North Rhine-Westphalia was long considered the land of large coal and steel companies. In many cases, these are now industrial history. Comprehensive structural change has shaped the state on the Rhine and Ruhr in recent decades. It created space for many a hidden champion in NRW: The presented companies belong to the largest companies in North Rhine-Westphalia.
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1. Vorwerk SE & Co. KG, Wuppertal: 3.2 billion euros in sales
The Vorwerk story began in 1883 as Barmer Teppichfabrik Vorwerk & Co. Initially, the company manufactured carpets and upholstery fabrics. Over the next decades the business model changed several times. The electric hand-held vacuum cleaner “Kobold” was a resounding success in the 1920s and 1930s. This evolved into today’s business model. Vorwerk offers household appliances and cosmetics (Jafra Cosmetics) in direct sales – i.e. without the intermediary of the trade. “Kobold” vacuum cleaners and the multifunctional kitchen appliance “Thermomix” form two pillars of the business. Sales are made in around 60 countries. The company is still family-owned. Vorwerk has around 12,200 permanent employees. Sales are handled by some 578,000 independent sales representatives worldwide.
2. Beckhoff Automation GmbH & Co. KG, Verl: 923 million euros turnover
Arnold and Elisabeth Beckhoff founded the company “Elektro Beckhoff” in Verl in 1953. This developed into the Beckhoff Group, a leading supplier in the field of automation and control technology. “Beckhoff Automation” focuses on PC-based control technology (main areas of application: mechanical and plant engineering, building automation). “Elektro Beckhoff” stands for “building technology” (electrical engineering systems for industry, residential construction, hotels and infrastructure facilities). “Beckhoff Technik und Design” is a Verl-based retail company for consumer electronics, lighting technology and household appliances. The Beckhoff Group employs around 4,500 people, a good half of them at Beckhoff Automation. This is also where the focus of sales lies.
3. reuter onlineshop GmbH, Viersen: 350 million euros turnover
reuter onlineshop is an example of how eCommerce can turn a small craft business into a hidden champion. Bernd Reuter went into business for himself in 1986 with his installation company “Bernd Reuter Heizung und Sanitär” in Viersen. In 1994, a specialist shop was also opened and in 2004, an online shop for bathroom products was launched. Since then, the business has developed extremely dynamically. Today, reuter onlineshop describes itself as Germany’s largest online retailer for bathrooms, lighting and living. More than 100,000 branded articles are sold. Fulfillment is handled by a central logistics warehouse in Mönchengladbach. The company employs over 850 people and is still owner-managed.
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