Tossa – A Brand in Flux
Initially, Beat Hübscher and Sonia Loosli made furniture exclusively for their own pleasure. While doing so, the couple raised their children, traveled around the globe, and tried their hand at a lot of things. Not given to consumerism, they lived in the country and enjoyed the simple life. Then, around their 40th birthday, their woodworking hobby imperceptibly gained ascendency and slowly developed into their life's work. Entirely unplanned, a new phase in life unfolded with a novel focus: their own furniture workshop. Over time the workshop's first name "Möbelwerkstatt an der Töss" – nostalgic, but slightly awkward – was shortened into "Tossa" and, with the change, one of the cornerstones for their brand was laid. From one object to the next, Tossa's popularity grew; in the meantime, their products are sold in over fifty outlets. Since March 2011, the furniture workshop is no longer located quite so close to the river as it was in its original location in Steg. Beat Hübscher thinks that the extremely strong Swiss franc has been a prime contributing factor to the number of companies moving out of the Töss valley.
Producing in Switzerland and exclusively selling our objects through retailers makes our furniture expensive.
At the new location, in the valley of Turbenthal, the same name-giving river flows a mere 200 meters away. The tall building in which the furniture is now crafted is located directly on the main thoroughfare and dates back to 1940. After its construction, it was decided that initially a weaving mill would occupy the building, which explains why the meter-high windows were bricked-up: bright daylight and textile manufacturing do not go well together. Brand creators Hübscher and Loosli therefore needed a lot of imagination to visualize how the future production site would look with lots of daylight flooding in. And they were enchanted by the result. Nonetheless a few notes of discord accompanied the move. "Change is a good thing," according to Sonia Loosli, "but not everyone enjoys it. Change scares a lot of people." In the new production hall, all the employees work in the same, large space, whereas previously, every production step took place in separate units. "At first, the employees missed having their own space – where they could listen to their own music and hang up their own pictures," Beat Hübscher explains. "But the changes have optimized the workflow, and working in the same space facilitates communication."
Tossa essentially produces tables, beds and sideboards. Every article is manufactured by hand – nothing is mass-produced. "At first glance our tables do not appear unique. They are simply table tops with four legs," Hübscher states pragmatically and laughs. But the details reveal a different story. "Sometimes we spend hours looking for wooden boards with a similar grain in order to ensure that the pattern of a table top isn't interrupted where the table legs join it. "The advantage of craftsmanship should be apparent," in Hübscher’s opinion. "An industrially produced table is no worse than one that has been handcrafted. Yet it is completely different." Nowadays, most of the products are oiled and waxed. Or, if requested, varnished, says Hübscher. "In this respect, however, the times have changed."
Today, almost nobody wants a synthetic coating to cover their furniture. People want to touch the actual wood.
Often looked at askance in the past, currently the natural style of their objects is sought after, Loosli tells us. And Hübscher adds, "In fact, in the meantime, clients look almost shocked if we ask them whether they want their order to be varnished." Hübscher is satisfied that the brand Tossa is associated with authenticity. "Over the years, we have come to identify strongly with the idea."
Hübscher and Loosli have taken measures to ensure that the authenticity of their brand will remain intact when, in a few years, the time is ripe for the creative couple to pass it on. Production manager Ralf Geckeler, who already owns a one-third stake in the company, has been employed by Tossa for a decade now. Over the next few years, he, Loosli and Hübscher will make joint decisions and manage the brand together. "At present, we're visiting all the distributors," Hübscher tells us, "so everybody gets to know each other."
With a brand like Tossa good contact to the retailers is essential.
"The company is strongly defined by the people in it," Loosli states, "so it is critical that the proprietor maintains the business contacts personally." Hübscher adds, "Of course, anyone who has worked for us for ten years knows this, knows our values." Despite the amount of thought and preparation that has already gone into ensuring a smooth transition, it appears that the couple prefers not to dwell too much on life after Tossa. "We'll certainly miss the recognition and the network that goes with it," Loosli muses. "Which is precisely why we signed an agreement beforehand – to ensure that we really do let go of the company and don't potter around the workshop until we're ninety and think we need to tell everybody what to do," she jokes. "Instead we'll be in a senior citizens' club and bore the other members to tears with our stories about how fantastic we used to be," Hübscher adds, and both of them laugh comfortably. "We never planned our life," he recounts. "But in hindsight, it seems to all have worked out very well."
Currently, some 98% of our ideas are eliminated after calculating cost-effectiveness. The notion that one day we’ll be designing entirely for our own pleasure again is very attractive.
Before turning forty, we lived a very different life, without any pressure to do anything profitable. Naturally, we now have to make sure we can pay the salaries and cover the running costs, but that doesn't worry us and is not stressful. At this point in time, there's nothing either of us would rather be doing than precisely this. Obviously, there are things that I'm looking forward to doing in the time after Tossa, but from an emotional viewpoint that's not an issue right now." And Loosli says, "It all gives us a sense of peace, a certain assurance. We led a good life before Tossa. And we're sure we’ll continue to have a good life afterwards." Currently they're enjoying the here and now as they gaze out through the tall windows into the bright sunlight.
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The Brander is a publication of the Branders Group