The Electronic Retailing Association

Interview with Ralf Dümmel, Managing Partner of DS Produkte, one of the 'lions' in VOX TV's 'The Lion's Den' and Winner of the 2018 EMMA Award for Best New Business Model

Ralf Dümmel (Photo: Rieka Anscheit)

Renowned in German trade as the “King of Products”, Ralf Dümmel is an investor or “lion” in VOX TV’s “Lion’s Den” (Die Höhle der Löwen) which goes hunting for young, upcoming entrepreneurs. Under Dümmel’s management, DS Produkte GmbH, which is located in Stapelfeld near Hamburg and Gallin in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, has become a successful German trading house. The company has over 700 brands, registered designs, patents and utility models. The relaunch of the Wassermaxx sparkling water systems is one of Dümmel’s biggest success stories and so far, he has sold over 4 million systems. DS Produkte now has over 4,000 products, which range from household goods, cookware, cleaning and floor care products, outdoor, beauty, wellness and fitness items as well as trend articles. The company group achieved a turnover of ca. EUR 260 million in 2017.

Company Address:
DS PRODUKTE GmbH
Stormarnring 14
22145 Stapelfeld / Germany

Website: www.dspro.de

And the EMMA in the category Best New Business Model goes to Ralf Dümmel and his company DS Produkte GmbH for the integrated business concept in connection with the TV Format Höhle der Löwen (The Lions' Den).

Earlier this year, at the 2018 EMMA Awards ceremony in Seville, ERA Europe was delighted to honour Ralf Dümmel with the first ever EMMA for the Best New Business Model. This special category was created to honour innovation and excellence in creating new ways to develop existing business models as well as outstanding performance with new strategies and techniques.

The ERA Europe jury recognised Ralf Dümmel because he has demonstrated great understanding of the potential of the German Start-Up show Höhle der Löwen (The Lion's Den) by connecting all communication media and distribution forms. The show itself is a great success reaching over 20% market share 4 times and attracting up to 20 million viewers and is the strongest show format in German social media. ERA Europe is proud to have such a successful ambassador for the Multi-Channel Home Shopping Industry in our member community.

Through his role in the TV format "The Lion's Den" ("Die Höhle der Löwen"), Ralf Dümmel is now very well known in Germany and a lot has been written about him in the German press. We would like to share the Ralf Dümmel story also with our international members and readers and therefore we invited him to do the following interview with ERA Europe.

ERA Europe: Ralf Dümmel, many congratulations on your success and thank you for taking the time to do this interview for us. Lets start at the beginning: please introduce yourself and your company to our readers.

RD: I‘m Ralf Dümmel the Managing Partner of DS Produkte. I was born on December 2nd, 1966 in Bad Segeberg, Germany. On April 1st 1988, I started my career as a Sales Assistant to Dieter Schwarz, the Founder of DS Produkte. Over the years I really learned the business from the ground up and took full responsibility for purchasing and sales after only one year. I played a very large role in establishing the company and have been a partner since 1996. Today, the group has an annual turnover of ca. €260 million, has 400 employees and over 4,000 products in the portfolio. I often travel the world to visit suppliers and customers and to find inspiration in new innovative products. In 2016 I became one of the “Lions” in the German TV show "The Lion's Den" (“Die Höhle der Löwen”), where I look for young entrepreneurs with brilliant products.

The "Die Höhle der Löwen" logo is very important and used on all of the products as shown here for the Multiharke, an 8-in-1 garden tool.

ERA Europe: As you are the winner of the 2018 EMMA Award for Best New Business Model, please tell us more about your Business Model

RD: The Lion's Den ("Die Höhle der Löwen") is a successful entrepreneur TV-show with an incredible audience response. The show is recorded five months in advance and we have made it our task to develop special concepts for all of our clients. Since 2016, which was my first season of “Die Höhle der Löwen”, my team and I have been implementing this. On Tuesday nights we make sure that the products of our startups are available right after the show for sale online and via teleshopping. On Wednesdays during the season, we supply (widely) the trade. The logo, which we use on all of our “Die Höhle der Löwen” products, is very important for the show. The business model is a perfect combination of TV attention, media attention and trade presence.

