Sales: EUR 243.6 million ($240 million) (2001)
NAIC: 423430 Computer and Computer Peripheral Equipment and Software Merchant Wholesalers; 541512 Computer Systems Design Services
Bolton, England-based (but Netherlands registered) Anker BV has transformed itself into a leading supplier of electronic point of sales systems to the European market. The company, which combines the electronic cash register business of the former BTR (now merged with Siebe into Invensys), and the EPOS business of Riva Group PLC, as well as the European distribution network of Japan’s Omron, claims an installed base of more than 900,000 systems throughout Europe. The company accounts among its many clients such retailing heavyweights as Germany’s Aldi, France’s Carrefour and Auchan Group, Harrods and Granada in the United Kingdom, as well as other clients requiring intensive customer/retail contact, such as the Legoland theme park. Anker operates through three primary divisions: Software, which includes its flagship products OSCAR EpoS, Power, and emPower; Services, providing consulting, integration services, and aftermarket support; and Hardware, including the company’s Anker-branded cash drawers, electronic cash registers, modular POS systems, touch screens, and other peripherals, as well as third-party peripherals and printers. Anker operates throughout Europe, with 11 subsidiaries. Europe West, including the United Kingdom, France, and the Benelux countries provided more than half of the company’s EUR 244 million in sales in 2001. Europe Central, including Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, added nearly EUR 85 million in sales, while Scandinavia generated revenues of more than EUR 35 million. Anker is led by CEO John Foulkes, who, backed by European Acquisition Capital, bought out the company from BTR in 1995.
Anker’s origins can be traced to Germany in the middle of the 19th century. Carl Schmidt and Nickolaus Durkopp had founded a partnership to manufacture sewing machines in 1867. In 1876, Schmidt left the partnership to found his own company, Bielefelder Nähmaschinenfabrik Carl Schmidt, in the town of Bielefeld. Schmidt’s company began production of a specific type of sewing machine, called the “circularelastique” machine, which was used in the shoemaking industry at the time. Schmidt then added production of other types of sewing machines, including long bobbin and shuttle-type sewing machines.
Schmidt was joined by Hugo Hengstenberg in 1878, and the company began producing machines under the combined name Carl Schmidt & Hengstenberg. After Schmidt left the company in 1883, it was renamed as Bielefelder Nähmaschinenfabrik Hengstenberg & Co. The company continued manufacturing sewing machines as its main product line for the next decade. Then, in 1894, the Bielefelder plant added a second production line, that of bicycles. By 1895, production of bicycles had grown sufficiently for the company to modify its name to Bielefelder Nähmaschinen- und Fahrrad-Fabrik Hengstenberg.
By the end of the decade, the Hengstenberg company had found a new product category: cash registers. The first cash registers had been invented in the United States some 20 years earlier by James Ritty, who called his invention the “Incorruptible Cashier.” But Ritty’s invention met with little enthusiasm from retailers. It was not until John H. Patterson bought Ritty’s company, renaming it National Cash Register (NCR) in 1884, that the cash register began to find acceptance in the retail market. The addition of new features, including paper readouts and, at the turn of the century, electric motors, helped spread the popularity of the new machine.
Success and Struggles in the 20th Century
Hengstenberg began production of cash registers under the brand name Anker (“anchor” in English) in 1900. By 1906, the company decided to change its name to Anker Werke AG. Anker went on to become one of the most prominent manufacturers of cash registers in Europe, and one of the few companies to resist the market dominance of NCR. Over the next decades, Anker leveraged its cash register brand into the wider category of office machinery, introducing its first accounting machines in 1912. The company also set up a wide-ranging sales network which enabled it to counter the growing influence of NCR in Europe.
Anker grew steadily throughout the 1920s and 1930s despite the economic collapse of its home market. With 1,000 employees at the start of the 1920s, the company grew to more than 2,000 by the end of the 1930s. In order to meet the growing demand for its products, which continued to include sewing machines and bicycles, the company opened a second factory in Bieleberg.
