RECKLI turns 50: THE CONSTRUCTION SITE VISIT THAT IGNITED AN IDEA
A chance observation ignites the idea for an innovative way of shaping concrete. With perseverance and no fear of making mistakes, the company founders develop an innovative product and a special enterprise.
No more rigid structures, onward into a new era: while the student revolt of 1968 was politically revolutionizing the young Federal Republic, a revolution of its own was brewing in the Ruhr region. Hans-Jürgen Wiemers did not regard concrete as a merely functional building material, but rather recognized its potential as a moldable means of design. Tenacious and with an innovative spirit, he developed a product which added an expressive power to a façade: the RECKLI mold.
In the 1960s, architects recognized the potential of the façade, though, for the time being, the possibilities of design remained limited. Concrete had to be kept in shape using formwork, whose flaws left traces in the moldable material. In order to avoid unwanted visual effects, planners therefore opted for exposed aggregate concrete. The process of washing exposed the aggregate, thereby resulting in a regular pattern of the façade.
Hans-Jürgen Wiemers wanted more than just exposed aggregate concrete surfaces. He dreamt of abandoning monotonous façades in favor of varied and technically flawless concrete surfaces. Wiemers called a façade the “black suit” of a building. As a sales representative for a producer of construction chemicals, he regularly encountered the difficulties of forming exposed concrete surfaces: the workers on site would lament the technical hurdles and the visual flaws. During one of his construction site visits, Wiemers was inspired while observing a truck driving through fresh cement, leaving flawless tire marks. He realized that patterns can be imprinted in concrete with the help of an elastic formliner. However, they needed to be resistant enough to be employed in the construction industry and elastic enough to be removed easily from the dry concrete.
With this idea in mind, he secluded himself in his garage, which served as his lab. He sought help from his friend and client Franz Ernst and hired a chemist in order to find the right composition of the formliner based on numerous experiments. Once the recipe was ready half a year later, Wiemers and Ernst established the RECKLI company as partners in August 1968.
Wiemers and Ernst determined the permitted greatest measures of molds and developed production standards. The production was mainly performed by hand, as there were no machines to produce elastic moldliners of such a kind and in such dimensions. What is more, production by hand ensured that every detail of the product complied with the quality standards of the founders. The spirit of taking action and the roll-your-sleeves-up style common in the Ruhr region, helped them hire their first employees: those who were there from the start were excited about the possibility of leading a young company to success and realizing a new product idea.
Ernst and Wiemers gave their employees near to free rein, supported a constant exchange of ideas as well as a flat organization. In this way, innovative ideas were able to circulate freely at all levels. Mistakes were not condemned, but rather accepted as part of the development process. Part of the startup spirit of the founders was to be open for discussions and jointly finding solutions.
Following the product development and setting up the company, it was necessary to pursue an advertising campaign in order to establish the molds on the market. Wiemers and Ernst developed the core message: RECKLI molds provides clients with an advantage and facilitates their work. To convince the client, the founders first went on a regional marketing tour; exhibition stands and first border-crossing contacts soon followed. As early as 1971, RECKLI established partnerships in France, Italy, and Switzerland as well the Benelux countries. Two years later, the young company had branched out in all of West Europe.
Yet following the first big successes, the company faced its first great challenge. The oil crisis threw politicians into turmoil and the German economy plunged into a crisis. Apart from the economic consequences, RECKLI was also directly affected: oil is one of the raw materials needed for the production of the molds – a shortage and price increases could have had catastrophic consequences for the production safety. Prices in the mornings were already overtaken by those in the afternoons. The young entrepreneurs reacted. They negotiated fixed prices and long-term supply contracts, diversified their delivery structures and reconsidered their stockpiling. When the situation gradually started to improve in 1974, Wiemers and Ernst were able to breathe a sigh of relief: They had successfully mastered their first major test. In 1975 the company established relations with the Middle East and delivered first molds to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Ten years after its founding, RECKLI had acquired a place in a niche market and had built itself a reputation as a producer of high-quality products.