With a 65-year history of quality and innovation, German kitchen design company Nolte Küchen has established a distinctive reputation. We caught up with Managing Director Melanie Thomann-Bopp to learn about the kitchen’s enduring place at every home’s heart within an ever-changing consumer landscape.
At its inception in 1958, Nolte Küchen occupied one production site of 5000 square metres at Löhne in North Rhine-Westphalia and employed 70 people. Since then, with another production facility built at Melle in Lower Saxony, the company has expanded into a 1400-employee operation, operating in 100,000 square metres of highly modern production facilities, creating 880 kitchens a day.
Current Managing Director Melanie Thomann-Bopp joined Nolte in April 2021, following a varied executive career across the retail sector. Within her new role, she became quickly aware that she was a relative newcomer.
“At Nolte, two years is nothing!” the MD laughs. “It is very common in this company to find people who have worked there for twenty years or more. In fact, at Nolte, we say that we don’t even start counting until you have been there ten years. But this tells you something about the company, of course.”
Ms Thomann-Bopp’s background meant that she took up her new position with a great deal of relevant experience. Previous roles focused on business development, strategy and finance, and had foci on process optimisation, future growth, integration of diverse entities and the establishment of an omnichannel customer journey. This meant that the new MD was well prepared for any challenges she might face.
“More than anything, Nolte attracted me because it is a nice product,” Ms Thomann-Bopp explains. “During my career, I had always worked with products I believed in, and what I saw at Nolte was a lifestyle product, which is becoming ever more important in homes. The kitchen is more and more becoming the place to be, and the sector has been growing a lot over the last ten years.”
Indeed, Nolte’s reputation for quality has been baked into the company’s DNA since inception. Currently offering a broad range of kitchen designs and products, aesthetic considerations are upheld while using the best available materials. Wood, glass, metal, cement and various forms of lacquer are all sourced to the highest possible standards.
This has been achieved by maintaining valued relationships with local and regional suppliers. According to Ms Thomann-Bopp, one of Nolte’s key “success factors” is the German character of the company. Materials are therefore largely sourced from German partners, creating a highly integrated supply chain. As a result, Nolte has a large number of suppliers within 100km of its production sites.
Function and style
Designs are constantly fine-tuned, including a popular ‘grid system’, which means units can be combined in different ways according to a customer’s needs and taste. This means, as the new MD states proudly, “that every Nolte kitchen is a unique kitchen.” Standard electrical appliances can also be seamlessly incorporated within the grid system, creating a smooth finish.
Another popular Nolte innovation goes under the brand name ‘MatrixArt’. In this design, the finger pull mechanism is worked into each cabinet, meaning the whole kitchen appears handle-less. The sleek and ultra-modern look this provides has proven very popular with customers.
A changing marketplace
Despite the popularity of these products, which have helped to set the company apart from its competitors, the new MD was also very aware of external influence. She joined at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic had wreaked havoc across international markets and transformed consumer habits. Meanwhile, digitisation and sustainability were becoming increasingly important factors in all strands of business. Essentially, the rapid evolution of retail and indeed, society in general, needed to be accounted for if Nolte was to continue its upward trajectory.
"From the moment I joined, I could see the potential."
“We are already seeing change in the furniture industry,” the MD says. “And we will see that change in the kitchen industry too. I could see that there were many possibilities to develop the whole customer journey in a new and better direction and this is crucial because in Germany, besides maybe Ikea, Nolte is the most important kitchen brand. But from the moment I joined, I could see the potential and the way to keep the company growing.”
As a family-owned business, there were structural differences at Nolte, compared to some of the stock-listed entities Ms Thomann-Bopp had worked for before. In some ways, this only increased the appeal of her new role as the possibility to exert influence on areas of focus was increased.
“In a stock-listed company, it is normal that you have a more organised process,” the MD suggests. “In a mid-size company that’s normal. So there was work to do at Nolte to improve reporting topics, to modernise information technology systems. One thing I have especially focused on is bringing in a new earpiece system, for example. During these first two years, I have also implemented renewed attention to the brand and improving the marketing mix.”
Growth and sustainability
Alongside all of this, there has been a process of physical expansion. Nolte has reached across the sea, embracing the challenges of Brexit by investing in 14 retail stores in the UK. While Nolte is already well established in Germany and its neighbours, this more international approach forms an important part of corporate strategy in the mid-to-long-term.
Additionally, Nolte has cemented its commitment to sustainable production and commerce. Under Ms Thomann-Bopp’s guidance, the company has produced its first sustainability report. The report was based on the criteria of the Sustainability Code and clarifies Nolte’s assurances on the quality of materials and longevity.
All of this stands Nolte in good stead as the company faces the future, yet of course, challenges still remain.
A vision for the future
“The last few years, especially the COVID years, were good for the kitchen industry,” the MD explains. “The customer trend of ‘cocooning’ worked in our favour. Of course, there were logistical challenges and price increases, but overall, they were good years in our industry in terms of order in-flow. I think in the future, there will be a lot of competition, so the goal is to build up a structure in the export countries and to make Nolte the top brand in the international kitchen industry. That is our goal.”
The kitchen industry is in a transformation phase, and Nolte will be at the forefront.
With sixty years of solid growth behind them and a very proactive approach to ongoing development, the future appears bright for Nolte as the company eyes continued success.
“The kitchen industry in general, but especially Nolte has such big potential,” Ms Thomann-Bopp concludes. “It has the potential to grow in different countries, and I’m sure, looking over the whole customer journey, there is a lot of potential where we can add unique selling points over the next years. I am also sure that the kitchen industry is in a transformation phase, and we at Nolte will be at the forefront of that.”