Pressalit was officially founded in 1954 but actually started a couple of years previously in the Danish fishing port of Esbjerg. The story goes that two carpenters were clearing up in their workshop after work when a cat brushed against a pot of glue, knocking it over. The glue dripped down the side of a hot radiator and onto sawdust lying on the floor. The result was a new material with a lot of potential - as confirmed by a chemical engineer called Nielsen who was asked for his opinion. Two years later, Pressalit was on its way.
The new company was based in the inland town of Ry, solely because it was here that one of the two carpenters hailed from. He was well-known and respected in the town, to the extent that the local bank was quite happy to loan him start-up capital for the new firm. This was used to invest in a small, low factory building situated in a former fruit plantation, and for the acquisition of modest production equipment (including a dough mixer from a bakery to mix powder). Despite the humble beginnings, the company ambitiously took the name Danish Pressalit Industry ("Dansk Pressalit Industri").
Its first product was toilet seats made from the wondrous new material, and to sell them, a man who knew the plumbing trade inside-out was recruited. His name was Martin Jensen, who was hired in 1954 and quickly became a partner.
But it wasn’t until the 60s that things really began to happen that would have a permanent impact on Pressalit’s future, when Mogens Boyter (the son of Martin Jensen) who had just completed business school, joined the business in 1962. He decided to build up an export trade for Pressalit, with Germany as the first market.
In 1966, Pressalit presented its first ‘designer seat’, the Pressalit Comfort. The story behind this seat started when the renowned designers, Sigvard Bernadotte and Acton Bjørn, were commissioned to design a radiator valve for Pressalit (a potential area that was quickly abandoned). These two were already well-established thanks to designer products such as their Margrethe Bowl, and asked if they could present their ideas for the toilet seat of the future. The result was the Pressalit Comfort – a highly unusual seat at that time, that as with all radical designs, divided those who saw it into two camps: they were either delighted and impressed, or simply could not believe that someone could come up with a design for a toilet seat that “looked so weird and yet was so expensive!” But fortunately, most were impressed and Pressalit’s tradition for design was born – almost by accident…
But it was the Scandinavia model (1975) – the work of Sigvard Bernadotte and Acton Bjørn once more – that really put Pressalit on the map. This seat was a huge success and represented a real breakthrough for Pressalit, not least on the export markets. Exports now accounted for over 50% of sales and the following years saw the establishment of the first foreign subsidiaries in the UK (1977) and then Germany (1978). Pressalit was well on the way to become an international brand.
Back at the factory (no longer a small affair!) things were really starting to happen, as production capacity topped 1600 items per day – with 8 models in 30 different colours.
In the mid-70s a newly-qualified architect contacted Pressalit to see if the company might be interested in her thesis design project on bathroom products for the disabled. Coincidentally, Pressalit had already received enquiries from local hospitals for just such products, and there were also other factors that prompted Pressalit to give serious thought to such a secondary product range. Once again, the decision to go with a product could be described as coincidence or good fortune.
A number of years were to pass before what were referred to as ‘Rehab’ products were given the name of ‘Care’ (around the same time that the Multi System range introduced products that carried on the company’s design traditions). And yet more years were to pass before Rehab/Care became a viable business.
Pressalit’s products were distributed (as they still are) via the plumbing industry in the form of builder’s merchants and onwards to plumbers themselves – professional tradesmen of the same ilk as bricklayers, joiners, painters and decorators etc - who specialise in plumbing installations for water, heating, ventilation and sanitation in new buildings and refurbishment of existing systems. But selling directly to the end-user was neither something the company considered or was geared to do. On the other hand, the same end-users had an identifiable need and there was demand for products for the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) market. And this new market gave rise to one of the most rapidly-growing forms of retail outlets - the DIY store. These were builder’s merchants that sold everything that could be used in the home, including: timber and ironmongery, paint and painting accessories, electrical items and plumbing articles, such as taps, pipes – and toilet seats. Rapid growth for this new sector was assured and the balance between professional plumbers and the DIY enthusiast rapidly swung towards the latter. As a reaction to this trend, SaniScan was established in 1982 as a subsidiary, which also sold toilet seats but exclusively to the DIY market.
Pressalit continued to expand its product range and became a true brand name, rapidly growing in confidence and stature. “We can put our name to it” was the title of a brochure published in the 80s, in which one of the most prominent models was the Lepoix (by the French designer of the same name) with the Pressalit brand inlaid in silver or gold with matching hinge colouring.
During the 80s, Denmark’s national balance of payments sank deeply into the red, reaching a low of DKK 29 billion in 1985. None of this of course was Pressalit’s fault, as the same year exports accounted for 75% of all sales! The following year, the DKK 100 million milestone for sales was passed, and as turnover continued to grow, it made ever increasing demands of the factory and production facilities, stimulating new ideas and in 1985 “Project 85” was launched. This involved computerisation and the introduction of new technology, with simultaneous training for the personnel. By 1989 a totally new plastics factory was completed, with computer-controlled presses and robots to take over the heavy manual labour.