At the end of World War II, Anker decided to refocus its production to concentrate on its cash registers and office machinery. The company’s bicycle production was transferred under a licensing agreement. Anker held onto its sewing machine manufacturing operation for some time longer. In 1958, the company spun off that business into a newly formed subsidiary, Anker-Nähmaschinen AG, which was then merged the following year with another company, Baer & Rempel, as Phoenix Nähmaschinen AG. Anker finally sold off that subsidiary in 1969.
By then, Anker was struggling as a business. The company had attempted to enter the electronic age in the 1950s, launching its first electro-mechanical accounting machines in 1956. By the 1960s, Anker fully entered the rising new market for computerand electronics-based machinery by setting up a dedicated subsidiary, Anker Data Systems (ADS). Yet by the mid-1970s, Anker was sinking financially. An attempt to restructure the company failed, and Anker, which by then employed some 8,000 people, ended in bankruptcy in 1976.
Anker was picked up by the United Kingdom’s Thomas Tilling Group, which had been one of the pioneers of Britain’s public transportation sector in the late 19th century and had grown to become a diversified conglomerate with a portfolio of nearly 200 business throughout the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and Europe. Anker returned to production under its new owner, which retained its subsidiary’s respected brand name.
Thomas Tilling was itself bought up by another fast-growing British conglomerate, BTR (formerly British Tyre & Rubber). Anker itself remained in production, with its focus now restricted to manufacturing electronic cash registers. While its head offices were now located in Bolton, the company retained its original manufacturing site in Bieleberg.
Returning to Independence in the New Century
BTR began restructuring its operations in the 1990s, and Anker’s management, then led by John Foulkes, was presented with the opportunity to return the company to independence after nearly 20 years as a small subsidiary within a giant conglomerate. Foulkes partnered with the investment group European Acquisition Capital to buy Anker from BTR in 1995. The company was then reincorporated under a holding company, the Netherlands-registered Anker BV, although the company’s headquarters remained in Bolton.
The “new” Anker began restructuring its operations in the late 1990s, shutting down a number of its manufacturing plants and reducing its reliance on electronic cash registers by striking out into the broader and fast-growing market for electronic point of sales (EPoS) systems. In order to support this strategy, Anker continued to develop its own in-house software while at the same time targeting the acquisition of related businesses, such as that of GPI, acquired in 1996.
Early in 1999, the company also reached an agreement with Japan’s Omron Nohgata Co. to acquire its manufacturing subsidiaries Omron Systems Europe, based in Germany, and Omron Systems UK, as well as the exclusive European distribution license for Omron systems. The company also began building up its service arm, acquiring the service division of the U.K. firm MDIS in 1999.
During that same year, the company made a still more significant acquisition. In October 1999, Anker paid £42 million to acquire Riva Group Pic. The integration of Riva’s internationally operating network boosted Anker into the European leadership for EPoS systems.
Riva represented the combination of two businesses. Riva Computer Services Ltd. was founded in 1978 as a development company using Hewlett-Packard hardware. Riva’s original business centered on developing point of sales systems for the U.K. hospitality market. Riva went public in 1988 and changed its name to Riva Group Pic. The following year, Riva acquired the Hugin Sweda (a company specialized in manufacturing cash registers), which had been founded in 1928 in Sweden and which had been acquired by the U.S. firm Litton Industries in 1963.
Anker provides IT solutions for shopping—wherever, whenever, or however that shopping takes place. We offer complete solutions that support all aspects of the consumer/retailer interface—in hospitality, food, and specialist retail segments. We support not only the initial order taking process but the subsequent supply of back and head office management information for retailers. Our range of products and services for retailers includes software, consulting and support, and hardware. As part of our commitment to deliver complete IT solutions for shopping, we are working alongside retailers and selected partner companies to help deliver the best of breed solutions for next generation retailing.
The acquisition of Hugin Sweda helped broaden Riva’s geographic base. It also marked Riva’s transition into the broader point of sales (POS) market, especially the retail sector. In the early 1990s, Riva extended its focus to include software solutions, and in 1994 the company became one of the first to incorporate the Microsoft operating system as the basis for their POS software systems. By the late 1990s, Riva had decided to refocus itself entirely as a software-driven business. In support of its new direction, Riva made a series of acquisitions, including France’s Aurique, the Netherlands’ Unisoft, and Infocare, based in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the company spun off a number of its previous businesses, including its Spanish and Australian subsidiaries, as independent companies.
