the direction of internationalization. An optimist like me loves the challenge and the common task. It is one of the most exciting things in the world to be able to develop something together. Good textile design is an art and like any other it has to find its way to people. That's why we get involved, product development and marketing are designed as a team. I will remain active as a managing partner until April 2022, after which I will be available to the group as a brand ambassador and product developer with my expertise. I keep doing what I like to do: look deeply into our products.
Ege clearly comes from the design, and Carpet Concept fits in with this with its innovative product approach and the philosophy that can reveal the technology in which the products were created. Companies are now mixing the best of their worlds. It is like an invention: nobody invents something to destroy the old, but to create new things and to unleash ideas.
Svend Nielsen: The integration of Carpet Concept into the Ege Group makes all of our companies more sustainable - whether Bentzon Carpets, Hammer Carpets, Ege and Carpet Concept. When Steve Jobs presented the iPhone earlier, Nokia gave the all-clear. It really did not compete with the conservative functions of the cell phones of the time. It went unnoticed: Steve Jobs had just invented the mobile Internet. Innovation is often hidden in the familiar. That's why it's fun to complete our portfolio, to do what we think is right. In order to then offer the best of all companies with the “new Ege”. A good future depends on recognizing connections and bringing their potential forward.
So they focus together to form an internationally networked, strong brand - Ege Carpets. The vision for this is to be a trendsetter for demanding projects worldwide. How is the current international market for carpets to be assessed, where are your chances and potentials?
Svend Nielsen: The story behind the idea shows whether an innovation has a chance. It is crucial. We find out how much people's habits have changed, as the turnover in carpets shows like a seismograph. It has been declining worldwide over the past 20 years. The areas such as the hotel industry or the office are not excluded. Around 800 million square meters of carpets are sold in Europe every year. We assume that the requirements for office environments will now continue to change as a result of Corona. In the past, every place needed a specific identity, today it has to react flexibly and break out of the familiar routine.
Thomas Trenkamp: An exciting time. Office worlds get an aura of cosiness and living worlds have to be more suitable for the office. You need new interfaces, an old module changes its shape, established systems are facing upheavals, these are usually golden times for inventions. We have always and in the future deal with this together at Ege Carpets in order to provide innovative answers to developments and new needs. Solutions that are shaped by experience with the hotel industry, office and modular thinking.
In fact, there are not many manufacturers in Europe who can give the answers and at the same time weave with high quality. The carpeting market became increasingly centralized. Only a few German competitors of yore still exist. What are your expectations for the common future of Ege Carpets, what trends do you see?
Thomas Trenkamp: It's a shame that so many suppliers had to say goodbye to high-quality carpet weaving. Of what were once eight large companies, there may be three left today. It would be much healthier for our entire market if there were more. I am convinced that a textile floor covering should not only be defined by the price. The environment is becoming more expensive, the carpeting should be cheaper - that cannot work. There is already a trend towards more textiles and more colors than five or six years ago. The brightly colored, positive affirmative from Scandinavia has come over. That is noticeably more joie de vivre.
Svend Nielsen: It has also changed: Today carpets can give much more sophisticated answers or make a statement. Incidentally, the requirements in Germany and Scandinavia are similar, architects in both countries long for more sustainability.
The individual companies in the Ege Carpets Group see themselves as partners for architects, interior designers, customers and planners. Fascinating reference objects from the hotel industry, gastronomy, educational, cultural and office buildings are evidence of this cooperation. Will the merger make it even better in the future to respond to the project-specific wishes of architects and interior designers?
Thomas Trenkamp: The personal drive and our vision are to offer architects, planners and users textile products against a mature, completely sustainable background. Because with Ege, we are pioneers in sustainability. We have long experience instead of standardized solutions and offer tailor-made products - whether in hotels, offices or acoustics. That fits the individual wishes of the planners and the needs of the people of the 21st century.
In addition to sustainable and technological progress, the investment in design and aesthetics has proven to be a success factor for both of you. Carpet Concept and Ege have intensified the collaboration with well-known architects and designers in the development of carpet collections. Renowned design awards confirm the strategy. Can an interdisciplinary network strengthen the joint design competence?
Svend Nielsen: Of course, the new connection strengthens us. The merger into one brand enables our employees worldwide access to all products and information. That means an enormous transfer of knowledge and design. Ege Carpets can therefore provide sustainable and honest answers to all challenges and each location the specific identity it needs.
