Made in Germany
If you are looking for the origins of the success of products that are "Made in Germany", you could start in the powerful large cities that drive the nation. For years, the eyes of the entire world have been on the goings-on in the emergent capital city with its bearded talents, international investors and brand-new start-ups. If you take a closer look at "Made in Germany", however, you soon see that it's not simply a guarantee of origin. That it represents values you would be hard pushed to find in an anonymous city. However, if you still wanted to pin down the origin of Germany’s workmanship and economy to one place, where would this be?
In the most southerly corner of Germany, in a federal state that bathes in its ancient customs and traditions, yet at the same time is more productive than any other: Baden-Württemberg. Nowhere else will you find so many medium-sized industrial companies. Every few villages you come across an entrepreneur who is directing the world market with his family business. In actual fact, Baden-Württemberg has the largest density of world market leaders per inhabitant! If you believe that these days, everything has already been invented and built, the Swabians are still finding a niche market for their products.
They don’t want to change the world. They simply love their products and craftsmanship. These modest people never blow their own trumpet. They don’t talk too much, they don’t show off, they don’t gossip. They prefer to work. On the next business empire, on the next invention or – loosely based on the Swabian mantra of "Work hard, work hard, build a little house" – on personal well-being. This is what the Swabians do best and love most of all: working.
That’s how things are at Rolf Benz. We are among those medium-sized companies based in Baden-Württemberg who have made it with good products (don’t think we’re showing off, but secretly of course we know our products are excellent). We manufacture upholstered furniture, or more precisely sofas, armchairs and upholstered chairs, that are produced in Mötzingen on the edge of the Black Forest.
Here in the country, there’s nothing to distract us as is the case in the city. And we don’t want it to. Work first, then pleasure – that doesn't apply to us because work already is our pleasure.
The Swabian word "accomplish", which corresponds to the usual term "work", reveals the importance of work to us. It’s a design process, something creative, an enrichment, an achievement. Manufacturing a sofa is a creative process from its design to its construction. We are keen to develop a design language that is up-to-date and caters to the tastes of everyone from Prague to Shanghai. We want to anticipate trends and look into the future so that our sofas will someday become something more – icons and classics.
Creativity and originality? Are these qualities that one expects from the bourgeois Black Forest? In actual fact, on the one hand there are fixed rules and guidelines that enable us to think freely and lightheartedly. Yet adhering to rules is a very Swabian trait. When it comes to order and rules, we have an almost manic sense of duty. However, deep down inside, surely every one of us has thought about simply ignoring the communal cleaning notice at home. A signposted directive that we pass along from door to door to clean the floors, staircases and pavements for ourselves and our fellow human beings. We think a bit of dusting wouldn't hurt the traditional rules either. After all, this is the second component that lets our creativity flourish in the first place: enjoyment of and pleasure in the finer things of life.
We can’t keep up with the relaxed nature of our neighbours and their French laissez-faire attitude. Nor with our colleagues further south, where they have the Spanish siesta or even the Italian Mezzogiorno, which turns entire communities into ghost towns with locked shop doors as soon as the church clock strikes. We prefer to keep our lunch breaks short. However, we live in a federal state that celebrates taste and pleasure just as much as the southerners! After all, nowhere else will you find so many Michelin-starred restaurants as here. That’s not surprising either, if you assume that even Swabian cooks like doing nothing more than cooking.
Actually, the secret of our "legendary" seating comfort lies in pleasure. If we design and construct sofa upholstery which you later lounge around on in peace and quiet, we are so good at this because we ourselves love nothing more than relaxing once our work is done. You might not want to believe it, but we are also experts in stretching out on the sofa, surrounded by cushions, happily spending time doing absolutely nothing.
So what does "Made in Germany" mean to us? We’ve already given you a foretaste. There are typical German traits such as order, conscientiousness and discipline for which we are admired and perhaps even a little ridiculed all over the world. These are values that require discipline but produce good results. It is the combination of our singularly Swabian work ethic with extremely high standards of quality, which you could almost call an obsession. In the individual stages of development, which we will now take you through, you will see that the formula for success for products that are "Made in Germany" is the same as for anything else in the world. The price of success is dedication.
We don't make things easy for you when it comes to deciding on a sofa cover. With more than 240 fabrics and over 100 leather items you are spoilt for choice: from virgin wool to cotton to synthetic fibres, right up to natural or pigmented full-grain leathers. Selecting one isn't simply a matter of taste, it requires the use of all of one’s senses. Think about the smell of new nubuck leather, about silently sinking into soft viscose, or about the fascinating shimmering effect of velour. Most of all, it requires the use of your largest organ: your skin. After all, the covering that you select for your sofa corresponds to the covering of your own body. Everyone has personal preferences, but after many years of experience we can say that in northern Germany and in line with the weather conditions there, the cover can be rougher and even a little scratchy. The further south you go, the more supple and soft the selected material has to be.
