Austria the Viking way

One of the biggest perks of being an Interior stylist has to be the amazing places you get invited to. Last week I was lucky enough to join the Viking PR team and 15 other journalists on a trip to Austria and Munich to see the Viking Head offices and factory. “Would I like to go?” they asked. “Hell yeah”

I’d never been to Munich where we were flying in to or Austria where the factory was. That was a big pull for me. That and the fact that I love a good tour around a factory – must be my product design background.

Viking are part of the Stihl group and manufacture the most vibrant green garden equipment you will ever see. Everything from mono arm lawn mowers, ride on lawn mowers, to leaf blowers, tillers and shredders. In fact I had no idea they had so many products. Their brochure has over 65 products in it.

The Viking way

The trip started bright and breezy with a flight from Heathrow to Munich. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time for some “Plane food”. Is that not the coolest name for an airport restaurant? Nice one Gordon Ramsey!  After seeing the sunrise over the runway and with a full English  breakfast or its veggie alternatives in our tummies we were off on our way.

The coach journey took us to the Viking factory in Kufstein in Austria and was totally spectacular. It literally took my breath away. It was long flat roads for about half an hour and then it happened. The mountains arrived.

Oh – My – Goodness!

The views across the countryside as we reached Austria just had me mesmerised. It was a combination of deep blue skies, tall mountains and forests full of snow laden trees for as far as the eye could see. It was just beautiful. I think it’s the closest I’ve come to a perfect picture postcard moment. All the buildings were cute chalets – some small. Some not so much!  The Viking offices are literally at the bottom of one of the mountains. It’s a view you would never get tired of seeing.

The tour

I love a factory tour and was a bit sad that I couldn’t take photos to share with you but I’ll give you a few pointers of things that I learnt on the tour that make Viking such an amazing company.

  • Viking was a small family run business which produced just garden shredders when it was bought by Stihl in 1981. In 1984 they moved to their current premises in Kufstein (as seen above just below the stunning mountains!) so they had room to grow. And grow they did – doubling the premises not once but three times by 2012.
  • Viking have the same high quality standard and customer service as Stihl. Products are produced on site and are rigorously checked and tested everyday.
  • The main manufacturing time for Viking is in the winter months so they’re ready for the busy season come spring. They employ local farmers for those few months when they become quieter (as everywhere is covered in snow). This means that the workforce can keep production levels and standards high. There’s a real family atmosphere at the company. The same farmers come back to work year after year.
  • The UK are known for their love of lawns. Apparently no-one cares about their grass like we do. Viking even make some of their mowers cut blades of grass as low as 18mm just for us. Other countries keep it to “standard” 22mm. We also are the only country obsessed with rollers on the back of our mowers so we can get the all important stripes. Scandinavian’s like to have a mower that mulches, Germany like to scarify and France is a nation of tillers – just so you know!
  • Everything is as eco-friendly as possible from the lithium iron rechargeable batteries right down to the re-use of bubble wrap and cardboard boxes. Even the factory has big windows and LED lighting for energy efficiency.
  • The overriding feeling from all the staff – from the developers and testers to the MD and sales managers is that they love their work and are passionate about the Viking company, their brand and the products they make. There was a really lovely family feeling throughout the headquarters. It was good to see.

10 reasons to buy a Viking lawn mowers

I haven’t ever had to buy a lawn mower so I was really intrigued by how they’re designed and why elements have certain components and levels of quality. Here’s a few good reasons to choose a Viking lawn mower:-

  1. The cutting blade has been developed to withstand knocks that won’t harm the engine. It whizzes around at 28,000 revs per minute pulling the blades of grass upwards so they can all be cut to the same length making a beautiful lawn.
  2. Lawnmowers for the average household are designed to last for 50-100 hours. That’s 10 years to you or me – unless you have a football pitch sized garden. Professional mowers are made to last for 2,000 hours.
  3. The plastic casing is a special patented design made to withstand knocks from hidden stones. That thing is made to last!
  4. These lawnmowers are really quiet. There is an aeroacoustic room at the factory which has foam walls, ceiling and floors with microphones set up to record the noise volume of each machine. (I have never experienced pure silence before. It’s a bit eery and totally fascinating. I desperately wanted to touch the cone walls but we weren’t allowed- that or scream my head off and see if anyone outside the room could hear!). Mowers are randomly selected to be tested to ensure the production lines are still producing perfect items which don’t go over the regulated decibel. It’s interesting to know that it’s the blade and not the motor that creates the noise so they are continuously designing quieter and more efficient blades.
  5. Viking mowers are only available from independent dealers who have workshops so you can be guaranteed of a good customer service long after you’ve taken it home. They also train purchasers how to use their items – very important with a Stihl chain saw!
  6. The grass collection boxes have a little pop up component so you know when it’s full. They have holes on the side so you can really fill them up- 40l full.
  7. The handle designs are very ergonomic. I was really impressed with the mono arm. Apart from the fact that it looked pretty fab it can be folded over for neat storage which also means you can get to the collection box really easily.
  8. You can stand the mowers on their backs once you’ve folded the handles down. Perfect for cleaning and stowing them away in a shed.
  9. The batteries are amazing. They’re Stihl and are made to last and give you plenty of energy to complete mowing your lawn without needing to recharge them.
  10. Viking don’t compromise on safety, quality or service so they aren’t readily available on-line, or as Wolfgang Simmer their sales and marketing manager put it “service is everything”.

