Hardy Schulz is the founder and CEO of KUNSTKOPIE.DE. Since 1999 he leads this medium-sized company based in Hamburg. In a personal conversation, he tells us what two decades in eCommerce bring with them for visions, milestones and challenges.
Learn why Hardy Schulz founded an online store in the midst of the biggest internet crisis so far and why he's been successful with it to this day.
Art prints since 1993
"Our origins date back to the early 90s. S.M.P. Sign Systems GmbH has been producing very high quality large format and artistic prints since 1993, for example for museums and associations."
Art prints for student apartment
"These were my first art prints. At that time there were hardly any possibilities to reproduce customized works of art on demand. My father owned the printing company SMP Sign Systems. I was able to build on that and convince him: I founded a webshop with custom print sizes and variable printing materials, a service that did not exist anywhere in the world in 1999."
Strong growth is not the same as fast growth
"In 1999 it was hip to be interested in the internet. I was sure that the future of marketing and business would. After completing my studies, I borrowed 30,000 DM for which my father vouched and had the first version of my webshop KUNSTKOPIE.DE developed. I knew that the first years would mean a lot of work and little money, I lived off savings and remained realistic and quite frankly modest in my planning and expectations. I was afraid for two months. We did not sell a single art print. "
One of today's bestselling images was our first order
"In winter, after two long months after the official launch on our webshop, we sold our first picture. Whether it was the "Look into an alley" by August Macke or the "Sitting woman with a raised knee" by Egon Schiele is not clear in my memories. Still both pictures are today among the best-selling images on our website. I remember it was a canvas print on stretcher bar, today our best-selling combination. At the end of 2002 we were online with 5,000 images. We started with 750 pictures. " P>
Our foundation: hip becomes successful
"I was sure that the future of marketing and business lay dormant in the online market. So after graduating, I borrowed 30,000 DM, which my father guaranteed, and had the first application of KUNSTKOPIE.DE programmed. The first years should mean a lot of work and little money. So I lived on savings and remained realistic to modest in my planning. I was anxious for two months. We did not sell a single picture."
Bestsellers for the ages - no joke
"In winter 1999, two long months after launch, we finally sold our first picture. Was it The View of an Alley by August Macke or The Sitting Woman with Her Knee Up by Egon Schiele? We forgot! Today, both pictures are among the most purchased motifs on KUNSTKOPIE.DE. One thing is for sure: it was a canvas picture on stretcher frame, still our best-selling material today. We started with 750 artworks. By the end of 2002, we were already online with 5,000 motifs."
"From one day to the next one, our offer increased sixfold. We started the cooperation with a big picture agency. We were lucky because they were able to provide us with the templates for large format pictures. My former fellow student Jean-Gérard Anfossi from France also helped me build up our online presence on the French market: REPRO-TABLEAUX.COM was born."
We started from nothing and today we sell all over the world
"The U.S. has always loved buying online. Why? Because they've always trusted the Internet. This was our chance: ART-PRINTS-ON-DEMAND.COM was born - the first English-language version of KUNSTKOPIE.DE. During my first job in an internet agency in Cologne I met Jean-Gérard Anfossi. He built the French market with REPRO-TABLEAUX.COM. Shortly afterwards Frank Driessen started working on the Dutch market. He was a professional customer selling oil paintings in the Netherlands on his website. We noticed that the trust in quality online stores is growing, also in Europe. Today, the Netherlands is our second strongest foreign market."
When it comes to quality, no one can fool us
"In the beginning, we still wrote all the routing slips for the orders by hand. As demand increased, we needed a more efficient alternative. The trust of our customers and investments in our staff led to more stable sales. In 2009, my father retired, I economically separated KUNSTKOPIE.DE from S.M.P.. A relaunch of the brand image was on the agenda. We invested in the latest machines, a scanner workflow system for the production process.
What does that mean? A step-by-step digitalization of the prepress, printing equipment, frame building and shipping. It is not the order of the batch that determines processing, but the promised delivery date. We remain true to ourselves: craftsmanship and quality continue to be our top priorities."
Luck is on the side of hardworking people
"Looking back, every step of our growth is tied to an advancement in digitization. And from the very beginning, I focused on effective online marketing. In short, what has been essential in our journey has been the courage to commit to the complete digitization of our production and, at the same time, to the effective management of our marketing activities. What is still difficult today is to always adapt to new digital trends while continuing to believe in success."
20 years of great art
"KUNSTKOPIE.DE celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2019. In the anniversary month of September, we organize a corporate event in our production halls and workshop. On social media, you'll find our campaign under the hashtag #kunstdiemichbewegt. Get your your own print! "