The next time you reach for your F-style or parallel-jaw clamps, regardless of brand, think of Bessey. The Germany-based company invented both styles of these clamps decades ago. And they’ve continued to forge high quality clamps ever since.
“Clamps dominate our product offerings,” says Andrew Fera, vice president of marketing for Bessey Tools North America. “We offer between 1,200 and 1,300 different clamps. We pride ourselves on being a one-stop clamping solution.”
The company has been focused on metal fabrication since Max Bessey opened his cold-drawn steel mill back in 1889. He experienced early success with that method of steel making, because it was a niche industry in Europe. But, the Depression era forced Max to consider more carefully what he could do with those cauldrons of steel, so he turned his attention to clamps. Max developed the first F-style clamp, using a cold-drawn steel bar and malleable cast parts for the jaws. Bessey patented the design in 1936. Cabinetmakers and other professional woodworkers adopted those early Bessey clamps with gusto, so the mill stayed busy. Then, in 1952, Bessey patented the first continuous-frame, all-steel F-style clamp for welding and other metalwork. Again, success followed as Bessey expanded into the metalworking trades market.
“In the 1950s and 60s, Bessey began to produce metal snips, expanding our reputation from premium hand-clamping into hand-cutting as well. We aren’t as well known for snips here in North America, but in Europe we are the leading manufacturer of these tools. European tradespeople consider even a pair of snips as being a ‘buy it once for a lifetime’ investment,” Fera says.
During the middle half of the last century, though, Fera recounted that Bessey was predominantly an “engineering driven” company. “Our German engineers ran the show for decades, designing all sorts of high quality products but without the benefit of much marketing knowledge. In terms of manufacturing, that was a really good thing for a long time, but eventually we realized that we needed a better sense of sales focus. You can’t make everything; we needed to really define our marketing strategy.”
So, in the 1970s, the company expanded its sales team and sought to strike a better balance between engineering and customer needs when it came to new product development. It was a transition in mindset that resonated positively through the company ranks. A more customer-driven focus led to good things for woodworking again — this time, the invention of parallel clamps. In 1979, Bessey rolled out the first-ever K-body parallel clamps. Lever clamps and smaller, lighter-duty clamps also came on the scene.
“These days, we’re more of a sales-driven company than ever before. By that I mean, we strive to maintain a good balance between high engineering standards and customer needs…We try to offer a good price/value proposition so we can support all sides of the woodworking market — from professional users that reach for our clamps every day to the small shop woodworker and DIYer.”
Fera says that understanding what customers really need is an ongoing learning process. Even five years ago, the company used distributor feedback as a primary conduit for gathering end-user information. “But that just wasn’t good enough; we weren’t really getting close enough to our customers. So it challenged us to make a transition into social media. Since then, we’ve redone our website, taken Facebook and Twitter much more seriously and created an e-newsletter. The newsletter has gone from zero to 10,000 subscribers in just under a year. We are also invested in video, linking them both to our website and featuring them on a dedicated Bessey YouTube Channel.”
Drew says the company also solicits feedback from a network of product reviewers initiated through the WoodWhisperer. “We tell them: we don’t mind what you say as long as you say something! We need to hear about the warts and pimples of our products as well as the best features…otherwise, feedback is just mutual admiration — and that doesn’t help product development at all.”
This dedication to customer feedback brings positive tension to the company’s commitment to developing the highest quality products for the price. Now there are Bessey clamps to suit most needs and budgets. For instance, the flagship REVO parallel clamps satisfy the most demanding end user, while the newly launched REVO Jr. line offers Bessey quality at a lower price tag. But regardless of which Bessey clamps you choose to invest in for your shop, Fera extends the same guarantee: “If it breaks and it’s our fault, we will replace it with product that is as good or better than what you had. Our customer service is second to none in this regard.”
Looking ahead, Bessey has recently set its sights on a product type that hasn’t changed in 25 to 30 years: toggle clamps. You may have seen the recent Tool Previewblurb about them, following from our AWFS Fair coverage this past summer. Bessey’s toggles are auto-adjusting to accommodate different workpiece thicknesses but still offer the same clamping pressure. “This is a totally different product than anything we’ve ever sold before, but we see the possibility for real innovation here. It’s going to be a major product development focus for us for the next few years. July marked our first toggle clamp sales, and the big challenge now is just keeping up with the demand. We want to say to our woodworking customers, ‘Look what we can do here!’ So far, the response has been great.”
That drive to exceed expectation is what continues to move Bessey forward, but it’s a challenge the company is happy to meet. “We’re satisfying a market that is passionate about what they do. You don’t find people that ‘sorta like’ woodworking. They’re crazy about it. And when it comes to clamping products, so are we.”