The Fortress

After the tour we headed off to our hotel Stadt in Kufstein for a quick refresh and then on to dinner at the Kufstein Fortress. By this time the temperature had dropped to -7. It was exhilarating.  Our hotel was a short 10 minute walk to the restaurant which was up at the top of the fortress. We had the choice of taking the funicular up or walking the icy zigzag path with views. Yep, you guessed it. I took the path! It was worth it.

The views on the way up were great but as it was night we couldn’t see too far. What was amazing was when we walked the VERY cold path to the open courtyard at the fortress summit with trees full of snow we were greeted by waiters in traditional Bavarian costume with trays of gluhwein- which is an Austrian mulled wine. I had been chatting and smiling all the way up the path so when I was handed this delicious drink and took a sip my cold teeth tingled against the very hot drink. It was delicious but at that temperature it turned cold within 3-4 minutes. Let’s be honest here, mine didn’t last two minutes!

Dinner was in a magnificent hall with a roaring fire and suit of armour. The meal was epic. Four courses of traditional food which had us all stuffed to the brim. All the while we were eating there was a musician playing an electric zither. It wasn’t until I got up I realised he was there. He was so good I thought it was the sound system. Nice touch. Viking really did make us feel like VIP’s. The hosting was exemplary.

As we walked back down into town we may have nipped into the gin bar Stollen 1930 which is literally a 600 year old cave. A few of us bundled into a booth and had a few rounds chosen from the menu of … wait for it… 811 types of gin. We could see the bar staff looking on the immense shelves for the ones we had ordered. It was during round two that I may or may not have fallen asleep at the table with drink in hand! Well, it had been a long day and I’m not much of a drinker! Time for bed!

Off to Munich

Day two started off with the best continental breakfast I’ve ever had. There were the usual cereals, bacon, eggs, toast, salads and loads of cheeses and meats etc but there were amazing cakes too – breakfast donut anyone? I filled my boots before having the best coffee of my life. The coffee in Austria is just köstlich (delicious)

Back to the Viking headquarters for a quick Q&A session before heading back to Munich for a wander and lunch.

A few of us headed off into the town centre to take a look around. The fountains in the square were spouting water but had so much ice around them.  The Neues Rathaus- the new town hall which looks totally ancient with its gargoyles, ornate neo gothic design but it was built around 1903. If you time it right you get to see the glockenspiel and dancing figures. They literally started up as we got to the square.

From the square we headed down to the Viktualienmarkt. This large square is where you can find up to 140 food stalls in warmer weather. I love walking around street markets abroad. You find so many great things. I could have thrown out all my clothes so I could get the cheese into my suitcase!

The florist was a place we spent quite a long time at. I mean go figure – there was me and a load of garden writers! We couldn’t get enough of the blooms or the rusty plant labels.

Lunch

As if we hadn’t eaten enough in the last 24 hours we were then treated to another traditional meal this time at Spatenhaus an der Oper – The opera house, situated on Max-Joseph-Platz the largest square in Munich. The restaurant has two floors and in the summer there’s outdoor seating. We were upstairs in one of the private dining rooms where it was lovely and warm. The decor was very wooden with antlers on the walls and amazing paintings everywhere. The staff were dressed in traditional clothing which was a nice touch. The food as you can imagine was delicious. Here we had sauerkraut and red cabbage. These two dished are typically jewish but I had never had any like these before. To start with they served it warm. It was something else! Amazing.  After our four course meal it was time to head home.

I want to thank Viking and HROC for such a fantastic, fun-filled trip. You made us all feel like VIP’s – hanging on our every comment, question and criticism with class.  We not only came away with a greater understanding of your values and high standards but we can see how happy and enthusiastic you are about your products. It’s infectious. Lastly – what a great bunch of people. I don’t think I have laughed so much with a group of people I have only just met ever!   Let’s do it again next year!

EmmaMT

p.s. A few days after this trip Viking announced that as of 2019 all the Viking brand will be known as Stihl and will change from green to orange to create a more streamlined business approach. Makes sense if you ask me!

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