By establishing his mail-order company, Werner Otto wrote an important chapter in German post-war history. Within ten years, the mail-order company, whose product range consisted of just 28 pairs of shoes, had become a company with 1,000 employees and an annual turnover of DM 100 million.
At the age of 40, Werner Otto forms "Werner Otto Versandhandel" [Werner Otto Mail-Order Company] and registers it at the Hamburg State Ministry of Economy and Transport on August 17, 1949. Initially, Otto has three employees, with the company being based in two small buildings in Hamburg's Schnelsen district.
The first catalogue is produced manually and comprises 300 hand-bound copies with photos pasted into them. Twenty-eight pairs of shoes are presented on 14 pages. Following its motto 'Trust for Trust', Otto is the first mail-order company to introduce payment by invoice.
The principle of collective ordering is perfected. Customers who order collectively for their neighbours, friends, and relatives are awarded a 5 percent discount. To this day, collective orders represent an important distribution path.
In less than two years, Otto increases its turnover by a factor of five. Catalogue circulation grows to 37,000 copies.
A specialogue for young people is now published alongside the main catalogue: the Post-Shop-Magazine.
The newly founded Hanseatic Bank makes it possible for OTTO customers to make their catalogue purchases on credit. The Werner Otto Foundation to promote medical research is formed in Hamburg.
Under the leadership of the new Chairman & CEO Dr. Michael Otto, the Otto Group became the largest mail-order group in the world.
Otto confirms its pioneering role in the mail-order business on the ecological front as well: the group codifies environmental protection as an official corporate objective. Otto becomes the first German mail-order company to introduce 48-hour express delivery. The Otto Group takes shares in Alba Moda, Bad Salzuflen, forms Bon Prix, Hamburg, and Together, Great Britain, as well as Otto Sumisho, a joint venture with Sumitomo Corporation in Japan. The slogan of the Group’s new advertising campaign, “Otto...find’ ich gut” becomes a household phrase for decades. A Google search for the German-language slogan gets millions of hits.
Otto buys stakes in SportScheck, Germany, and ModenMüller (today OTTO), Austria.
The Otto Group enters the Italian market with Euronova.
German reunification brings market economics to the former East Germany and leads to a rapid increase in demand. OTTO introduces 24-hour rush delivery. Otto enters the Polish market, founding Otto Poland. Otto enters the Cash & Carry sector by founding Fegro/Selgros, a joint venture with the REWE retail group.
Customers can now shop at OTTO 24/7. The Otto Group buys a majority stake in Grattan, the fourth-largest British mail-order company. VPC is founded in Portugal.
The Otto Group introduces delivery on a day nominated by the customer. OTTO becomes the first mail-order company to present its product range on an interactive CD-ROM.
Otto acquires a stake in Crate and Barrel, Chicago, Illinois. In Germany, Zara Deutschland GmbH is founded as a joint venture with the Spanish Inditex Group.
On 17 August, the Otto mail-order company, nucleus of the Otto Group, celebrates its 50th anniversary. The Otto Group acquires Peacock AG through the Actebis Group, and the British mail-order company Freemans, London.
Otto Group further expanded its innovation leadership in the new millennium. The Group offers new concepts of range and product to cater flexibly to changing consumer behaviour in the retail sector: customer purchases and orders reflect their immediate needs more and more closely – garden equipment in spring, swimwear in summer, new furniture in autumn, and down jackets before the first frost strikes. The initial spread of the Internet opens up new interactive sales channels. From the beginning, the Otto Group is a ‘first mover‘ committed to technical innovations and their use in multichannel retail.
Modern sales channels such as the Internet, mobile phones and TV are some of the promising tools in opening up new markets: The more diverse a vendor’s choices, the greater chance it has of reaching customers. Customers can access merchandise anytime and from anywhere.
By exporting and multiplying concepts abroad, the Otto Group also meets growing international demand – e.g. for Western fashions among price-conscious customers in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Otto Group also opens its extensive range of logistics, transport, quality assurance and design services to companies outside the group. The Otto Group now successfully does business worldwide as a provider of retail-related services to its partners.
Hans-Otto Schrader is appointed to succeed Dr. Michael Otto as the new CEO of the Otto Group in October. The launch of the 3-D OTTO store is a quantum leap in online shopping. OTTO and Hagebau set up a joint venture called Baumarkt Direkt. Heine acquires the remaining 50 percent of shares in Manufactum. For strategic reasons, the Otto Group divests from the wholesale trade segment, and therefore sells the IT distributor, Actebis. The online product range at otto.de now comprises 500,000 items as well as the full online range of the bookseller Libri.de. Witt Weiden celebrates its 100th anniversary. In October Hans-Otto Schrader becomes the new Chairman of the Executive Board. OTTO is honoured for the best sustainability report of the year, otto.de is again voted as the “Most Popular Website” of the year. The Otto Group acquires all shares in its Japanese joint venture Otto Sumisho Inc., which is renamed OTTO Japan Inc. After buying back all shares held by co-shareholders, the Otto family again owns all shares in Otto (GmbH & Co KG).