Once your skin has found its perfect companion, our work in the fabric and leather factory begins. This is where the most popular material types lay across leather racks and in fabric tubes just like in an enormous treasure chamber. That’s no exaggeration when you consider the value of the goods – what’s kept here is Rolf Benz’s capital. Employees receive a new delivery several times a week and they track the goods precisely in the "goods receipt checks". Only a few fabric suppliers and tanneries who work carefully and sustainably, and who are certified with the "Blue Angel" environmental label, are among the inner circle of suppliers. This trust is hard-earned – it takes a good few meetings before we Swabians are impressed.
Each year we process several hundreds of thousands of square metres of fabric and leather into covers. Of course, this approach of logical thinking, categorisation and order is in our blood, but we couldn't handle such quantities without the help of sophisticated automated systems. This is why we use technologies that have been specially developed for Rolf Benz.
With leather, for example, we work with the latest leather scanners to optimise cutting and minimise wastage. An employee uses the scanner to examine each individual hide, assesses the number of possible single cuts and defines the quality zones. This is where high-tech meets unspoiled nature. We consider leather to be more than just a material – it’s a natural raw material. It’s the skin of a cow that once protected that animal. You don’t buy a hide by the meter, it comes with all of its natural characteristics such as insect bites, thorn scratches, grains, hair whirls and stretch marks. These make the leather a true natural product. However, not everyone wants to think about the animal's life and all of its turmoil whilst sitting on a perfect sofa. This is why the scanner and the employee’s trained eye divide the skin up into different zones that are used according to their suitability for conspicuous surfaces such as seat cushions and rests, or for less visible parts underneath the sofa.
Of course, the fabric that is delivered is also checked thoroughly. The employee scans, checks and touches each meter by sight and by hand. In this way, we can eliminate damage, pulled threads and colour variations with the highest degree of certainty. We then categorise and store the hides and fabrics.
But the question remains about the best material for a sofa. Nubuck leather, viscose, velour? For us it’s clear that every material that leaves our warehouse is the best. What’s best for you is entirely your decision.
Our imaginativeness isn't confined to the design office. Outside of our creative rooms, a sophisticated system with highly efficient computers ensures that the sorted and classified components of each individual order go from A to B in good time. On the way from the warehouse to the cutting room, a fully-automated intermediate storage facility compares the capacity of our employees with the volume of orders from customers. This enables us to maintain control, forward plan and process each order individually. The only exception in this process is the fabric and leather cutting stage. Different orders are consolidated here and processed together to protect resources and reduce wastage. We then sort the cut parts again and assign them to specific customer orders.
It’s no wonder that we are exceedingly fond of checking and planning, cataloguing and classifying. After all, we create the sofa of your dreams that you have chosen, specified and ordered. We fall in line with your requirements and ideas regarding covers, leg versions, colour tones, surfaces and seating comfort versions. If a "one size fits all" approach doesn't apply to customers, processing takes up more time accordingly. We at Rolf Benz are extremely proud of the fact that we work in such a customer-specific way that your sofa borders on being made-to-measure. In any case, it is an item that has been individually created for you and will soon become your new favourite sofa. This is a small, logistical miracle considering that the number of seating units we produce every year is in the six-figure range.
Cutting fabric and leather shows how efficient and sustainable results are when technology meets precision. Man and machine, instinctive feeling and high-tech all come together when we cut our leathers. The optimal cutting plan depends on reducing wastage and originates from computers; the command to implement it comes from humans. Two ultra-modern leather cutting machines with fully digitised cutting patterns can cut several hundred skins in two shifts every day, and prepare them to be stored for further processing. At the same time, two fabric cutting machines process several hundreds of metres of fabric in shifts, day in, day out. This is efficient and protects resources. We have come up with lots of ways so we can keep an overview, become more productive and protect our valuable materials whilst sparing your nerves at the same time. After all, we don’t want to overstretch your patience when waiting for the perfect sofa. By the way: if you want to refresh the appearance of your seating furniture after many years, you can order a new cover for it since we keep the cutting patterns in our system for decades.
All parts are subsequently checked again, so if any errors creep in here, we can easily rectify them so the material is perfectly prepared for the next stage: sewing.