ERA Europe: How did you get involved in 'Die Höhle der Löwen' and how has your participation in the show impacted your company DS Products?

RD: I got involved by accident, through my network. After the first direct conversations, Sony Pictures and I were both 'on fire'. DS Produkte is in the public eye now which brings various advantages. My time schedule is even fuller but I’m still involved and operational in the daily business of DS Produkte.

...if you want something, you will have to give everything and hard work will be rewarded in the end.

ERA Europe: Please share with us how you started out in your career and the road to becoming an investor because it is a great story.

RD: I did my apprenticeship in a furniture store in Bad Segeberg and it was my dream to work for this company. I loved my job from the beginning and I was really proud of all the tasks I had to do. At this time my girlfriend had to babysit at weekends, so if you want to see your girlfriend, you need to support her! She was the Schwarz Family's babysitter, so that’s how I got to know Dieter Schwarz, the Founder of DS Produkte. He was really fascinated by how much I loved and talked about my job so after my apprenticeship I started to work for DS Produkte. The first six months Dieter Schwarz showed me the trading business - from morning to evening he taught me everything and saw that I was passionate about this business. Dieter and I had a similar understanding of values: if you want something, you will have to give everything and hard work will be rewarded in the end.

ERA Europe: DS Produkte supply products to the global Home Shopping industry, most visibly to QVC. How big a role does the Home Shopping Industry play in your Business Model?

RD: We make it possible for our entrepreneurs of The Lion's Den (“Die Höhle der Löwen”) to present and to sell their own products live on-air at QVC right after the broadcast of the show. Teleshopping is an incredibly fast growing market. QVC has taken a very courageous step and developed an extra format for “Die Höhle der Löwen”. It makes me proud that some products even make it to be a “Today's Special Value” offer. The founders get the chance to explain and present their own products. A lot of our founders are not only on QVC once – they get this special chance more often. Some of our founders from 2016 are still on air at QVC today and some of them are even going international with their products. QVC gives them a stage to sell the products all over the world.

DS Produkte Showroom

ERA Europe: How do you identify a new product with potential and how do you decide in which markets and channels to launch your products?

RD: There are different ways but first of all we have 45 years of expertise. Our focus is to sell products on the mass market – niche products aren’t our focus. If you are looking for a new product, you want it to be capable of reaching a large range of people. Most important are products for the mass market. What we are not looking for are left-handed products which would only reach five percent of the mass market. We are trying to find products for a big group of people. We don’t always decide this on our own, we decide together with our trading partners. We are in constant exchange with our partners and furthermore we have our own product management who travel the world looking for new products and trends.

ERA Europe: Do you test the market before going in big? How do you decide what quantities to buy?

RD: This has been our daily business for 45 years, so as I said before, we have huge expertise. It is always a rehearsal but the success stories are dominating. Unfortunately not all products are top sellers but it's always worth investing and believing in a product. Luckily, we have a lot of experience and we know the market very well, so we are usually right with new products.

DS Produkte HQ in Stapelfeld (Photo: Rieka Anscheit)

ERA Europe: You have recently founded your own Investment Company, DS Invest, which helps young start-up companies with all aspects of bringing their product successfully to market. Do you enjoy mentoring the start-ups and how do you help them?

RD: We take care of many startups and that's what I and the whole team love. We noticed that we were not perfectly positioned in this area with the company so we set up an investment team. But that hasn’t changed my focus on the startups, I am still in constant contact with all of the founders. We help them with the production, the further development, sales and marketing. I enjoy mentoring the startups and I love to help them. For me the hardest case is when a product is not accepted on the market. That is a painful experience, for me but much more for the founders. If you see how disappointed the founders are, even though you have really done everything, you heart will bleed.

