High-class concrete products

In Germany “braun-steine” is a market leader in the segment of concrete products of high quality. The company strengthens its innovative power and the perception on the market by systematic product development and clear brand management.

Who knows, who he is and what he wants, has a clear advantage. With this consciousness of the own strengths, he can actively act on the market, conquer new product segments for himself or even create some by himself. But who does not have this consciousness, will only serve the demand coming form outside until it possibly may cease to exist someday.

That the management of “braun-steine” (hereinafter referred to as braun-steine) has a clear vision of what constitutes the company and the products, and how business partners and customers shall perceive the company and the products, one can soon realize when visiting the headquarters in Amstetten: It starts right in front of the entrance, at the sample yard, where the currently important products of the company are effectively showcased, well-arranged in various areas. It continues in the reception area, where the visitor can take a seat on grained concrete seating furniture that is reminiscent of wood blocks and is part of the braun-steine product portfolio. And it goes on in the stairway, where certificates and items from the company history are exhibited in glass cabinets (see p. 40, braun-steine – the company).

All this taken together gives the visitor an impression of braun-steine as a family-run business with more than 140 years of experience in the production of technically state-of-the-art concrete products of high quality.

“We have jointly defined for us the values which we refer to and which represent the braun-steine company today. These values are quality, personality and passion, innovative spirit as well as sustainability,” states Albrecht Braun, who manages the family-run business as general manager together with his cousin Wilfried Braun. Thomas Aicheler is the third general manager and is responsible for the affiliated company Aicheler & Braun located in Tübingen which is part of the group of companies. The management is completed by Albrecht Braun’s son Felix, who has been responsible as sales director for the entire group since early 2017.

From rumbled to patinated

The decision for the segment of high-quality products was taken deliberately and was due to the company’s location and the development of the market in Germany. Owing to the transportation routes for raw materials to the production sites, it was necessary for braun-steine to differentiate their products against the competition. According to Braun, the market also saw more and more manufacturers, increasing the supply of concrete products in the respective regional markets of Germany and thus intensifying competition. “Hence, we had to re-orientate at a particular time and had to manufacture new products, in order to continue to progress in the market at all,” Braun explains.

Today, braun-steine is manufacturing concrete products for designing the privately owned home and garden as well as for urban development and particular building projects. The portfolio consists of paving stones, slabs, palisades, steps, masonry units, elements for edges and drainage systems, design elements, tree protection systems, and block and slab pavements for heavy goods traffic. The products are available in a wide variety of colors and various surface finishes, rumbled, shot- and water-blasted, tapped, abrasive milled, split or patinated – so the portfolio comprises about 1,800 active items taking all variations into account.

Systematic development

For the management, it is particularly important to recognize market potentials at an early stage and to make product ideas ready for the market in due time. This becomes more and more difficult because the ideas have to be implemented very fast in the strong competition; and, because of the cost pressure prevailing in the industry, the resources are also limited, whether personnel, material or machines are concerned – which is probably true for the majority of German manufacturers of concrete products. Therefore, the management of braun-steine decided to create a central position for purposefully coordinating the innovation efforts of the meanwhile 100 employees of the two locations. “We always want to be one step ahead of the market. Therefore, we have strengthened our manpower.” Braun tates. At the new position in charge of product development, all comes together from the different departments working on a new product.

Here an eye is also kept on the product introduction process. “New products are always an issue of joy and sorrow. In fact, problems always occur when bringing a new product onto the market. I think that is really true for every company and their new products: The product introduction proc-ess is definitely underestimated,” Braun says. At the beginning, the enthusiasm in the company for the new product is great, just like the certainty of a rapid market acceptance. But, until a new product is really known in the market it takes much time and much effort, according to him.

The new staff members, responsible for product development at braun-steine, ensure that a new product gets the required attention of the management and staff, even beyond the critical first three years. And they will even take into account to withdraw an innovation from the sales program if it does not get the necessary acceptance in the market after the “period of grace” has expired.

Premium products as “lighthouse”

Dipl.-Kfm. Albrecht Braun also attaches great importance to a professional brand management. “We do exactly consider which products we want to promote. This can even be products which first and foremost contribute to the degree of brand awareness, but with a low significance for sales; or it may be products which begin to show noticeable sales only after five, six years,” Braun says.

As far as marketing of the overall portfolio and the braun-steine company itself is concerned, particular importance is attached to the premium products. They are, so to speak, reference points within the huge variety of the portfolio. The premium products include the Arena paving stone system, the Santuro as well as the Mahora wood-textured product line, for example.

As a medium-sized company, braun-steine does remarkably much to make the products widely known in the market so that they attract attention in the long run: This starts with print media, such as the customer magazine “Der Meilenstein” (milestone) being published for 30 years now or the product catalog “Steine-Journal” (stone journal). Both media appear in a modern and brightly colored layout. braun-steine uses the “Der Meilenstein” magazine to publish news from the group of companies and the products as well as short project reports or information about events, organized by the Swabian company for several years now. The product catalog includes an introductory part about the company, the philosophy and the production; followed by a part dedicated to the products with large photos and all essential technical details in a well-design, high-quality layout.

