In this interview, they talk about the different approach in which their founding idea rose and why wooden articles "made in South Tyrol" are not just a temporary trend, but how this belief is firmly anchored in their corporate philosophy - because our unique South-Tyrolean environment provides a high-quality raw material, so why not use it?
Tobias Egger, Armin Laimer and Florian Schwienbacher - all in their mid-twenties - are the founders of the Ultner company taf-Laser. If you are looking for individual wood engravings, extravagant wood gift articles and modern wood jewellery, you fount the right partner.)
taf-Laser, a young three-man-company from Ulten which is bringing a breath of fresh air into the wood sector. Who is hiding behind the name and what are your tasks in the company?
taf-Laser – that’s us: Tobias Egger (master carpenter), Armin Laimer (technical drawer) and Florian Schwienbacher (qualified machinist) and of course our centrepiece, the laser. Our trio of men is completed by Christine Holzner (sales and marketing). When it comes to making individual one-off pieces using laser engraving, or unique gifts, photo engraving, medals, trophies and cups, documents, special notices, promotional goods, articles for the hotel and restaurant trade, then we are the people to contact. Proprietary products such as our fragrant iDUFT. Holzduftwürfel (a high quality wooden cube with a place inside for essential oils), our jewellery made of wood and our wooden wall clocks complement our diverse product range.
In the Introduction on your website you describe how you came up with the idea that started everything off: it was on one Saturday evening in a relaxed atmosphere and Tobias was telling you about his bold plan, when suddenly everything became clear…
That was a jolly evening! It was quite late on that Saturday when Tobias, who’d had a couple of beers, started to tell us about his idea for using a laser for wood processing, and we were immediately hooked. That very evening and over the next few days we batted ideas back and forth as to the correct way to tackle our idea. To keep the risks as low as possible we decided on a do-it-yourself project which we could put into practice in our spare time, alongside our existing jobs. We soon recognised the enormous potential of new laser technologies in combination with carpentry, and so we were able to turn a hobby and particular passion into a vocation. We founded taf-Laser GmbH (Ltd.) at the end of 2015. We’ve replaced our home-made laser tool with a professional device, so that the orders can be processed better.
Two of the three founding members are trained craftsmen, and one has a background in the service industry. How would you describe the way you work together?
Actually, we all three see ourselves as craftsmen. Not least, because each of us is responsible for fulfilling our orders. And that involves not just the production, but also creating the order, making contact with the clients, and much more. We also try to support and fill in for each other wherever and whenever we can. And that works just fine, we all get involved. One person’s weaknesses are an another person’s strengths. We run our company under the motto: “Together we are strong”.
Customising and embellishing already existing wooden products is one of the services on offer. Do you also design your own products?
There’s always a lot of creativity bound up in craft. We love the unique nature of the work, and so we don’t just customise and embellish, but we develop and design our own products. Actually, we design practically all our wood products ourselves. Embellishing already existing wooden articles is just a fraction of our work. Most of our orders are ideas from our clients, individual requests, which we then realise and implement as best we can. These could be orders for individual items, or items for production in larger quantities. Additionally, since the end of 2015, we’ve been creating and marketing our wooden jewellery and wooden wall clocks under the label “huamet” (the local way of pronouncing the German word “Heimat”, homeland). At the end of 2017 we increased our repertoire with our high quality aromatic wooden cube with its own cube system (iDUFT, the name is based on the South Tyrol way of saying “ich dufte”, I’m fragrant). There’s been a growing trend in South Tyrol for some years now to produce cool-looking wooden objects.
How difficult is it to differentiate yourselves from your market competitors, always having to produce new products, and what is it that makes this raw material wood so special, that the consumer will decide to go for it?
It’s certainly not always easy to differentiate, but if you value uniqueness and sustainability, you are bound to score. Which is why we are always trying to develop new products, or to give new meaning to old or traditional items, and so keep up with the times. And sometimes you just have to take risks. With our wooden jewellery we took the bold step of going into a completely different area, one in which we have now been able to gain a foothold. And whilst there have been several firms which have concentrated on making wooden wrist watches, including some here in South Tyrol, we decided to take a very different approach – and a successful one – with our wooden wall clocks. Last year we gave new life to the tried and tested aromatic pine cube room-scenter with pine shavings. We developed a new room fragrance system which includes new woods and new scents. Future from tradition is our motto! And on the topic of #madeinSouthTyrol we have a very clear opinion: ‘Made in South Tyrol’ is much more than just a trend, it is an outlook on life, a philosophy, and demonstrates a close link with nature and homeland. We live in the midst of a unique countryside, in the full knowledge that nature provides us with high quality raw material in the form of wood. Which is why it was really easy for us to decide to make the raw material wood the focus of our products. The consumer of today is increasingly of this opinion – get away from artificial things, get away from mass production. Environmental awareness and a sense of sustainability are more relevant than ever. Sustainability is very important to us.
Where do you see yourselves and your firm in ten years’ time? Have you projects already in planning for the future?
We’ve often asked ourselves this same question. But we all still have the same dream: the dream of financial independence, along with a bit of prosperity. Just a few years ago it would never have occurred to us to become self-employed and it certainly never occurred to us that we would set up a business from scratch. Now we are concentrating on getting more orders and a higher profile so that we can build up our business and keep evolving. Of course we would like to grow the firm and create more jobs here in the valley over the next few years. In order to open new doors for our business and to get one step nearer to achieving our goals, we have undertaken a major investment this year – a new 5-axis CNC milling machine, acquired in March 2018, which allows to make the leap from two dimensional to three dimensional production in our product lines. Our latest investment will open new doors in the market for the manufacture of 3D products. We now have the possibility of serving new fields and lines of business. You’ll be surprised!
"One person’s weaknesses are another person’s strengths. We run our company under the motto: 'Together we are strong'."