125 years of WITTKOP
125 years of WITTKOP
Büchel subsidiary now the largest German saddle manufacturer
The eventful history of the saddle manufacturer Wittkop began on May 11, 1898. Despite two world wars and economic bottlenecks, the company has always managed to make Wittkop products world-famous and commercially successful. Pioneering product innovations and far-sighted minds at the head of the company, which has been part of the Büchel Group since 1986 and is now successfully managed as an independent limited company by Hans-Michael Greifenegg, have contributed to this. This year, Wittkop is celebrating its 125th anniversary.
Milestones in history
On May 11, 1898, the company Wittkop & Co. was entered in the commercial register of the district court of Bielefeld. The partners were Franz Wittkop and Fritz Luce. Even in the early years, the owners ensured that the company soon “outgrew its infancy” and by the turn of the century, Wittkop enjoyed the best reputation for high-quality bicycle saddles far beyond the borders of the country.
A particular milestone for further economic development was the appointment of Richard Ziegler, initially as an authorized signatory, later becoming sole owner. This businessman was particularly interested in international business. Numerous trips abroad laid the foundations for the global significance that the company acquired over the years and still enjoys today.
Inclusion of children’s scooters in the product portfolio
In 1929, children’s scooters were added to the product portfolio alongside the production of saddles, bags and leather goods. By the time the co-founder and namesake of the company, Franz Wittkop, died in 1934, the company was already one of the most important producers in the two-wheeler parts industry. Wittkop products were a byword for quality all over the world.
Groundbreaking innovation: the swinging saddle
On the economic timeline, the year 1955 is particularly noteworthy: Production exceeded one million saddles for the first time. Under the leadership of Dieter Orf, innovative products such as the rocker scooter and the pioneering swinging saddle, later renamed the “Medicus saddle”, were established on the market.
In the following years, a saddle with a plastic base frame was produced. However, even this innovation did not significantly improve the economic situation. The then owners, the König family and managing director Heinrich Orf, were unable to run the company at break-even. They were partly responsible for some “unfortunate” decisions.
Continued operation by the Büchel Group after economic difficulties
As a result, the company ran into financial difficulties in 1986 and was acquired by Erhard Büchel and Hugo Görner out of insolvency. The production site was relocated to Bad Salzuflen and in 1990 the Möve saddle factory from Mühlhausen/Thuringia was also acquired. From then on, production took place at this location. After Hugo Görner left the company, Wittkop was integrated into the Büchel Group and production was relocated to Zella-Mehlis, another Büchel site. Despite all these efforts, the sales situation was difficult up to this point. A decisive turning point came in 2003 with the contact to Hans Michael Greifenegg, a native and convinced South Tyrolean – a proven saddle specialist.
Hans-Michael Greifenegg becomes Wittkop Managing Director
A breath of fresh air has now entered the company: Wittkop was spun off as an independent GmbH. Hans-Michael Greifenegg, who also took over shares in the company, is still the managing director responsible for the entire saddle range, which he has continuously built up in Germany and Italy. Due to the Büchel Group’s connection to China, the majority of the saddles developed are also manufactured in Tianjin. Production of the high-end line remains in Germany and Italy. This package of measures enabled Wittkop to get back on the road to success and the company has been able to establish itself as the largest German saddle manufacturer on the market to this day. A large number of patents and utility models demonstrate Wittkop’s regained innovative strength.
Continuous expansion of the product line: bicycle grips and handlebar tape
The product line has been expanded to take account of changes in the market, such as the triumph of the pedelec: since 2022, high-quality bicycle grips developed in-house have been manufactured in Barchfeld, and the range also includes bicycle pedals and handlebar tape for racing bikes. Wittkop thus offers a solution for all three points of contact between cyclists and their equipment, namely the handlebars, saddle and pedals. In addition, bicycle mirrors that can be combined with bicycle grips have been added to the range this year. 125 years after its foundation, Wittkop is well positioned to meet the challenges of the market in the future.
with Wittkop Managing Director Hans-Michael Greifenegg: “Using synergies – recognizing trends early”
Even though business was not satisfactory when you joined Wittkop as Managing Director, you decided to take on this role. What prompted you to do so?
Taking on the challenge of reviving the oldest German saddle brand was largely driven by the confidence of Mr. Büchel and his team.
What were your first measures to get Wittkop back on the road to success?
The product range was to be renewed, with innovative products at the time. It was always important to us to keep the Wittkop brand in the foreground and to continue the tradition. It was an honor to work with the former team and to integrate their innovative spirit into the new product lines.
In your opinion, what are the factors behind Wittkop’s current success?
The decision to work with products that were intended for a wide audience or area of application. Over the years, very well-known and popular saddle lines have developed as a result. The consistency of not changing the graphic elements, even for new models, has also paid off. This has increased the brand’s recognition value.
How do you manage to keep the competition at bay in this market segment?
Through innovation and market proximity, i.e. the ability to recognize the requirements of end consumers one or two years in advance. We also make use of the synergies within our group of companies, such as the existing expertise in plastics production and the international sales organization, which enables us to identify emerging trends at an early stage.
Is a further expansion of the product line conceivable?
Absolutely, cycling itself has changed a lot in recent years and we are faced with new challenges. Integration and communication of bike parts is now the focus.