The Evolution of Fritz Fries & Söhne

1924 – Period of Inflation

Despite the completely shattered economy, Fritz Fries senior started a tool manufacturing business based solely upon his ability and reputation.  The first self-owned workbench along with planer and lathe stood in a friend’s small metal workshop.

2 years later, Fritz Fries moved into his first own workshop. He built tools for Idar-Oberstein’s jewellery industry while searching for new production methods and monitoring new products during their development phase. He then constructed machines for the manufacturing of extremely thin rubber threads, inflatable toy balls, non-dripping fountain pen cartridges and jewellery chains. Diligence, creativity, flexibility and thriftiness were key. It was a period of improvisation.

After the eldest sons, both Fritz junior and Emil got on board; the company began manufacturing machines for the diamond industry. Additional momentum brought the fabrication of gemstone fittings in 1937. Unfortunately, this process was interrupted by the war. The sons were drafted and the father was forced to convert production towards war essentials.

The Difficult Postwar Era – Lighters Using Shell Casings

Everything came to a halt in 1945. Consumer demand was at an all-time high but the scarcity of resources made manufacturing almost impossible. Fritz Fries collected bullet- and grenade casings from a nearby drill ground and used them to manufacture pocket- and table lighters. Meanwhile the black market was thriving and those who didn’t want to starve were forced to participate.

Artur Fries: A Young Pioneer Takes on the Challenge of the Times

In 1945, at the age of 19, Artur Fries joined the company after his release as a prisoner of war. He immediately addressed the “lack of material” issue. It was a journey of scarcity and sacrifice, sleeping in waiting rooms and the use of food stamps. The goal was to find any type of material that the existing machines could work with. Father and son used an abandoned assault gun, removed the sighting device and used the worm drive to create a machine that could be used to extract rapeseed oil and with that, gained access to a barter item which would open doors that until then remained closed.

5 Tonnes of Rusty Iron Wire

Many goods were necessary, perishables and other consumer goods in order to purchase 5 tonnes of 1,3mm thick iron wire which was slightly rusty.  An old goldsmith drawing bench was used to remove the outer layer and the wire was ready to use again. But what does one do with 5 tonnes of 1,2mm thick iron wire? Artur Fries designed hair pins and hair clamps as well as hair curlers specifically with this material in mind. The father custom built the necessary machinery and with that, a manufacturing facility was born. Business was good and the supply of materials improved. An assortment of jewellery made of glass and non-precious metals emerged. Furthermore, the company manufactured silver jewellery with precious stones. Artur Fries was particularly successful as a jewellery designer.

On January 1st 1947 with the participation of the sons, Fritz Fries Jr., Emil and Artur, the sole proprietorship was converted to a general partnership, (OHG) Fritz Fries & Söhne, (Fritz Fries & Sons).

Monetary Reform

In 1948, the progress of the company was abruptly interrupted by monetary reform. New products and distribution channels needed to be found. The first lucrative item was protective cases for pocket watches, for the manufacturing of which, 40 workers found employment. With the emerging of shock resistant wrist watches, the pocket watch was ousted and the demand for the cases as well.

Key Chains were an important landmark in the company’s history

A new product, that was produced million-fold, was key rings that were mostly exported to the USA. By the time Hong Kong producers undercut prices, Fries had a stockpile of approximately one million key chains. Artur Fries came up with the idea to attach skull ornaments and sell them to shooting galleries. The volume of sales exceeded expectations, so much so, that larger quantities were required and the assortment was built out. Unfortunately, the prices of these products were also undercut by Asian suppliers.

All developments at Fries were met with a wealth of ideas and creativity. All products, such as children’s watches, knitting helpers, children’s – and puppet jewellery replaced each other.

Do it yourself jewellery sets were a hit that were found in mail order catalogues for 22 years.

After the departure of his father and brothers, Artur Fries led the company on his own.

The ground breaking decision

Towards the end of the 1960s, Artur Fries made a decision that would prove to be ground breaking. The manufacturing of carnival jewellery.

His product line quickly gained acceptance in the market place. Carnival jewellery captured a dominating spot in the market and Fries expanded. Artur Fries was dedicated to making the world a big happy playground with his products. Today, we are still dedicated to his mission. Due to sales growth, an additional warehouse of 1,200 sqm became necessary and was built in 1977. Now, all efforts were devoted to the “ 5th season”, the carnival season, and took over all production efforts. Further carnival items were included in the assortment and new distribution channels secured. In 1986, the warehouse on Vollmersbach Street was no longer capable of handling revenue volumes and a new warehouse, twice the size, was built in Weierbach, a suburb of Idar-Oberstein.

On July 1st 1989, the company was transformed to a GmbH & Co. KG, (Limited partnership with a limited liability company as general partner) under the partnership of family members. Artur Fries transferred the management of this company to his son-in-law, Mr. Gerd Horbach.

From a Specialist to a One Stop Shop

Gerd Horbach worked extensively on assortment expansion, which now includes several thousand items. Due to market concentration efforts, purchasing associations and larger chains would no longer continue business with companies that couldn’t achieve certain revenue thresholds. And so, Gerd Horbach continued to drive the assortment expansion to include, carnival costumes, cosmetics, hats, wigs, masks, feather boas and a wide range of accessories – the complete masquerade for carnival lovers, young and old, and therefore, the complete program for resellers. Customers now had the opportunity to cover all their needs with one supplier.

One more rung on the success ladder: the development of attractive product presentation systems

A retailer’s presentation of complex carnival assortments was not always as easy or efficient as it is today. It was in the mid-1990s when Fries introduced Shop in Shop systems, an adjustable in size and scope metal racking system that could be assembled and filled by retailers. To relieve the retailer even more, Fries developed a pre-assembled and stocked retail rack, shipped on skids directly to the point of sale. In minutes, the reseller is ready to go.

Halloween, the “Sixth Season”

Since the 1990s, the spooky and chilling American celebration, Halloween is finding more and more fans in Germany. Gerd Horbach seized the opportunity and worked towards building new distribution channels for costumes, masks and trendy Halloween decorations. The efforts paid off and Halloween parties in Germany, in particular private parties, are on the rise.

Additional product lines that complete the Fries assortment

  • Bavarian fest items
  • Christmas items
  • New Year’s Eve decorations
  • Fan items
  • Party items