Throwaway mentality is a thing of the past

Sustainable consumption is shaping the retail industry in the Metropolis Ruhr.

A professional stands out as the one who removes the shoelaces before brandishing brushes made of goat, yak or horse hair. After pre-cleaning, they apply cream using their bare fingers. If they are unsure of the correct shade in the case of brown leather, they choose a darker shade. The ultra-thin layer of wax completes the job. And a new pair of shoelaces is not a luxury. ‘Professional shoe cleaning’ is the title of this two-hour seminar offered by Manufactum at its department stores throughout Germany. Participants learn how to treat their most grounded wardrobe items and make use of Manufactum products.

‘Things that can take on a special place in life’ make up the business model of the company which began as a mail-order business in Waltrop in 1987. ‘We want to help our customers to discover more joy in their daily lives. The issue of sustainability is a logical consequence of this and represents a key part of our brand identity. Our product range is made up of things that work well and last for a long time. They are produced efficiently and can be easily repaired,’ says Managing Director Max Heimann. The seminars on shoe care, knife sharpening and wardrobe space saving help to raise awareness. ‘We want our customers to do things for themselves and to experience our products first-hand. Our department store events enable an intensive hands-on approach with the products.’

Our product range is made up of things that work well and last for a long time. They are produced efficiently and can be easily repaired.

Max Heimann, CEO Manufactum

No more disposable society

Consumption is now more than the throwaway mentality of a disposable society. Producers of consumables, retailers and neighbouring service providers in the agricultural and fishing industries are increasingly adopting sustainability concepts, as seen in the green energy project from a beverages producer, the organic product range at discount supermarkets and the renaissance of farm shops. In the Metropolis Ruhr, around 10,900 companies generated turnover of €64.3 billion in the key market of sustainable consumption in 2017, marking a two per cent increase compared to 2016. The industry employs 119,910 people, corresponding to seven per cent of the total workforce. There are regional focus areas in the Wesel district as well as in the cities of Hamm, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Oberhausen.

Sustainable consumption has led, in particular, to growth in employment numbers and sales in the retail industry. ‘There are over five million people living in the Metropolis Ruhr. Over nine million people reach the transport hub of Essen by local public transport in less than an hour; including car traffic puts this figure at eleven million people. This represents enormous customer potential for the retail industry in the Metropolis Ruhr, with an attractive and comprehensive retail offering in a sales area of over 9.5 million square metres,’ says Marc Heistermann, managing director of the NRW Ruhr trade association.

Multifaceted key market

The retail industry in the Metropolis Ruhr is very diverse. Along with shopping centres such as Centro in Oberhausen, all major department store chains are represented here, such as Karstadt, which has a flagship store at Limbecker Platz in Essen. The discount supermarket Aldi Nord, based in Essen, and Aldi Süd, based in Mülheim an der Ruhr, as well as the Tengelmann Group in Mülheim an der Ruhr, all play an important role in the food sector. The large product specialists include the Deichmann shoe store chain in Essen.

The issue of sustainability concerns all of us. Centro features an extensive landscaped roof and use of natural light; the Karstadt complex at Limbecker Platz is certified by the German Sustainable Building Council; Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd are introducing fair trade and organic activities in their sustainability reports; Tengelmann promotes school partnerships and volunteer work, such as for gospel music; Deichmann is a model employer and finances aid projects in Germany, India, Africa and Moldova.

  • 119910
  • 64,3 billion €
    turnover 2017
  • 10.900

Clever ideas in the retail industry

Large companies do a lot, but smaller ones are not lagging behind, particular in terms of creativity. ‘Better second-hand than second choice’ is the motto of the small chain Papelapapp und Rosenrot, which runs three stores in Duisburg, Recklinghausen and Gelsenkirchen. High-quality clothing, accessories and jewellery are taken on commission for a maximum of three months. If no buyer is found during this time, the customer can donate their items to a non-profit organisation.

Dein Trödelregal in Herten, a flea market operator which sells old trinkets in its own indoor premises, also has an original business model. Glücklich unverpackt in Essen reveals how consumption works without plastic and other types of packaging. Allerlei verpackungsfrei in Bottrop opened a packaging-free supermarket financed by crowdfunding. The key market of sustainable consumption is particularly productive in the fashion industry. Native Souls in Bochum and Essen, Fairhavn in Essen, FairBleiben in Dortmund and Cocccon in Hagen sell clothing that is produced in an environmentally friendly and fair way.

Short transport distances in the metropolitan region

In relation to production, the key market of sustainable consumption has been well-positioned in the Metropolis Ruhr for many years. Conserving resources helps to reduce costs and improve public image. Stiftsquelle in Dorsten, a producer of mineral water and soft drinks, is increasingly turning to reusable bottles which can be filled up to 50 times. ‘We operate our production systems predominantly using renewable energies and energy generated by means of our own solar power system installed on our roof. In this way, we can generate around one third of our annual energy demands independently,’ explain managing directors Sebastian and Michael Brodmann. ‘We exclusively use modern Euro 6 vehicles to transport our goods. These are voluntarily limited to 82 kilometres per hour in order to reduce emissions. Rainwater that falls on the roof trickles away and does not go into waste water. And all lorries are washed using rainwater.’

Another advantage of the Metropolis Ruhr is the short travel distances required in one of Europe’s largest metropolitan areas. ‘Eighty per cent of our sales region lies within a radius of 50 kilometres,’ say Sebastian and Michael Brodmann. ‘With its excellent connection to the motorway network, the Ruhr region offers rapid and reliable connections directly to our customer base. It’s of great benefit to us that our employees do not need to undertake long commutes to get to work.’

The issue of mobility also concerns another producer working in the field of sustainable consumption. Marec Hase has been using a recumbent bike since 1989, when he was the 17-year-old winner of the ‘Jugend forscht’ scholarship award. His company Hase Bikes, which he founded in 1994, now employs 30 people at the site of the Waltrop coal mine. The engineering graduate sells specialist bikes all over the world and has won awards for design and green mobility.

Stimulating competition

The retail industry and producers of consumer goods are very important for the economic prospects of the Metropolis Ruhr. Particularly as internal competition also has a stimulating effect. ‘The cities are in competition with one another when it comes to the purchasing power of customers,’ says Professor Hendrik Schröder from the Chair of Marketing and Commerce at the University of Duisburg-Essen. For a metropolitan region with 53 cities, this means that retailers and consumer goods manufacturers need to continue reinventing themselves with new products and sales strategies, which is good news for consumers and for businesses with exciting ideas.

Author: Christoph Stehr

Author: Christoph Stehr

Business journalist Christoph Stehr writes for journals and online magazines about management, the employment market and careers. He trained at the Handelsblatt trade journal in Düsseldorf.