Thomas Trenkamp: And good design can make life so much better! It is valuable, meaningful and concerns us all. The joint design work with artists, architects and designers has been inspiring over the years. We look for new things together in order to create the best possible result. One gift is that the Ege and Carpet Concept conceptions of design are so similar. If you look at Carpet Concept's product range, it is coherent in itself. Still, we had no answer for markets like the US or the UK. That is now changing: together we dare to take the leap into internationality. We deliberately took our time. Because the question was not to react quickly to a market, but to build a common vision thoughtfully and conscientiously - quality comes before speed.
"We don't work with the topic of sustainability because we have to, but because we think it's right."
The topic of sustainability is central to Ege. With advanced technologies, the cradle-to-cradle approach and as the only manufacturer in the world that meets the demanding DS 49001 standard, in which products come from healthy cycles and have no harmful effects on people or the environment. Are you on the way to making Ege Carpets completely climate-neutral soon and to position yourself at the forefront of the sustainability movement in your segment together here?
Svend Nielsen: Our founder, Mads Eg Damgaard, grew up on a farm in the middle of nature. That shaped him. In 1974 he decided to donate a portion to the Word Wildlife Found for every roll of carpet sold. The part of Denmark we come from, Herning in Jutland, has a tradition. You don't talk about things a lot, you do them. We work with the topic of sustainability, not because we have to, but because we think it's right. In less than five years we have been fully Cradle to Cradle certified, all of our electricity consumption is covered by renewable energies that we obtain from offshore wind farms. We are also in the process of switching from natural gas to biogas and have our Ege strategy: we want to be CO2-positive by 2030. For us, sustainability is an endless journey. The difference between us and other large corporations is that they are often only now interested in the topic of sustainability. Ege has been thinking about sustainability holistically for many years. Among other things, we have our Found, in which we support a wide variety of projects. Sustainability is not a finished product for us, it goes on and on and we are part of it.
Thomas Trenkamp: We have always followed a credo with Carpet Concept: the best resource conservation is not to use up resources in the first place. For us, sustainability is expressed in terms of longevity. Durable that acts beyond short-lived trends. Timeless, in design and quality that has been convincing for decades. One of our carpets, Eco, probably became the most widely published textile floor covering in German-speaking media. A product that has not fallen out of time and has what it takes to become a classic. And we want to spark this spark of thought further: with Ege Carpets we will try to shape the future a little better.
“Climate protection must become a business model,” said Michael Otto, Chairman of the Otto Group's Supervisory Board, recently. Can you explain the balance between ecology and economy as a corporate goal today and what does environmentally conscious growth look like?
Svend Nielsen: In my opinion, green environmental change is not characterized by additional costs. You certainly have to invest in the beginning, whether for a new heating system or a water treatment system - but these investments will pay off in years and are a win for all of us. We also look at growth and value creation from the social side. For example, we have set up a factory within the factory where our yarn scraps are recycled by employees who are stressed and whether their personal situation can no longer work as they have learned and used to. Here you can find your rhythm again. For this, Ege and its entire work environment in Denmark was recognized by the largest trade union - that was an accolade for us.
Carpet Concept is also culturally involved, for example as a founding partner of the KAP Forum for Architecture & Urban Development and has built a good reputation among architects and interior designers for many years, including by sponsoring the Aedes exhibition forum in Berlin. Will these commitments be continued in the future?
Thomas Trenkamp: You can't just define architects as a target group, you should also understand them, be able to think in their heads. For us, architects, interior designers and planners are not just marketing target groups but partners. We ask, listen and try to understand. This creates resilient relationships in a positive sense. That was and has always been an honest concern for us. The thinking, the visions of architects and planners touch me deeply. Our web kitchen in Münchenbernsdorf is dedicated to this cosmos of creativity. A place for mutual exchange while cooking and eating, combined with our museum, weaving mill and a look into our textile soul. It is important to us to develop honest engagements and to fill them with continuity. Given the economic form, we will stick to these forms of communication. Many positive encounters and moments have arisen in the past - from inspirations to long-term friendships.
What would Mads say about that? Ege company founder Mads Eg Damgaard was on an expansion course with sporting enthusiasm from the start. In his memoir you can read: “Watching the company grow became a kind of hobby for me.” How would Mads, who died in 1999, look at the current development of the Ege group, Mr. Nielsen, would he be satisfied?
Svend Nielsen: Mads would be happy. He was brave and progressive. There are two examples of this: he founded the company in 1938. He initially produced an enormous range of products, but in the late 1950s he switched everything to carpeting in one day and only focused on that. In 1974 he was given the opportunity to buy an ink and printing machine, which at the time cost three to four million marks. A capital investment large enough to destroy the whole family. But Mads always relied on bold decisions and the growth of the company. That's what we're doing now - we're putting the best we have together and developing it further.