On The Blue Sofa:

Ernst Reit­tinger is an “old hand” at Umdasch Shop­fit­ting. He expe­ri­enced the fas­ci­nat­ing busi­ness per­son­al­i­ty, Josef Umdasch, at close quar­ters.

On The Blue Sofa:

Ernst Reit­tinger is an “old hand” at Umdasch Shop­fit­ting. He expe­ri­enced the fas­ci­nat­ing busi­ness per­son­al­i­ty, Josef Umdasch, at close quar­ters.

In conversation with Ernst Reittinger

When Ernst Reit­tinger start­ed work­ing for “St. & A. Hopfer­wieser” in 1961, things were not that easy at the firm. Reit­tinger com­ments: “As a firm, Hopfer­wieser, and ini­tial­ly also Umdasch, had eco­nom­i­cal­ly not the best rep­u­ta­tion so that it was not that easy to find peo­ple to work for it.”

Things would soon change, how­ev­er. The course was already set for the com­pa­ny to rise to fame. It was the head of the com­pa­ny, Josef Umdasch, who began from the mid-1950s to form a new group of com­pa­nies based on the wood-pro­cess­ing oper­a­tion with­out a real focus. A firm with just two main areas of focus – shop­fit­ting and form­work. The rest – sawmill, tim­ber trad­ing, win­dow and door pro­duc­tion, the hawker’s tray so to speak – was grad­u­al­ly shut down.

Josef Umdasch had his sights set on a clear goal. He want­ed to move on from the sim­ple pro­cess­ing of wood and suc­ceed at the fur­ther pro­cess­ing of high-qual­i­ty end prod­ucts. The firm should not offer only prod­ucts, but also solu­tions. The renam­ing of the com­pa­ny – from “St. & A. Hopfer­wieser” to “Umdasch K.G.” – was a fur­ther log­i­cal step. Reitinger com­ment­ed:

He was a man who strove to move forward. For him that was the only direction to go in.”

Josef Umdasch mar­ried into the Hopfer­wieser fam­i­ly in 1937. Wood pro­cess­ing was not his real pro­fes­sion, but he was able to moti­vate peo­ple. And he was con­vinced of the future of his firm. The employ­ees could tell that the head of the com­pa­ny was full of “enthu­si­asm and con­vic­tion”. “He was intel­li­gent. What his­to­ry was con­cerned he knew every­thing. He was a per­son­al­i­ty. He could talk to any­one – whether they were tem­po­rary work­ers or the Fed­er­al Chan­cel­lor – he was a con­ver­sa­tion part­ner for them all.”

And so, while Reittinger’s col­leagues moved to oth­er com­pa­nies at the begin­ning of the 1960s, Reit­tinger him­self remained at Umdasch. He rolled up his sleeves and worked, even under some­times not that sim­ple con­di­tions. A trained car­pen­ter and a grad­u­ate of the Hall­statt Tech­ni­cal Col­lege for Wood Stud­ies, he start­ed work in the join­ery. He and his col­leagues had to pro­duce chill­ing cab­i­nets but had nev­er learned how to do so. And every­thing else was “all very impro­vised.” And then there were the work­ing hours, “unimag­in­able” for the present day.

Umdasch becomes an industry

The fur­ther devel­op­ment of the prod­ucts and pro­duc­tion were also a sub­ject of the com­mem­o­ra­tive pub­li­ca­tion which Umdasch KG pro­duced in 1968 to mark the firm’s cen­te­nary. There they state: “The raw mate­r­i­al wood was trans­formed into wage-inten­sive fin­ished prod­ucts. Instead of sim­ply pro­cess­ing wood as crafts­men or just sell­ing it, the firm began to man­u­fac­ture high-qual­i­ty prod­ucts on an indus­tri­al basis.”

And so, while Reittinger’s col­leagues moved to oth­er com­pa­nies at the begin­ning of the 1960s, Reit­tinger him­self remained at Umdasch. He rolled up his sleeves and worked, even under some­times not that sim­ple con­di­tions. A trained car­pen­ter and a grad­u­ate of the Hall­statt Tech­ni­cal Col­lege for Wood Stud­ies, he start­ed work in the join­ery. He and his col­leagues had to pro­duce chill­ing cab­i­nets but had nev­er learned how to do so. And every­thing else was “all very impro­vised.” And then there were the work­ing hours, “unimag­in­able” for the present day. “When it got late, we even just slept in some cor­ner or oth­er in the office. It seems unimag­in­able today, but that is how it was.”

First we worked on the joiner’s bench, and then we came into the office. We did every­thing that was need­ed, whether it was a draw­ing or to trav­el to an instal­la­tion appoint­ment. In the begin­ning there was just a very mod­est office. So we built the offices. First we did the work in the office and then we worked in the join­ery. It took sev­en days. At our age in those days it was no prob­lem. And we found it okay because we could earn mon­ey that way.”

We went to America. America was well ahead of Europe in shopfitting.”
The 48-hour week.

Dur­ing the first decades of the Sec­ond Repub­lic the 48-hour week – six work­ing days of eight hours each – was the rule. In 1968, 890,000 peo­ple signed the pop­u­lar peti­tion for the intro­duc­tion of the 40-hour week. There­upon the social part­ners agreed to a reduc­tion in stages. By 1975 the week­ly work­ing time had been reduced to 43, then to 42 and final­ly to 40 hours. In 1985 the 38.5-hour week was intro­duced for some sec­tors.

The suc­cess sto­ry of Umdasch Shop­fit­ting start­ed out from the food retail sec­tor. Between 1956 and 1962 Umdasch fit­ted out 1,000 A&O shops as self-ser­vice stores. “And it then spread to the tex­tile trade, depart­ment stores, health and beau­ty stores, shoe shops, any­thing to do with fash­ion. That is what we spe­cialised in suc­ces­sive­ly”, com­ments Reit­tinger.

Nor did Umdasch Shop­fit­ting “remain stuck” in Aus­tria, says Reit­tinger. “We went to Amer­i­ca. Amer­i­ca was well ahead of Europe in shop­fit­ting.”
The time when peo­ple began to be able to tell that things were improv­ing began in 1965 and 1967. “We achieved some suc­cess­es and in my view we final­ly start­ed to earn a rea­son­able
amount. That was when Doka and Shop­fit­ting grad­u­al­ly slipped into the prof­it zone”, explains Reit­tinger.

For decades Reit­tinger him­self always looked after the tech­nol­o­gy in shop­fit­ting: from plan­ning to work prepa­ra­tion, pro­duc­tion, pro­cure­ment, retail and pur­chas­ing – Reit­tinger was always at the heart of things. A native of Upper Aus­tria he com­ments: “I think we have cer­tain­ly achieved some­thing.”