Production facilities remained in Ry whilst administration and sales relocated to Aarhus, Denmark's second city, to premises in Augustenborggade. The offices here were rented and soon became inadequate for Pressalit’s needs. By the late 80s, the decision was announced that administration would be relocated to Ry in new, purpose built premises to the east of the town, a short distance from the factory. The new building, referred to as “Maglehøj” after the ancient burial mound of the same name nearby, was completed in the summer of 1991, and the approx. 50 employees were able to move from their “slum” in Aarhus to the comparatively luxurious conditions that awaited them in Ry, with a view over rolling hills to a local beauty spot.
It was also in the early 90s that a new abbreviation began to appear on the industrial scene - ISO. An international standardisation body that could certify companies as living up to its predetermined (and high) quality standards by a series of inspections and audits. “So ein Ding müssen wir auch haben” or translated: “I’ll have one of those too!” as the good folks at Pressalit said (they were apparently becoming too German for their own good thanks to all the exporting being done there). So the process was launched with quality procedures being defined and quality manuals written, the personnel was sent on “quality courses” (where they were taught to sort plastic beads without dropping any on the floor!) and in 1993, the company was awarded the coveted prize: the ISO 9001 quality certificate.
But apparently, it was not just Pressalit products that were known for their quality; in the mid-90s, Mogens Boyter was contacted by the Social Minister. He had heard that Pressalit was a business that conducted itself properly, which included towards its own employees. Naturally, this was something Mogens Boyter could confirm – not that he thought anything of it, to him it was a natural thing to do – he had never heard of the expression ‘social responsibility’. But then, nobody else had at that time either, although history shows us that it was to become a force to be reckoned with. A network was formed to progress a new partnership between businesses and the public authorities concerning social responsibility, in which Pressalit came to play (and still plays) an active role.
Simple respect for the immediate surroundings (the factory is situated in the town of Ry itself surrounded by residential neighbourhoods) – and genuine appreciation of being able to work in such scenic surroundings as those found in Ry – have meant that Pressalit has always been an environment-conscious business. So when at a later date it also became possible to become environment certified to ISO standards, it was a natural progression to do so. Thus the ISO 14001 standard was duly gained in the spring of 1997. By achieving certification, Pressalit committed itself to specific, scheduled targets for environmental improvements and to publish a Green Audit annually.
Mogens Boyter passed away in 1998, suddenly and unexpectedly. The shock and grief felt within the company was echoed throughout a wide section of society, as he had become well-known and valued within a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. The third generation now took the helm at Pressalit in the form of Kim, Dan and Erik Boyter – with Kim as Managing Director.
The gradual development of Pressalit Care, started in 1999, was completed in 2001, resulting in a new corporate structure: Pressalit Group A/S became the holding company for three independent companies, Pressalit, Pressalit Care and SaniScan. Each had its own mission, vision and strategy, and was to target its own customer segment with its own management, but would share and develop a living corporate culture based on a common set of values formulated the same year (2001).
Pressalit had always been a value-based business, but those values had never really been defined other than as general concepts such as “we will always do our best,” “we will always conduct ourselves properly.” But nothing had ever been written down until now. The values to be used were formulated under the titles: We listen. We give. We play. We act.
Pressalit’s long tradition of displaying social responsibility was highlighted in 2003 within two particular fields: An integration project called "Ry – a local authority that needs everyone", for which Pressalit was one of the initiators, was awarded the Integration Prize. Furthermore, the Pressalit Group was also awarded the prestigious 'S' mark, based on measurement of social responsibility, scoring 83 points out of a possible 100 on the Social Ministry’s Social Index. Three years later - in 2006 - we achieve a recertification of the 'S' mark.
In the late summer of 2004, Pressalit celebrates its 50th anniversary. A lot has happened since the cat knocked over the glue pot in 1954. Pressalit is firmly established as a world leader in its field. The fact is confirmed when we in 2006 and 2007 are named B2B Superbrand. An honour that goes to Pressalit Group based on a survey among 2,100 'ordinary' Danes and 517 business managers. It is with pride that we can take our place as a member of a select club of Superbrand companies who have succeeded in creating and obtaining an unique and strong brand.
From 2008, Pressalit and Saniscan will enter into closer collaboration. This collaboration will more take the form of a joint business area that handles distribution via the three channels: trade, OEM and DIY. Today, Pressalit Group thus consists of the two divisions: Pressalit and Pressalit Care.
During the summer 2008, Erik Boyter resigns from the Pressalit Group Executive Committee. Kim Boyter and Dan Boyter remain in the management with a new distribution of roles.
There are many reasons why the Pressalit is still going strong; one of them is that the company has always had its share of go-getters, good teamwork and good ideas. But perhaps the most important of all is that over the generations, it has always “cared for those who care for Pressalit.” And we still hold that this is true.