Just behind the DIY concerns OBI and Praktiker, he's contending with another family enterprise, the Bauhaus group, for third place in Germany's home improvement sector.
Albrecht Hornbach is in his early 50s, a father of four children, an enthusiastic runner and more of a jeans than a suit type. But he's a ruthless businessman, determine to emerge the winner from what he dubs 'the ruinous discount battles between the DIY chains.' In the interest of that goal he is willing to accept declines in profits like last year's. His concern currently employs 12,000 people and he's put a priority on growth in the fight for customers and market shares. Hornbach plans to open 15 new markets in Germany alone over the next four years, as well as 20 abroad. The Munich area is a focal point, with three new branches. We accompanied Albrecht Hornbach to one of the openings and listened to him tell us how tough the home improvement business is and how he plans to beat the competition.
Although he is internationally active, Hornbach remains true to his roots in the Pfalz, doing his running every day in the region's forests. For years he has been one of the major contributors to the renovation of the cathedral in the city of Worms. When he brings the next cheque to the restorers he likes to find out what has been achieved with the last installment. We went with him on his rounds in Worms to see what the building center mogul knows about real building improvement.
Sometimes the boss goes out and tests his products himself. Here he's letting one of his company's salespeople show him the difference between two hammer drills. As a civil engineer, Albrecht Hornbach has some practical knowledge of tools and do-it-yourself products: "Actually, I should be the handiman at home, but the truth of the matter is it's my wife who's emerging as the specialist for jobs around the house. And that's fine with me, of course, because somehow I don't always have time for it all, and some things would never get done."
On this day Albrecht Hornbach is busy attending the grand opening of his company's 124th home improvement store. Hornbach's chain of do-it-yourself stores generate total sales of about 2-point-3-Billion Euros a year. In Germany, they're number three in the market, but Albrecht Hornbach sees his company's growth potential mainly beyond Germany's borders: "We all know there are a lot of home improvement stores in Germany, and while they may all be set up differently, they also all have their retail floors. And all this retail capacity creates very tough competition in the branch, and that competition is of course often carried out with product pricing."
Low prices are particularly important in the do-it-yourself branch. The Hornbach chain markets itself as the year-round discounter that guarantees the lowest prices. If a customer can find a lower price somewhere else, it's Hornbach policy to meet that price. But marketing strategies like that cost money. Hornbach's profits have been shrinking -- down 20 percent last year. Even so, the company still makes money - some 30 million euros in the first 3 quarters of the last business year.
And Hornbach has his expenses well in hand, in the business as well as at home. In Worms, his hometown, he supports the renovation of the city's medieval cathedral. This time he's donating 15-thousand Euros. He's been making these contributions for years, secure in the knowledge that it's a good thing to do, and good publicity for the family business, which his ancestors set up in the region almost 130 years ago: "This has been a lot of fun. We've been supporting this project at the Worms Cathedral for the last five years, and when I see the result, then I'm very pleased about it, and it doesn't bother me if the press is here too."
It's the last check for the time being: The restoration of the altar has been completed. But Hornbach still has one more errand to run -- his son wants him to pick up an extension cord at the local Hornbach store. Hornbach says family is the key to the businesses' success. While he might hire an outsider to run the company sometime in the future, he says final control of the business will stay within the family: "The family's control is also good for the company itself. So we're staking everything on protecting this independence and keeping the business in the family for as long as possible." To do that Hornbach will have to survive the cut-throat competition in a branch where the customer compares prices very closely.