The fabric or leather that ultimately covers your Rolf Benz sofa can consist of up to 25 individual pieces. Anyone working on a cover in the sewing room needs to have an eye for detail but also for the bigger picture. This is why there are a number of precautionary stages before work starts on the sewing machine, since sewing needs to be well planned.
To process an order, we remove the leather and fabrics that our colleagues in the cutting room have so carefully cut out, sorted and labelled from grey crates and send them to what is called "raw parts finishing". This is where we refine the leather. We grind the cut edges flat so that they can be stitched to other leather pieces more easily. We also close all dividing seams, use decorative stitching and gathers, and overlock fabrics so they don’t fray.
Now you might think that the cover is merely the outside of the sofa and that it doesn't affect seating comfort. Yet as engineers of perfect seating, we have already thought about how each stage can contribute in its own way towards your body being comfortably supported during development. It's like this in the next stage too: to ensure optimum softness later on, we quilt each individual leather or fabric part of a cover with cotton wadding. Depending on the model, we select the correct one from out of 15 different thicknesses! This means that the air can circulate better, ensuring significantly higher breathability. The wadding also guarantees that the cover does not stick and subsequently slips over the upholstery more easily. But it’s not only seating comfort that we take into account when working: we are always thinking about the next stage and our colleagues.
We wouldn’t be the meticulous fanatics of comfort that we are without going the extra mile and scheduling in an additional production step. We attach a fleece to extremely soft and stretchy leather. We spent a lot of time tinkering with this fleece material, an enormous effort that remains completely hidden from view. Or perhaps not quite: this fleece ensures that especially stretchy leathers ripple less.
After all of these stages, we finally get down to work or rather, should we say, to the handiwork. The parts of a cover are assembled by hand using the sewing machines in the sewing room. Every stitch is perfect, since one person is responsible for sewing an entire cover! No eye is more watchful than your own, which is why employees check their own work after the sewing process. If an error does creep in at the end, the seam is ripped apart and everything starts again from scratch. Think about it: this is more than quality assurance. Every one of our colleagues is personally committed to ensuring that "their" cover is perfect. Where else can you say today that a single chef prepares a multi-course menu for you, or that a builder single-handedly renovates your apartment? The sewers devote all their dedication and passion for their job to this one cover. You will feel this love when you sit on it.
You’ve now seen how we work with great foresight in raw parts finishing and in the sewing room. Right from the start, things should be easier for upholstery, which is the next department to receive the sofa. This is why in the final stage in the sewing room, we attach loops inside the covers to make it easier for our upholstery colleagues to pull them over. We now re-store the covers for a complete order so they can automatically set off on their journey to the next stage once they have been recorded in the system.
We’ve talked a great deal about the external appearance of a sofa. We are now approaching the essence of a sofa, its upholstery. What is even the most beautiful sofa worth if it is not comfortable? As hackneyed as it may sound, true beauty really does come from within, since next to appearance, it’s the fantastic seating experience that has made our Rolf Benz sofas so well-known and loved. In pre-upholstery, outside and inside become one. Thirteen open booths provide insight into the work stages that connect all components of a sofa with each other: frame, cover, foam, feed, fittings, screws and other functional parts.
We obtain the frames from nearby town Pfalzgrafenweiler, the home of our own factory. This is where our employees produce hundreds of frames for Rolf Benz a day, which they painstakingly saw, glue, hammer, screw together, tack and equip with Nosag or sinuous springs. Our decentralised, logistics-orientated, organisational and controlling concept ensures that the right components are produced and delivered in the right number when we actually need them to fulfil customer orders. This precision originates from typically German punctuality paired with Swabian planning abilities. Why all that? Because the result is less: shorter throughput times, reduced storage locations and low capital tie-up. At the same time, all other components of your future sofa are being brought to one of the booths in pre-upholstery on trolleys. This is where hard meets soft; wood meets foam in different thicknesses.
We have truly internalised the philosophy of sitting correctly. The requirements of the human body are complicated, which is why good sofa production is complex. Several foam layers of different density are glued and tacked together and attached to the wooden frame for the perfect upholstery structure. We call this a "progressive seat structure": the foam should be softer at the point where your buttocks sit in the seating unit; this is where your body will later be pleasantly cushioned. Your legs need support on the front edge of the upholstery, however, which is why we often glue in firmer foam in this area. Sitting well means that you do not feel any discomfort in this posture: no feelings of numbness in your buttocks, no tension in your back, no pulling in your thighs. The sofa’s anatomy follows the human anatomy.