In 2000, Anker signed a strategic alliance with Viewlocity, a provider of business-to-business integration and systems solutions for the burgeoning online trading market, to combine Viewlocity’s AMTrix hub software with Anker’s new emPower real-time retail and supply chain database software for the European retail market. Meanwhile, the company’s flagship software, OSCAR, was enjoying strong success on the European market. In 2001, the company unveiled a new integrated software and hardware product, called Media Network, which permitted retailers to position multi-media POS displays, including video and sound support, in their stores. In that year, Anker acquired Dutch company Unicos BV, a specialist in retail automation software. In 2002, Anker signed a new OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partnership agreement with ProClarity. The agreement allowed Anker to integrate ProClarity’s web-based analytical software into Anker’s own eToolbox product group.
By then, Anker’s sales had topped EUR 243 million—more than double its revenues in the mid-1990s, and the company had strengthened its leadership position in the European POS market. Anker had come a long way, successfully making the transition from manufacturing to software development while inheriting a tradition of supporting retailers begun more than a century before.
Anker Systems Ltd (United Kingdom); Anker Systems AG (Switzerland); Anker Systems OY (Finland); Anker Systems A/S (Denmark); Anker Systems A/S (Norway); Anker Systems AB (Sweden); Anker Systems B.V. (Netherlands); ADS Anker Data Systems BV (Netherlands); Anker Systems S.A. (France); Anker B.V.B.A. (Belgium); Anker Systems GmbH (Germany); Anker Systems GesmbH (Austria); Compcas Kft (49%, Hungary).
IBM Corporation; NCR Corporation; Aspeon, Inc.; BancTec, Inc.; Fujitsu Services Limited; Hewlett-Packard Company; Hypercom Corporation; Groupe Ingenico; JDA Software Group, Inc; MAI Systems Corporation; MICROS Systems, Ine; PAR Technology Corporation; Radiant Systems, Inc.; Retalix Ltd.
- Carl Schmidt and Nickolaus Durkopp found a partnership to manufacturer sewing machines in Germany.
- Schmidt establishes his own sewing machine business in Bielefeld, Germany, Bielefelder Nahrnaschinenfabrik Carl Schmidt.
- Joined by Hugo Hengstenberg, the company begins producing machines under the combined name Carl Schmidt & Hengstenberg.
- The company begins producing bicycles and changes its name to Bielefelder Náhmaschinen- und Fahrrad-Fabrik Hengstenberg the following year.
- The company begins production of cash registers.
- The company changes name to Anker Werke AG.
- Anker Werke begins production of accounting machines and other office equipment.
- The company ends production of bicycles to concentrate on cash registers and accounting machinery.
- Anker Werke launches its first electro-mechanical accounting machines.
- Sewing machine production is spun off into a separate subsidiary.
- Subsidiary ADS Anker Data Systems is created.
- Anker declares bankruptcy and is acquired by the U.K. company Thomas Tilling.
- Riva Computer Services Ltd. is founded in the United Kingdom.
- Thomas Tilling Group acquired by BTR.
- Riva goes public as Riva Group Plc.
- Riva acquires Hugin Sweda cash register group.
- Anker is bought from BTR by European Acquisition Capital and John Foulkes.
- Anker acquires GPI and begins restructuring, shutting manufacturing facilities and focusing on software development.
- Anker acquires OMRON Europe and the exclusive license to distribute Omron products in Europe; Riva Group pic is also acquired.
- Unicos BV of the Netherlands is acquired.
“Aldi Weighs Anker,” Super Marketing, September 1, 2000, p. 3.
“Anker Agrees 42 min stg Bid for Riva,” Reuters, September 24, 1999.
“Beatties Weighs Anker up for Terminal Upgrade,” Computer Weekly, July 13, 2000, p. 14.
“MDIS to Transfer EPOS Business to Anker Data Systems for 3.9 mln stg,” AFX (UK), April 8, 1999.