Many Mittelstand firms are oligopolists, argues Mr Schmiedeberg, occupying niches so narrow that they attract few rivals. Increasingly, the niches are being defended with services, in this context not the term of derision it often is in manufacturing circles. Beckhoff builds its own sales and maintenance networks, relying little on dealers—unlike some of its non-German competitors.The German experience, The Economist argues, may not be exportable. The whole briefing is worth a read.
The next stage is “hybrid value-added”, in which the product is an outcome that the customer wants rather than the good that produces it. Wolf Heiztechnik of Bavaria is developing a contract under which it sells temperature control rather than heating equipment. “Every Chinese firm can do the industrial part, not the whole hybrid,” says Karl Lichtblau of IW Consult, a consultancy. Counting industry-related services, he reckons, manufacturing’s share of GDP is more like 30% than 20%.