Petzl – A fascinating story
French manufacturer Petzl is renowned the world over for its technical equipment and today it offers a complete package from headlamps to harnesses for professionals
There’s no question the company has a fascinating story behind it. Developing out of one man’s passion for caving, the safety equipment manufacturer has grown to become one of the world’s biggest names in climbing gear and personal protective equipment for those who work and play in darkness or at height.
The company was established by Fernand and his son Paul in 1975, and today it continues to be owned and operated by the same family. Petzl headlamps have brought light to the world’s darkest of places for over four decades. Intended for use by cave explorers, the ‘all-on-your-head’ lamp (the first headlamp which allowed users to truly go hands-free) turned out to be a useful tool for just about any activity, from outdoor sports to handiwork around the house, and laid the foundations for Petzl to become a globally recognised name.
The headlamp and other innovations drew the attention of enthusiasts in other fields and soon the company was persuaded to invest its time, energy and expertise in the development of equipment for caving, mountaineering, rock climbing and professional industries.
We asked the company’s leading brand manager for an insight…
Who are you?
Scott Shaw, Petzl Professional Brand Manager for the UK.
Describe what the company does:
Petzl produce an extensive range of products designed for a variety of disciplines involved with height and vertical environments including the ‘pro’ markets of wind energy, arborism, rope access and rescue operators through to ‘sport’ markets of climbing, trail running and mountaineering.
All our products are invented and developed at our headquarters in the heart of the French Alps.
What are the company’s goals?
“Accessing the inaccessible” is the driving force behind everything we do – we’ve built our entire design and manufacturing philosophy around exceeding your needs in the field for both professional and sport users. This is the way we’ve done things for fifty years — and we won’t be stopping anytime soon!
How would you describe the company’s culture?
Being a family run company means that we are very focused on people, innovation and how we impact the environment and society. All of our staff feel shared responsibility in adding to the ingrained culture of innovation, education and the understanding of the communities our products are used by.
How have the methods for doing business changed since its inception?
In our 50-year history things have progressed significantly. We have always tried to understand how people use our equipment and how we can develop and innovate products to make things safe, efficient and ergonomic. It’s through our closeness with active users that we have driven our innovation and become a leader in our field while giving us a firm direction to continue into the future.
What are you personally most proud of about your business?
I have been a part of the Petzl business in the UK for 13 years now; in this time I have seen expansion into many new communities and industries with strong growth in wind energy and arborism. The process of launching, developing and innovating products has been an exciting process that I’ve really enjoyed and look forward to continuing into the future.
So what is it that sets Petzl apart from its competitors?
We do think about things in a different way, a big part of that is we are still a family-owned company. You don’t have to look for long at the Petzl website to realise we’re not a big corporation or anything like that. The family name is everywhere and the family is still running every part of the company. There’s an immense sense of pride from the family in the way we deliver things. We have had challenges too, but we’ve never hidden them. We’ve always been very direct about any issues and what we’ve done to overcome them and done everything within our power to make customers aware of issues as soon as possible.
One of the long-standing missions of Petzl has been to improve ergonomics and efficiencies, whether that’s about working on a wind turbine or pushing the limits of difficulties on a Himalayan climb, It’s about looking at the touchpoints of the products, how they’re handled and how they feel, so they are as simple and as seamless to use as we can possibly make them, but also so they make the job as efficient and stress-free as possible.
How important is education for Petzl?
It’s something we’ve been working on for a long, long, time. Our pro catalogues, featuring line drawings showing how to use a selection of equipment, have come to be treated by many industries as educational bibles. I was aware of the catalogues and line drawings long before I ever came to work for Petzl. I know a few people who have a complete set. They’re almost a collectable!
People go back time and time again to the catalogues to replicate the set-ups. It’s something we’re really trying to evolve now for modern digital platforms, producing videos and putting the line drawings on the web so they are there to be used and referenced.
The education side of it has always been very important to Petzl. It’s not only about how to use the equipment well to get the most out of it, but also disseminating solutions and systems of working. That’s always been a Petzl thing.
What do you consider the most important innovations of the last 50 years?
Where to start! I could mention developments in hands free lighting or the progress in safety and ergonomics of our helmets, but for me it’s our ASAP backup range. In normal use, the device moves freely along the rope without any manual intervention and follows the user in all their movements. In the event of a shock load or sudden acceleration, the ASAP locks on the rope and stops the user with a unique mechanism.
What excites you about the wind industry?
Innovation and the process of pushing forward existing technologies to help with providing effective, sustainable, natural and clean energy.