With a passion for success: 25 years of TechnoAlpin
Walter Rieder, Georg Eisath and Erich Gummerer founded TechnoAlpin in 1990. It was only after the first winter that sales brought in enough money for the three to employ an assistant. Twenty-five years later, TechnoAlpin is a flourishing international company with 400 employees. In this interview, Erich Gummerer and Walter Rieder explain why.
How did the TechnoAlpin story start?
Walter Rieder: "It all began at the start of the 1980s in the ski resort of Obereggen (South Tyrol, ITA). A snow gun was imported there from the USA after several winters with very little snowfall. It cost a small fortune back then but it didn't work because it wasn't designed for the borderline temperatures south of the Alps. Georg Eisath and I were managers at the time and so we tried to build a snow gun ourselves with standard commercially available parts. It actually worked quite reasonably so our employer, Obereggen AG, bought it off us and so we had some money in our pockets again to keep tinkering on the project. Back then we hadn't even begun to think that we could make a success of it. We just wanted to build machines and solve a problem in our ski resort. One by one the ski resorts in the surrounding area signaled their interest and so we eventually set up a company called WI.TE which stood for Wintertechnik or winter technology. The company was based in a garage in Eggental. It took until 1990 for us engineers to realize that we needed a businessman. We had known Erich Gummerer for a long time. We gave some thought to the new international direction, came up with the new name and set up TechnoAlpin in 1990."
There were already some big players in the market back then. What was it in the early years that was critical for your success?
Erich Gummerer: “The prerequisites were an international focus and a reliable product. We were ridiculed in the early 1990s when we wanted to sell our snow guns to Japan. We were advised to get established in the Alps first. But we were convinced that you have to take an international approach in this niche market. And for that you need very reliable products. If something goes wrong on your doorstep, you can quickly put it right again. But if something is broken at the other side of the world, that costs an enormous amount of time and money. That still holds true today. That’s why we place great emphasis on quality control when the goods come in and during the manufacturing process. Every step is monitored so we don’t have any problems in the field. Another factor was that every project was equally important to us from the beginning. Some competitors had stopped taking small orders and were only concentrating on large-scale systems. We also valued and still value customers who only buy or rent one single machine."
25 years on the company has a worldwide workforce of around 400 employees serving over 1,800 customers in 48 different countries. Sales amounted to approximately € 130 million in the last financial year. What distinguishes TechnoAlpin today?
Walter Rieder: “Snowmaking is only one requirement. It’s always generating top-quality snow, continually optimizing energy efficiency and constantly simplifying handling for the customer - that’s what makes us stand out. Good snow guns by themselves are not enough. You need the whole package. The system must be correctly dimensioned and designed, and the snow guns installed correctly. The software must be able to do more than just control the system. It must be designed so that it also facilitates the planning of the snow season. And of course the service package must fit the bill. We never rest on our laurels but are constantly striving to improve and develop. Each of us has a passion for snow and that sets us apart.”
What do you see as the biggest challenge for TechnoAlpin?
Erich Gummerer: "The markets for our products are very different, in some cases acutely so. The ski resorts in Europe are well aware that an efficient snowmaking system is the basis for their value added. Automatic hybrid systems comprising fan guns and lances are the standard technology. The situation is completely different in the new markets, as they are called. Whereas mostly automatic and modern systems are installed in new developments, we still have to do a lot of work explaining the benefits of the systems in existing ski resorts. Many relatively small ski resorts are still happy to work with manual systems. We have developed a product range to cater for these needs as well. These are just some examples to illustrate the wide spectrum of requirements we are dealing with on a daily basis. Each market has its own peculiarities and we have to bear these in mind, whether in terms of products or culture or at an entirely practical level to do with import regulations and contracts. This internationalization is definitely the biggest challenge for a company the size of TechnoAlpin."
What do you wish for on your 25th anniversary?
Erich Gummerer: "Skiing is the most fantastic sport in the world as far as I am concerned. It is an outdoor pursuit, usually in breathtaking scenery. In recent years, however, winter sports have often been made a scapegoat in public discourse. Yet winter sports generate an enormous amount of added value, especially in regions with little to offer by way of alternatives. The energy consumed in the process is not higher than in other leisure pursuits and vacation activities. My wish would be for the ski resorts, associations and industry to join forces to raise awareness and restore their tainted image."