Stihl, an American brand?

IS Still and American or German brand?

Is STIHL an American or German brand?

Whoa! Stihl, the worldwide market leader for chainsaws, has published a ten-page special advertising section in BusinessWeek. I am really impressed! But the most impressive fact is that Stihl positioned itself as an American manufacturer. But is Still an American brand? I was so astonished about it that I had to check on the German website to reassure myself that Stihl is still a German company. It most definitely is – and for almost 100 years!

How do I know? Easy. I first went to Germany to a city named Waiblingen when I was 13 years old. My mum had organized an exchange with a German family so I could improve my school German. My then pen pal turned out to be my best friend forever, and the rest is history. I have since spent a lot of time in Waiblingen where Stihl’s headquarters are located.

How does Stihl describe itself as American?

It begins with the title “Built in America, beloved worldwide”, and a sub-headline underlining the American origin “For Virginia-based STIHL Inc., a high quality, domestically produced product is more than a business model – it’s a core value.”

The introduction talks about companies bringing back production to the United States “but Stihl… never left.” A description of the American facility follows: 2,000 employees, 260 model variations of equipment and production for the U.S. and over 90 countries. CEO Fred Whyte points out, “… if you are going to be a player in the American market, you have to be a manufacturer in the American market.”

Furthermore all headlines focus on the American origin: Built in America, Serving America, At Work in America, Number one in America.

It is subtle and amazingly well-done. I needed to re-read the publication before catching up on “The U.S. subsidiary of the company founded by Andreas Stihl in 1927… began assembling chainsaws… in 1974” and in “one of seven international manufacturing facilities in the Stihl Group, the U.S. produces the highest volume of Stihl power tools.”

Check the picture gallery at the end of this article to read the full special advertising section.

In my blog post “Missing the Made in France in the U.S.” I have already talked about the different strategies between French or German originated brands in the United States. Stihl is a good example of the German strategy. Adidas, T-Mobile, Aldi and Haribo are other examples of German brands not talking about their German origin. The German positioning is only clear in the car industry: Americans who are well-off buy Mercedes or BMW cars.

I don’t know why Stihl decided to do in the United States as if it’s an American and not a German brand. BusinessWeek wrote also that “Stihl… boasts the fact that its products are a combination of renowned German engineering and good old American know-how.” But if I consider where all the handymen, painters, electricians, etc., who have ever worked in our house, come from, their perception of Stihl has certainly an influence on the brand positioning.

I have talked with our Mexican handyman, the Bolivian construction worker and the Salvadoran electrician. I asked them if they were happy with their tools, and what they think about Bosch, Stihl, and Siemens? It came out that they didn’t know Stihl and Bosch were German brands. They thought they were American. I didn’t go deeper in the conversation. Believe me, it was weird enough for them to talk business with a woman!

Foto credit by @STHIL advertising in BusinessWeek


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  • Another somewhat different mystery. Ford and General Motors crossed the Atlantic about 1925, Ford by building factories and a distribution network of its own, General Motors by buying Opel and Vauxhall. In Germany, Ford is often perceived by chauvinists as a USA car of poor quality and Opel as German quality car. Both are not true. Abroad in Europe they are considered German except Ford on the British Isles, where it is perceived as English I suppose. The above quality perception is equally weird, as both brands are considered German quality cars elsewhere on the continent. What is true is that Volkswagen has become a multiple brand group and has kept its quality reputation when it attacked the market segment where the Americans were alone in Germany in the sixties, the same segment where the Japanese and Koreans are playing now too. It is all by the names: English Ford and German Opel.

    Just for American readers: French, Italian and the foreign subbrands of VW sell also in Germany as German brands do in France and Italy. The EU market is more open than you believe.

  • Simple answer is Branding The customer needs to “connect” with the product. “Made in Germany” is a strong brand, but the “Made in the USA” also has impact.

    • Certainly a good point. However “Made in Germany” seems to enough in the up-end car industry. Maybe because a car demonstrates a kind of status?

  • Nether. Stihl astutely recognizes the difference between being a German company that conducts business in other countries, and that of a truly international brand. Likewise, Americans need to understand that creation of (particularly manufacturing) jobs through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) are just as valuable to the nation’s ongoing recovery.

