Marc Asekhame, Zürich
Interview: Vera Sacchetti, Basel


Manufacturer of professional pruning shears, Les Geneveys-sur-Coffrane

Founded by Félix Flisch in 1945, Felco has, from its inception, focused on creating innovative and durable products for the cutting and pruning markets. Through their three main tenets of “ergonomics, excellence and interchangeability”, the company has succeeded in capturing not only the professional market, but also domestic users. In 1948, the company launched its best known product, the Felco 2 pruning shears, and continues to produce it today. With interchangeable parts and a lifelong warranty, the utensil can be passed on from generation to generation, maintaining its excellence. The company’s commitment to innovation continues to this day, alongside a slow and steady expansion to other markets all over the world.
The Confederation grants Felco a Swiss Grand Award for Design in recognition of their visionary approach to the creation of durable products, their commitment to quality, and sustainable vision in a world of programmed obsolescence.


Pruning Shears Named Desire

Located in Geneveys-sur-Coffrane, the family enterprise Felco has turned a common agricultural tool into an emblematic design object.
One day in 1945, a visionary young man bought an old dial factory in Geneveys-sur-Coffrane, at the foot of the Neuchâtel mountain range. The region is famous for its high-precision watchmaking, but the young Félix Flisch, trained as a mechanic, wished to take advantage of the local know-how for an altogether different sort of tool. The workers in the neighbourhood vineyards were resorting to heavy and impractical instruments. As a budding businessman, Flisch was to offer them pruning shears as precise as a watch - shears that would, in fact, become as much of a gold standard as the Swiss Army knife. Those shears, developed in 1948 as "Felco 2," were to enjoy worldwide success. Still today, over seventy years later, they remain a benchmark and a best seller.
In the words of Christophe Nicolet, the firm's CEO: "Since its patent entered into the public domain, it is the most copied tool in the world. And still today, it remains our best-selling model. The sales turnover comes to over 16 million pieces. Enough to topple marketing theories on a product's life cycle: this one's popularity has been growing for half a century."
Félix Flisch's stroke of genius entailed using aluminium rather than steel to lighten the tool's weight, seeking inspiration in clock making's mechanics to achieve highly precise fine-tuning of the cutting head and adapting the shape of the handles to the hand's morphology. "The key here is ergonomics: this is a tool that targets professionals obliged to carry out 12,000 cuts a day, and this over weeks and even months," Nicolet explains. "So they need a lightweight, ergonomic and efficient tool."
Another revolutionary idea at the time was prompted by watchmaking: the component parts of the Felco pruning shears are replaceable, facilitating changes due to wear. As to the tool handles, their unusual solidity is guaranteed ... for life. A range for the left-handed
Ever since developing its first prototypes, the company has ceaselessly sought to widen its scope, maximizing the number of its users. Since 1970, it is thus one of the only companies in the world to offer pruning shears for the left-handed, to come up with a swivel handle to protect against tendinitis, and to adapt to new trends with pneumatic tools and then power tools. The latter's development has, since 2010, been carried out jointly with its sister firm, Felco Motion. To refine the lines of its new products, over the last ten years Felco has teamed up with the Ticino industrial designer Paolo Fancelli.
"Industrial design is a permanent compromise between the functional and the aesthetic," Nicolet notes. "Sometimes we change our conception of certain technical ideas in order to gain more elegance and handling ability, without affecting the cutting quality." For the prime element of every model will always be blade sharpness, whose manufacturing secret remains fiercely protected.
In the company workshops - still today in Félix Flisch's house, since enlarged to fit over 200 co-workers - ultra-modern robots work side-by-side with traditional operations. "Our employees assist the machines, and the assembling of the tools, done by hand, is subjected to a double quality control for each pair of shears. All in all, the making of a tool entails some fifty steps. The aluminium- or steel-forged pieces are produced by our sister company Prétat, before being assembled on site in Geneveys-sur-Coffrane."
"Despite its ever-growing development and modernization, Felco has remained a family company, seeking to offer pleasant and healthy working conditions to its employees," the CEO notes. "Some of them have been working here for twenty or even thirty years." Nicolet's social concern goes hand-in-hand with his ecological commitment: "As producers of tools for professionals who work in Nature and who love their land, we cannot allow ourselves to endanger the environment. We use renewable energy and recycle almost all our waste." One of the company requirements is an electricity consumption indicator for the production of each tool: presently, it stands at 1.9 kWh, but Felco aims to do even better.
"We never skimp on improvements," stresses the CEO. Thus, Felco has invested in research to develop handle covers free of phthalates, i.e. chemical components suspected of being endocrine disrupters. Beyond the vineyards and frontiers
A Swiss-made and environmentally-friendly tool for production destined mainly for export: today, sales abroad represent 90 % of the Neuchâtel firm's revenue. Félix Flisch had little doubt that the Swiss market alone would not suffice to cover costs, so he unhesitatingly promoted his line of tools beyond the country's boundaries. It was a wise decision: today, Felco boasts customers in 120 countries. Models suitable for local customs have cropped up: Christophe Nicolet mentions their anvil-type pruning shears for the Italian market, or their version without a shock absorber for South Africa, "where people like to hear workers doing their job ...".
So, what is the secret behind such enthusiasm? It is the quality of the shears, their efficient design, that has made a universal tool of them. "Users resort to them even beyond the vineyards: we've heard of electricians or cooking chefs who swear by Felco alone," various managers inform us with a smile. "As for the winegrowers, many feel the same about their pruning shears as do musicians about their instrument. These get handed down from father to son, as the embodiment of their know-how."
Does the brand have a new revolution in mind after Felco 2? Nicolet replies: "In any case, the company is asking itself the same questions as those being asked everywhere - about the sharing economy, about connected objects. Even if we work a great deal on the evolution of our existing models, breakthrough innovation remains on our minds. Some of our aficionados bear a tattoo of their Felco shears: we wouldn't want to deceive such trust!"
Olga Yurkina