Inside The Komperdell Factory | How Walking Poles Are Made
We went to Mondsee, Austria, where the local factory produces 46,000 poles a week.
Picture 23,000 walking poles and then, once you've done that, immediately double it. If your basic maths is up to scratch, you should now be imagining 46,000 walking poles. Now unless you live in one of Poland's major cities, with their high population of native Poles, 46,000 poles must surely be considered a large number of poles to be found in one place.
On my recent visit to the Komperdell HQ in Mondsee, Austria, I discovered that the company's on-site factory churns out a remarkable 46,000 poles every single week. That's not all I discovered. From a personal point of view, I discovered that I find walking pole factories to be surprisingly fascinating places to be.
"How interesting can a walking pole factory be?" I thought to myself, before the trip.
As it so happens, the answer is "very."
The factory itself is all shiny and new after an electrical fault, a few years back, caused a fire that would eventually rip through two thirds of the building. The place might not have the impractical eccentricities of a Willy Wonka establishment, but the clean spaces and modern aesthetic are a million miles away from the cramped and smoggy Henry Ford establishment that my brain traditionally associates with factories.
"We have the most modern lacquering facility in continental Europe here," Komperdell CEO Thomas Roiser tells us, with a look of pride in his eyes, before adding "We'd never want our employees to not be proud of what we do here."
Rather than ship the majority of production off to some distant destination, where the company are too far removed from manufacturing and worker welfare, it's refreshing to see an international brand like Komperdell keeping it local. There's clearly a real communal feel to the place, with everyone working together to make the best product they can. At one point during the tour, Thomas tells us a heartwarming story about the company's screen printer Houmam - a refugee from Syria.
"Houmam is really well integrated into what we do here. A part of the team," says Thomas.
I'm not in the Komperdell factory for very long but it appears to me that the poles made here are the result of a collective, open-minded, approach to production. The people who make all these hiking poles and ski poles are seen as, precisely that, people. They're not just cogs in a wheel. It's nice.
“Every person who works on these products is an equal."
As Thomas puts it, "Every person who works on these products is an equal. Everyone has to chip in and be a part of it."
During my time at the Komperdell factory I'm shown the clever machines that chop the poles down to size, the clever machines that print the poles, and the room where the clever designers in hats do their thing. I'm shown how the poles are pieced together, and the end-zone where the poles are packaged up - ready to be shipped out. Above all though my favourite part of the tour, or one that peaks my interest the most, is the testing room.
The room is effectively a torture chamber for walking poles. There's big bags of heavy weights and pieces of engineering that can best be described, by someone who isn't an engineer, as "pneumatic squashers." We're given a brief demonstration, one that perfectly illustrates just how strong Komperdell's carbon poles are. I'm not too proud to say it - I nerd out.
"My mum is one of our testers. If she doesn't like our new pole, she'll throw the pole at me and say 'do it again'," Thomas says, before adding that "You need to test a product in the field because out there people will do something with it that you can never account for in a testing lab."
It's not long after this that our tour of the Komperdell factory comes to an end. Thomas leaves us on the most positive of all positive notes, outside the building, when he gestures his arms towards the stunning mountain scenery around us and says "Sometimes I have to look out the window, look at the Dragon's Wall, and remind myself how nice this area is. It's so easy to get wrapped up in things but we work in a special place here."
After my short, yet sweet, stay in the area... I'm inclined to agree.
For more information on the brand, pay a visit to the Komperdell website.