ERA Europe: When you choose to invest in a product, you have said that the entrepreneur also plays a big role in your decision. Could you tell us more about this?

RD: I don’t only give the money and say: "Here you have the money, that's enough!" I love to support, advise and assist. Of course sympathy plays a big role because I don’t only invest in products, I invest in people and products. The combination of both is very important for me. I always say that you get engaged at the show, at "Die Höhle der Löwen", and after the show you get married. I am one hundred percent sure that there is hardly anybody who would marry someone they didn’t like. You have to go through good times as well as hard times and you can only do that if you like each other.

ERA Europe: Do you have any particular product favourites?

RD: I really love all of our products. I learned that the best product on the market is actually toilet paper and I will tell you why. Because you need it from about 3 years old until the end of your life and it consumes itself. There is hardly a better product. Toilet paper would be the perfect product for DS Produkte but the competitive market is too big.

Ralf Dümmel: "My secret: I can’t cook at all. With the hot air fryer you can finally cook for yourself with no cooking skills."

ERA Europe: Do you use your own products? Do you have a favourite?

RD: Of course, I do use our own products, but I don’t have the space to use them all or to have over 4000 products at my house. My favorite product is the Hot Air Fryer. An easy and healthier way to cook french fries, chicken nuggets and many more meals. My secret: I can’t cook at all. With the Hot Air Fryer you can finally cook for yourself with no cooking skills.

ERA Europe: Which role do you enjoy the most: bringing your own products successfully to market or your work as investor and mentor?

RD: I like both and it’s too difficult to decide. I love to successfully bring products to the market and I love to invest in founders and products. If they are 'on fire' for their products, I will invest. I love to support the entrepreneurs no matter how. If you are a part of the story and can really help, you will love being an investor.

ERA Europe: Do you have a vision for the future of the retail industry?

RD: Unfortunately, I don’t have a glass sphere to look in the future, but I'm sure it will change a lot in the next couple of years. Only to provide products will not guarantee long-term success for loyal customers. I think that retailers will see themselves as media companies in the future and will also take on this role. Social media will continue to evolve, change and exert even greater influence. The goal of letting customers be part of the action is to inspire customers and to provide transformation opportunities. We'll probably watch a movie sometime, touch the jacket of Brad Pitt and a short time later the jacket will be delivered to the front door.

Ralf's Top Tips for Entrepreneurs

Amongst other important things, every entrepreneur needs to have the following:

#1

Passion - Passion is very essential in today's business world. You need to be one with your company.

#2

Courage - The future will not wait for someone to be ready for something. Founders need to be ready to try and to learn from their results.

#3

Discipline - There won’t be a 9 to 5 job anymore, if you start your own business.

#4

Know-how - Expertise and competence are very important because in the area of knowledge of the company you need to be the leader.

About Höhle der Löwen (The Lion's Den)

VOX TV’s “Lion’s Den” (Die Höhle der Löwen) is a popular TV format which hunts young, upcoming entrepreneurs. During the programme, inventors and company founders present their innovative business ideas to a panel of experts/investors, the 'lions', and offer shares of the business in relation to a previously-determined company value. As one of the lions, Ralf Dümmel can choose to invest in the business idea or not.

About DS Produkte GmbH

DS Produkte do everything from the idea to the shelf! DS Produkte GmbH is a successful German trading house located in Stapelfeld near Hamburg and Gallin in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. With a sortiment of over 4,500 products they are one of the largest vendors in Europe. You can find our products in almost every household ranging from household goods, cookware, cleaning and floor care products, outdoor, beauty, wellness and fitness items as well as trend and seasonal articles. There are over 700 active brands, registered designs, patents and utility models in DS Produkte’s new products range. Our business clients (B2B) include the best known retail chains in Europe. We supply Retailers, Food retailers, Discounters and Mail-Order companies. As we are a real Omni-channel Marketer, we count Online and Homeshopping among our successful distribution channels.