“There is still a growing world population. Especially in the developing markets, demand is up,” the count said.
Like other German firms, Faber-Castell also has shifted into high-end products, where the market is growing.
It produces a “Pen of the Year” that is scrupulously designed and crafted by hand out of precious and rare materials, and sold for $4,695 apiece as a collector’s item or accessory for the man who has everything else. This year’s pen is gold-plated. In years past, it has featured jade, amber and mammoth ivory.
Perhaps Faber-Castell is best known for its Perfect Pencil — a one-of-a-kind writing instrument that was Count Faber-Castell’s brainchild. It is an ordinary lead pencil enclosed in a gleaming silver case that includes a sharpener and can be reused as each pencil wears down. It costs $256.
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, gave a perfect pencil to President Obama, and the American chief executive is said to love using it. Other famous users include the Dalai Lama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, actor Robin Williams and comedian John Cleese.
“The perfect pencil was a success because it was unique,” said Count Faber-Castell, who attributes his company’s longevity to “consistency,” continuous innovation and long-term thinking.
“There is no big secret here. It’s simply sticking to the things you do well and not being forced to change,” he said. Through many “small innovations” over the years, the company learned to “do ordinary things extraordinarily well. We charge a bit more, naturally, for it,” he said.
Count Faber-Castell is not ruling out going public at some point, but he said if Faber-Castell were an American company and tried to please Wall Street stock investors with a pop in earnings each quarter, he likely would have been fired long ago and never would have tried something as risky as developing a luxury pencil.
While Faber-Castell makes the world’s only “perfect pencil,” other German firms claim they also have achieved perfection in spheres as diverse as manufacturing cars and molding statues.
World’s best knife
Wilhelm Siebel, president of Mono, a small Rhine Valley company with 30 employees, claims to have perfected the kitchen knife through an exacting process that takes 70 steps to complete and requires years of apprenticeship to learn.
“It is the perfect knife,” he said without cracking a smile, noting that it is used in five-star restaurants in San Francisco and elsewhere because chefs also “feel it is perfect.”
Mr. Siebel exhibits the kind of unvarnished enthusiasm and conviction that many German manufacturers show for their products.
“You need to have a passion for the product that goes beyond pure functionality” to climb to the top, he said.View Entire Story
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