In this ongoing series, The Northern Times looks into the wonderful world of Drents entrepreneurship. In this edition we speak to the innovative packaging minds behind Repak in Emmen.
By Redmar Bosma
Repak began life in a garage, and now delivers its products (packaging-making machines) to 55 countries worldwide. “Protection, longevity, and appearance are the three rules that we live by”, says General Director Hans Fehrmann.
The business was begun by Rene Scholte, who refurbished his first packaging machines from the aforementioned garage at his parents house in Emmen. Whilst this was a lucrative project, Scholte decided that he wanted to develop his own product.
“The machines that we make are easy to install, and means that the client can get multiple packaging concepts from one machine”, says Fehrmann. “Most of our end-users start with a question, that we try to find a packaging solution for, and we then adjust our machine accordingly”, he adds.
In the first years of the business Scholte expanded to serve both Germany and Belgium, but soon clients came from across the world. Users in France, Chile, South-Africa, and more all came to Repak: “normally our machines are sold by a business in another country, where the machines will eventually be used. That works better because a local agent speaks the language and knows how the business culture sits better than we do. Because most of our clients are in the food industry, business has continued throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. Naturally, food has maintained its importance”, says Fehrmann.
However, production and sales are not quite up to the levels of the first quarter of 2020, says Ferhmann, where orders were up 30 percent. This has settled back to a 15 percent increase. “The issue is that we can’t make any physical appointments: our products are investments. If you are purchasing an expensive piece of machinery, there is a whole process around it. Physical contact with the client is essential- and on visits our technicians can see how everything would fit in to a client business. Now that is all done virtually- for example last week we ‘visited’ an American client. We livestreamed from our demonstration area, with instructions on how best to use the machine: how the packaging is made, how to up and lower production speed, and so on”, says Fehrmann.
Repak’s work is supported by being in Drenthe, too. “We should point out that the Gemeente Emmen is doing its best to support the production and circular industry. Us, and plenty of companies like us get lots of attention from the region: we’re a Drents business and we want to be seen that way”, says Fehrmann.
“We’re also happy that we can work with the start-ups at Growing Emmen. Not directly, but through knowledge sharing, networking, and more: for example we use it to advertise when we have a job opportunity open. It has also opened us up to student-projects, which can be really interesting. Sometimes our employees go on to work with other people in the network, it’s a way of helping Drenthe’s business sector as a whole.”
“I’m personally really impressed when businesses and people develop in harmony. Repak was ‘under the radar’ for a while, but that’s no longer the case! We now always try to inspire our employees to find ways to better the company and themselves. Aside from that I want to do everything to make sure that our machines answer packaging questions for the market. That makes my work very dynamic, and powers me on!”, says Ferhmann.
Image: Hans Fehrmann at the Repak HQ