    • I totally agree. This is certainly one of the reason why German SMEs are exporting so successfully. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Na ja, Black & Decker lässt auch nicht in Deutschland seinen US-amerikanischen Ursprung durchblicken. Aus dem Bauch denke ich, dass meine elektrischen Werkzeuge, Bosch oder Black & Decker, in England hergestellt wurden.

    Das sind alles transnational arbeitende Konzerne. Es hat lange gedauert bis ich – sportlich uninteressiert – wusste, dass Adidas mit dem altgriechisch anmutenden Namen und Puma, eine Raubkatzenbezeichnung in vielen Sprachen, deutsche Marken sind.

    Autos mögen zwar national erkennbar sein, die Teile der oben genannten, deutschen Marken kommen aber zur Hälfte aus dem Ausland. Beide haben eine Fabrik in den USA, deren Produktion weltweit verkauft wird. Wegen meiner zwei letzten, gebraucht gekauften, japanischen Autos zeigt man mitunter mit dem Finger auf mich. Das letzte wurde in den Niederlanden, in der meinem Wohnort nächsten Autofabrik überhaupt gebaut. Die Bodengruppen- und Gesamtentwicklung wurden in Japan gemacht, das Karosseriedesign stammt aus dem Frankfurter Großraum, der Motor wurde in Ostdeutschland gebaut.

    Für Lebensmittel gibt es die heilige Allianz der Presse, Kontrolleure und Produzenten, die am liebsten alles Ausländische als minderwertig, gar gefährlich brandmarkt.

    Die genannten Supermarkt- und Telekommunikationsbetriebe haben kein Interesse, ihre nationale Flagge hoch zu halten. Das Verkaufsargument ist einzig und allein Mehr fürs Geld.

    • Yep. Genau wie Apple in China produziert und auf den Packungen “Designed in California” schreibt. Als Deutsch-Französin beobachte seit Jahren die Stärke des deutschen sowie die Schwäche des frz. Exports. Deutschen sind pragmatisch, Franzosen zu selbstsicher. Jeder geht davon aus, dass ein deutscher Ursprung bei zB Werkzeugen ein Qualitätsmerkmal ist. Stihl tut jedoch so, als ob es amerikanisch wäre und ist damit erfolgreich. Frz. Unternehmen gehen davon aus, dass es reicht bei Mode, Parfüm, Essen das Frz. hervorzuheben. Nur die wenigen sind damit erfolgreich: Lacoste, Le Creuset, Paul fallen mir spontan ein. Was haben sie mit dt. KMUs gemeinsam? Qualitätsprodukte in Familien geführten Unternehmen des Mittelstands.

    • Sind dann Aldi und T-Mobile cooler? Adidas wird eher als eine international agierende Marke wahrgenommen. Bei Haribo muss ich schmunzeln, wenn frz. Landsleute die Marke als frz. sehen. Das liegt daran, dass Haribo auch in Frankreich produziert. Alles in allem ein interessantes Phänomen. Französische Marken bestehen auf das “made in France” und sind weniger erfolgreich.

  • It may have to do with the idea that most of us do recognize and accept superiority in some areas, but do like to be recognized as superior in others.
    There is a funny story that might help me make my idea clear. Do you know the difference between Heaven and Hell? Well, in Heaven the police are British, the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian, the bankers are Swiss and the cars are German. In Hell the cooks are British, the bankers are Italian, the cars are French, the lovers are Swiss and the police are German.
    You see, most of us do recognize German superiority when it comes to cars, or prefer French cuisine over British cooking. Just don’t tell a Swiss that there might be a better banking system anywhere else, or an American, that there are better power tools elsewhere.

  • Da muss man schon die Amerikaner kennen. Sie sind nicht nur stark nationalistisch sondern auch etwas egozentrisch. Das heisst, dass etwas was in den USA hergestellt wird “besser” ist und auch Amerikaner Arbeit bietet. Da ist doch die amerikanische Flagge in jeder Werbung zu sehen.

    • I agree. However they have no problem to buy Mercedes or BMW. I would have thought that it would apply also to power tools.

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