The Otto Group Executive Board adopts a climate protection strategy designed to reduce CO2 emissions continuously, producing sustainable results. All major companies in the Otto Group are committed to reducing their transport, mobility and operations-related CO2 emissions by 50 percent by the year 2020. The Otto Group sells its shares in the Fegro/Selgros cash & carry wholesale markets to its long-standing joint-venture partner REWE. In order to optimise item sales forecasts, the Otto Group joins forces with Physics Information Technologies (phi-t) to set up the company phi-t products & services. Another new company is eVenture Capital: by setting up the eVenture Fund 1 in November, the Otto Group creates the basis for investments in new e-commerce technologies and innovations. The US furniture and household goods chain Crate & Barrel expands to Canada. In autumn, the acquisition of a majority stake in the NaDom Group turns the Otto Group into the market leader in Russian distance selling. The historic mail-order company Schwab decides to switch from being a generalist to specialising in large sizes, and selects the Sheego brand for this purpose.
The Otto Group’s core company OTTO runs a campaign spanning several months to celebrate its 60th anniversary with its staff and customers. At the beginning of the year, the Otto Group acquires Limango, adding a successful private shopping club to its e-commerce portfolio. myToys.de celebrates its 10th anniversary. The Otto Group takes over the complete business of Quelle Russia from the insolvent Quelle Holding. In addition it acquires the European rights to the traditional Quelle brand and all its in-house brands, such as Privileg. In December, the Otto Group further enhances its leading position in the Russian market by acquiring the shares previously held by its partner, Russia’s Direct Group, in their joint ventures Direct Catalogue Service and NaDom. All logistics ventures in Germany, the UK, Austria and Italy are coordinated into the Hermes Europe umbrella brand. OTTO’s founder Prof. Dr. h.c. Werner Otto celebrates his 100th birthday.
The Otto Group has an exceedingly successful business year, growing its revenues by more than 12 percent to 11.4 billion euros. The Group registers enormous growth, especially in the online sector, where its revenues increase by 25 percent year on year. A new e-commerce brand is also established: mirapodo.de. Russia is a growth story as well: the Otto Group Russia nearly doubles its earnings, the growth that also is supported by the consolidation of Quelle Russia. The company is named „Top Employer 2010” by the trade publication Textilwirtschaft.
On 21 December 2011, businessman and entrepreneur Prof. Dr. h.c. Werner Otto, founder of the OTTO mail-order company and the shopping centre development company ECE, died at the age of 102 at his home in Berlin. Werner Otto was one of the last living post-war trade pioneers, who had considerable influence on the Federal Republic’s economic, socio-political and social development due to their visionary power, distinctive inventiveness, and entrepreneurial courage. The Otto Group sharpens the focus of its values in the new mission “The Power of Responsibility”. The four different areas are profitability, innovation, diversity and sustainability. These apply to each and every co-worker, for nearly 50,000 people in 20 countries. Bonprix celebrates the company’s silver jubilee and its record turnover in 2010/2011. ALBA MODA from Bad Salzuflen celebrates its 30th anniversary. Established in 1981 as a mail-order provider of doctors’ and chemists’ workwear, the company is now an international multichannel provider of Italian-inspired, on-trend fashions. The Otto Group launches operations in another BRIC country Brazil, pursuing a three-pronged strategy with activities planned in the E-Commerce, Services and Financial Services segments. The EOS Group acquires a 60 percent stake in Hoepers Recuperadora de Crédito S. A., one of the top three debt collection companies in Brazil. The return of a household brand: Quelle is relaunched under www.quelle.de, a fully-owned subsidiary of the Otto Group and a new Internet marketplace. A range of retailers offer their products on this new platform in the segments Electronics & Home, Garden & DIY and Sport & Hobby. OTTO launches an Augmented Reality Shop on its Facebook fan page. Users of the social network can try on items from the OTTO collections in front of their webcam, take photos of themselves and share them with their friends. 60 years of Heine! The mail-order company thanks its customers for their loyalty under the slogan ‘Heine says thank you’.
Following the successful expansion into Russia, the Otto Group is now driving forward its entry into the BRIC country Brazil to drive forward the e-commerce business in the South American country. Together with mail order company Posthaus, the Otto Group has founded DBR as a joint venture, in which the Hamburg company enjoys a slight majority shareholding. Project A Ventures was founded in the same year by its managing directors Florian Heinemann, Uwe Horstmann, Thies Sander and Christian Weiss in cooperation with the Otto Group. The company remains the leading investor with 50 million euros of committed capital.
The Otto Group project "Collins" represents the first open-commerce business model in Germany. Based on a freshly developed technology and business platform, third parties develop new channels for the digital generation to access fashion. In line with this basic idea the online-shop brand About You was created. aboutyou.de includes an online shop that complements its own fashion range by user generated content comprising ideas from third parties. Embedded web and mobile applications give customers new access to the shop assortment.
Benjamin Otto decided to take on an active role for the Otto Group and to help manage the ongoing transformation process as Managing Partner. With Benjamin Otto, the third generation of the Otto family takes on responsibility for the future of the Otto Group. After founder Werner Otto and Dr Michael Otto, who was Chairman of the Executive Board for many years and now heads the Supervisory Board, Benjamin Otto has taken the decision to become involved as Managing Partner in supporting the world’s second-largest online retailer (B2C).
Dr Michael Otto, the Otto Group’s majority shareholder and Chairman of its Supervisory Board, has transferred his shares in the Otto Group to a foundation. This secures the future of the international retail and services group as a family-owned business with its head office in Hamburg.
otto.de turns 20 – Germany's most adaptable retailer celebrates online shop's anniversary.