Print, online and visual arts

In addition, braun-steine provides the regional press and the trade press with reports on particularly successful projects where products of braun-steine are used. They give detailed information on the performance requirements and the characteristics of the concrete products used. Project reports are moreover published in especially high-quality media addressing architects and planners. A report on the braun-steine project of a primary school in Wörthsee will be published, for example, in the Jahrbuch Beton Bauteile 2018 yearbook, published by Bauverlag in Güterloh like the BFT International trade magazine. Elements of the Arena paving system, among others, are used for this project.

The print media, furthermore, include the important and comprehensive technical documentation for planners and building contractors; it comprises planning aids (with CAD data as well), expert reports, paving patterns, data sheets, declarations of performance, and tender texts, with all of them being available for download as PDF file on the professionally and user-friendly designed website of the company.

braun-steine organizes several events to ensure and/or increase the awareness of the company and the products. Quite early, the management has realized visual arts as an initiator and bridge to the creative minds of the construction industry, namely architects and designers. Every year another artist exhibits his or her works to staff and visitors in the “Alte Schlosserei” building (old locksmith’s shop) on the company premises in Amstetten. During the one-week art workshop “artist at work”, artists from all over Germany and adjacent countries create sculptures using ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC). Afterwards the company media, regional and nationwide press report on the event.

Show garden up to license cooperations

For private home and garden owners the products are now exclusively sold through building material suppliers, which is in the responsibility of Albrecht Braun’s son Felix as sales manager. The private final customers in the core sales area of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria have the opportunity to learn about the products and to decide on an appropriate product in the show gardens at the two locations in Amstetten and Tübingen as well as in Eckersmühlen south of Nuremberg, in Egling near Munich and in Deggenhausertal near Ravensburg.

Planners, architects, and manufacturing companies are visited by the sales staff or technical consultants of braun-steine and are provided with information about new products regularly.

By granting of licenses to manufacturing partners and the joint advertising group, national brands are created, strengthening the products.

According to the wish of the three general managers, all business activities of braun-steine shall be sustainable. “This starts with the fact that our raw materials primarily come from regional suppliers. And residues occurring due to quality are reused to the largest possible extent in the production cycle as raw materials,” Braun states.

Moreover, the energy management system of the Amstetten location was certified according to DIN EN 50001 already two years ago.

Braun-Steine – the company
The founder of the company from which “braun-steine” (hereinafter referred to as braun-steine) originated set the bar high for the descendants: Soon after the start in 1875, the company was appointed “purveyor to the royal court of Württemberg”. However, in those days, it was not about concrete, the Swabian company was appointed for the supply of crushed limestone, which they extracted at the first location in Lonsee and delivered to the court of Württemberg in Stuttgart, for instance. In 1920s, serial production of precast floor slabs was added to the portfolio.
License cooperations
In 1950, the company relocated from Lonsee to the present location in Amstetten. The production of concrete products for road construction started there about ten years later with the SF fully interlocking block. From 1970, the concrete products have also been manufactured at the Aicheler & Braun facility located in Tübingen, the factory founded at that time, of which braun-steine is the majority shareholder and is responsible for sales and marketing.
Back then, the membership at SF-Kooperation - a group of small and medium-sized building materials and concrete goods producers – already proved beneficial. On the one hand, the companies organized in the group exchanged experience and jointly developed products; on the other hand, the group increased the number of shareholders by manufacturers from all over the world, starting from the 1980s. Since the market had strongly changed by today, SF-Kooperation is being restructured at present. However, braun-steine still cooperates with partners in Germany as well as Switzerland, Austria, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland.
Change to the fifth generation
At present, a generation change takes place at braun-steine in Amstetten. The 31-year-old Felix Braun has taken over sales management at braun-steine on January 01, 2017; after graduating as industrial engineer at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, he had been working as business consultant in Munich for some years and as assistant to the management of braun-steine for one year.
After the retirement of Albrecht Braun, Felix Braun will take over the management together with Wilfried Braun. Alfred Braun’s daughter Karin as tax consultant and holding a business administration degree is head of commercial administration of of the group. Thus, braun-steine is managed by the family also in the fifth generation.
Braun-Steine – the plant equipment
The production process is a well-kept secret at many manufacturers of concrete products in Germany. This is true for “braun-steine” (hereinafter referred to as braun-steine) as well. Wilfried Braun, one of three general managers and responsible for the field of production, just discloses the following:
Three block making machines in total are used in Amstetten and Tübingen – one from Hess and two from Schlosser; one of the two block making machines from Schlosser is now replaced by a modernized into state-of-the-art Zenith block machine. All block making machines work with production boards in the size of 950 x 1,400 cm.
According to Wilfried Braun, each of the three block making machines can run up to 1,400 cycles per shift. “Hence, the overall production capacity, among others, depends on the number of shifts operated. At present, we operate in two shifts; in February, it is one shift normally,” Braun explains. Of course, this also depends on whether an elaborate premium product is being produced or “fast-running” product.
Many machines and equipment are available for surface finishing, among others, a splitting plant of Steinex, a shot blasting machine of Rump, and a water-blasting machine as well as machines of SR Schindler for tapping and abrasive milling. For finishing processes equipment is used from the company’s own machine development.
In addition to that, color mix systems are used in Amstetten and Tübingen.
Braun assumes large potential in the complex cast concrete method which braun-steine uses for manufacturing their premium concrete products of the Mahora product line. Though, until today, the plant technology of the machine and equipment suppliers still lags a bit behind the actual requirements in terms of concrete technology for this production method, according to him.

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