This is why our pre-upholstery processes the spring system of a sofa sensitively and in meticulous detail. Once again: no pain, no gain. Our ingenious "sandwich construction" in which different, high-quality layers of foam are glued together has only one single objective: meeting your individual requirements and fulfilling your perfect sitting experience.
Once everything is together that belongs together, this ultimately results in a fully upholstered frame including fitted covers, the protective covering for the furniture. Admittedly, many models are also padded with sinuous springs and classic tensioning straps, but the quality of the foam is key when structuring upholstery. As ever, you decide which type of seating comfort you prefer with which upholstery. In the past we used to sit more upright; today the trend is for soft upholstery. The majority of customers require a sensual, pleasantly warm sitting experience. You are entirely free to choose whether you want to sink into sensuously soft furniture, or whether you prefer your upholstery to be slightly firmer.
If the steps from cutting to sewing rely on precision, upholstery requires one thing above all: pure power! Making sure every move is perfectly orchestrated requires not just muscle power but a watchful eye as well. Our employees in upholstery are true masters of their profession: they pull the sofa cover, that precious skin made of leather or fabric, skilfully yet powerfully over its framework. They pull and jiggle until it fits like a glove. The dress should flatter the body perfectly but still be relaxed, with a little room to move.
The sofa has now reached the end of its journey. A few more calories are burnt during the final installation of covers, upholstery and feet before the upholsterers sign off their work with their personal signature on the quality certificate. Our tried and tested allocation principle also applies to this department: you can trace every step on every one of our finished sofas. When our employees from upholstery enjoy their evenings on the sofa, this isn't merely well-deserved; they do so with a clear conscience. Not only because they have done a good day’s physical work, but also because they can guarantee its quality. Responsibility is one of the virtues that Rolf Benz is proud to claim. Our employees prove this day in, day out.
At the end of production comes – you’ve guessed it – another inspection, the infamous final inspection. We assemble your sofa and put it on a pedestal. Each individual sofa that is made by Rolf Benz is subjected to this final inspection. Apart from supplied parts such as injection moulding, foam and metal feet, we have created everything ourselves, often by hand. In any case, the supplied parts are checked twice and three times, but ultimately we are keen to see whether your sofa, which now sits so proudly and magnificently on its presentation throne, really is as perfect as it seems, from its headrest to its feet.
We meticulously examine, monitor, check, inspect, assess, test and feel everything that isn’t nailed down. Do moving parts work? Is the cover flawless or are there any undesirable nuances in colour anywhere? Does everything sit where it should? Every day, several hundred sofas, armchairs and chairs wait for final approval by the inspector. Once this has been granted, your sofa can be prepared for transport. This step should not be underestimated, since most damage is incurred during packaging and transportation. We package it properly with additional corner protection, bubble wrapped and ready for special travel boxes. The sort of packaging you would use to send a Rembrandt or a Picasso on its travels.
The entire process, from briefing and drawings right up to the final design of a Rolf Benz sofa can take up to a year. Once it has been developed, ordered and completed, each sofa has already passed through a myriad of stages and still has a fantastic life ahead of it. After all, sofas that are made in Germany are some of the most durable and highest quality ever! This is the result of German workmanship – carefully considered and efficiently made. A result that makes you want to kneel down before it; but we prefer to sit on it.
Your fantastic sofa is now more than ready. From its home town of Mötzingen in Baden-Württemberg, on the edge of the beautiful Black Forest, it goes out into the world – and into your home. Into your apartment. Into your life.
You’ve glimpsed behind the scenes of one of the best-known German furniture manufacturing companies. We’ve shown you the different stages of how your sofa is created and constructed. You have seen which values and virtues are not just advantageous but absolutely essential for producing a sofa that is made in Germany.
Which German and typically Swabian characteristic is the most important: industriousness, discipline, order or conscientiousness? We would say it’s none of the local or national characteristics. Rather, it’s a very global attitude. A universally applicable attitude that perhaps we have never explicitly stated, but which lies behind everything we think and do: passion.
We designers, engineers and furniture constructors at Rolf Benz want to appear strong and upright, but a fire burns in all of us for our upholstered furniture every day. We love thinking about your seating comfort on a daily basis. About support and posture, about ergonomics and anatomy, about materials, form and function, about the nature of soft or firmer upholstery. We love looking at the results and subjecting them to stringent inspection. We would also love to be there when you open your gift – yes, that’s right, we would love to be present when you receive your sofa. Of course that’s not possible for logistical and private reasons. After all, this is your moment: When you finally sit down on the sofa that you have always dreamt about. On the sofa that was made in Germany. But above all, that was made for you.