In the middle of these turbulent times, Heiner Gröger is retiring from the successful recycling business he built up with his ex-wife Brigitte and their daughters Isabelle and Nathalie.
A well-known figure in the German scrap metal scene and a previous president of the German steel recyclers association BDSV, Gröger has seen many ups-and-downs. Slowly but surely, he is handing over the company and yard in Baden-Württemberg to the next generation.
A town of 34 000 people north-east of Stuttgart, Crailsheim is mostly known for its large packaging technology industry, with some eight brands and production sites scattered around the municipality. Crailsheim is also home to one of Germany’s leading family owned mid-size scrap companies, Gröger Entsorgung, which is located on a dead-end street just outside the city centre.
On this early Tuesday morning, it is business as usual at the Gröger facility gates with trucks loaded with ferrous and non-ferrous scrap, mostly sourced from industrial and construction sites in the region, coming and going. Isabelle Gröger has an office on the first floor, front side, with a great view of the yard and the operations.
‘It keeps you connected to the processes and the workforce on the ground,’ she says. ‘It’s fun but also important to see what’s going on.’ It’s exactly for this reason that her father, company ceo Heiner Gröger, prefers a room at the back of the building. ‘I’d worry too much about every little thing I saw’, the company owner says with big smile. ‘Besides, the girls are more or less in charge now.’
It’s not that he doesn’t like his job anymore. ‘Oh no, I still love it very much. I love the scrap community, I love visiting customers and business friends. Monday and Friday may be my days off but I’m still responsible. Put it this way: I’m letting go bit by bit. It’s still so much fun to see Isabelle and Nathalie, supported by their mother, grow into their roles and deal with challenges and problems, and to give them advice when they ask me.’
Isabelle has been full-time in the company for several years while Nathalie joined fully in 2021 after finishing her studies. Mother Brigitte says they literally grew up at the yard. ‘When Isabelle and Nathalie were small, we brought them to work and part of the office was equipped as playroom with toys and everything. They’ve been surrounded by scrap as long as they can remember.
And now they are just a few steps away from full responsibility. Obviously, Heiner Gröger looks over their shoulders and watches how things move forward. ‘We have a group app that we use to discuss daily issues,’ he says. ‘They make most decisions on their own but not every decision. The purchase of, let’s say, a new shear costing EUR 2.5 million would be something we still decide together.’
Isabelle’s focus is primarily on procurement and sales while Nathalie covers HR, certification and legal issues, supported by Brigitte. Isabelle Gröger knows from experience that a family business has its specific challenges. ‘It’s always there, you cannot switch off and that is not always easy.’
At the same time there are many advantages, she believes. It’s easier to make decisions which, especially in times of crisis, can be a big advantage. Conflict can also be resolved more quickly when you are family. ‘I think criticism from a family member, whether it’s your parents or your sister, can be accepted more easily.’
Isabelle and Nathalie are taking the lead in turbulent times of soaring (energy) costs, troubled markets, and the ongoing challenge of finding people to do the job. Brigitte: ‘Getting new employees onboard is really tough if not impossible. And it seems this problem is becoming bigger and bigger every month.’
Another challenge is that over the past couple of months scrap prices have sunk. Heiner: ‘We, too, have bought material which we had to sell for less. Of course, you can stock and wait for better times to come but there’s not enough room to endlessly stock. At some point you simply have to move your materials.’
Gröger Entsorgung has enough flesh on its bones to survive a longer-lasting crisis, says the owner. ‘However, that’s not what you want as entrepreneur – you want to run a profitable business. That has always been our approach and that’s what made us successful over the years.’