Ensto’s Austrian Family

The Ensto family expands to Austria, bringing growth and establishing a foothold in German-speaking lands.

Georg Kastenberger was the owner of Röhrbacher Technik, a supplier of infrastructure systems along the process chain for the generation, transmission, distribution, and use of energy to Austrian distribution system operators (DSOs). He was content and not in the market for a second shareholder or business partner.

It was a family business, one he’d acquired in 2013. Kastenberger’s wife, Stephanie, also worked in the business, running the backroom operations, and serving as CFO. The family had a good thing going and Kastenberger wasn’t interested in taking on another shareholder.

Never say never

In the midst of the pandemic, Kastenberger was contacted by a party representing a family company in Finland, one which was interested in entering the Austrian market. The market had changed, so Kastenberger decided to hear them out.

Although Röhrbacher was highly respected in Austria (its founder, Friedrich Röhrbacher, was a legend among DSOs), it mainly served smaller operators. The top ten DSOs preferred to deal directly with manufacturers and have a direct impact on the product. Röhrbacher was not a manufacturer.

Austria’s largest DSOs had been dramatically affected by the pandemic. Delivery times for products were so long that sometimes sellers refused to quote lead times. Prices fluctuated wildly, usually in the upward direction.

What Ensto offered was manufacturer status, plus the ability to supply made-in-Europe products with what seemed like lightning-fast lead times. What Ensto needed was a local partner, a way to enter the very tight-knit Austrian market. And Ensto was also a family company with values similar to Röhrbacher’s. Kastenberger gave the idea serious consideration.

Remarkable trust

In June 2021, Ensto acquired majority of Röhrbacher, and the company became Ensto Röhrbacher Technik GmbH.

And, characteristic of the times, the deal took place without the two parties ever meeting in person due to pandemic restrictions. “There was really an incredible level of trust by both parties,” says Mika Haikola, Ensto’s Senior Vice President, Underground Networks Business and Demand Creation.

With the papers signed, Ensto now had family in Austria.

Nobody knew

What happened next no one could have predicted. “I didn’t know,” says Kastenberger, “and Ensto didn’t know. Nobody knew what would come out of Corona.” The top Austrian DSOs were now ready to receive Ensto Röhrbacher.

“Given supply and pricing problems, the market was very dissatisfied and open to a new manufacturer,” he says. “In normal years, when big manufacturers could offer stable supply and prices, it would have been difficult to enter the market. The DSOs would have said, ‘That’s interesting but let’s see.’”

But under post-pandemic conditions, DSOs invited Kastenberger’s team to their facilities to do test installations. Wiener Netze, a top Austrian DSO, commissioned full type testing of Ensto Röhrbacher’s cold shrink and screw products.

“We are now invited to big tenders, and we are winning them,” says Kastenberger. Recently, Ensto Röhrbacher won a large underground tender for all-in-one joints worth 400,000 euros per year for four years.” Of course, both Ensto and Röhrbacher knew they were a good fit. But nobody knew how good.

The future

At the very end of the supply chain is the consumer, whose appetite for electricity continues to grow. To support this, the Austrian grid is undergoing a massive upgrade. “DSOs were previously building about 200 new substations per year, but now they’ll have to build 800 per year to meet new demand,” says Kastenberger. “They are massively investing in new cables, new substations, new everything.”

That kind of expansion can’t happen if DSOs don’t have the right partners. And Ensto Röhrbacher has found itself with the right solutions at the right place at the right time. And Kastenberger is finding out that Ensto Röhrbacher is just the right size, too. “With a family company like ours, the path to solutions is short. Things aren’t complicated. We are fast, agile, and active. And this is a very big key value.”

Not going anywhere

When Kastenberger sold his shares to Ensto, there was speculation in Austria that he and his wife might be retiring. Although that was never part of the plan, some still refused to believe him. By now, it’s become evident to all that they’re going nowhere.

Röhrbacher’s turnover last year was 1.8 million euros, and the five-year plan calls for reaching five or six million and adding new salespeople in the market to establish and stabilize sales of the classic Ensto product line.

“We’re one big family and we act like one,” says Kastenberger. “And we’re only now getting started.”