International furniture brand Walter Knoll is recognised for its attention to detail, high quality finishes and craftsmanship. What many people don’t know is that the German company also calls Adelaide home, with its only other manufacturing plant in our city’s north.
The Walter Knoll story begins more than 150 years ago. It was founded by the Knoll family, leather shoemakers in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1865. They later evolved into furniture making in the early 1900s. Built on craftsmanship and upholstery skills, Walter Knoll is world-recognised as a leader in furniture design and manufacturing. As Samuel Gowland, regional director of sales and marketing confirms, “our brand value is skill, capability and craftsmanship”.
Walter Knoll Australia was formed after a foray into the Australian market in a collaboration with an Adelaide upholstery company, WK Designs, in 1980. Originally only contracted to upholster around six pieces of their range, the business experienced mass interest in the product, driven by the high-quality objects being produced out of the South Australian facility.
In 2008, Walter Knoll bought WK Designs, with the decision to stay in SA “driven by people and relationships already in place”, says Gowland. “Walter Knoll made a considered decision based on people. People are the skill, the knowledge and heart of the company. Without them, there is no company.”
After this business move, which concentrated on building the skillsets already held by local craftsman, Walter Knoll Australia moved to their current custom-built facility in 2012. What is unique about this is that the Adelaide manufacturing plant is the only other production facility in the world for Walter Knoll outside of its operations in Germany, an impressive feather in the cap for local manufacturing.
Among the advantages of retaining and utilising the passion and quality of employees, the local facility also provides an excellent central location to move stock around the country, import quickly and efficiently and provides an opportunity to showcase other South Australian offerings like the Barossa and Adelaide Hills to visiting business partners and associates.
“We’re able to show our visitors our plant in Salisbury, take them to lunch in the Barossa, and then return to the city, all in a day, thanks to the close proximity of the best parts of SA,” Gowland says.
The investment in the local economy by the German-based business is a nod to the state’s craftsmanship and attention to detail and represents Walter Knoll’s benchmark, as there is to be no distinction in the level of quality between goods produced here and in the notoriously high-level European industry.
The company regularly flies employees in from Germany to train local facility workers in a “proactive knowledge sharing program”, which the company prides itself on.
Walter Knoll is exclusively stocked through Estilo Commercial, however, the company actively welcomes visitors to visit their in-house showroom space on location. “Our doors are always open so people can get an idea of what they are purchasing, and how it is made,” Gowland says.
It is local stories like this that help to highlight the incredible global contribution South Australia makes to the field of design, providing once again, the opportunity for our state to showcase our abilities on the world stage.