1865 - 1885
In the Beginning Were the Dyes
The ambitious trading company Jebsen & Co. recorded a major success in 1897. It had only been two years since the second cousins Jacob Jebsen and Heinrich Jessen had founded their joint company in Hong Kong.
They invested 60,000 gold marks from their own and from borrowed capital. Both came from long-established seafaring families. Their ancestors were captains and ship owners from the city of Apenrade, located in the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein when the company was founded in the German empire. Jacob Jebsen was 27 and his cousin Heinrich was 32 years old when they secured their representation of Badische Anilin- & Soda-Fabrik in Hong Kong and southern China.
The partnership between BASF and Jebsen & Co. was to last for over 80 years and bring profit to both.
The Jebsen & Co. sales territory comprised all of southern China, including the province of 云南 Yunnan; its northern-most trading area was Amoy (厦门 Xiamen) in the province of 福建 Fujian. BASF had to establish a sales organization to boost the sales of its products, especially aniline dyes. But this business model had to be adapted to the Chinese market: Although the French, British, North American and German textile processors bought large batches of BASF dyes, the users in agrarian China were more likely to buy in small volumes.
Small dye works and paper manufacturers were the main customers, since there were no large textile factories in southern China at that time. Getting the merchandise from Ludwigshafen to low-volume consumers, who were sometimes located in remote and hard-to-reach places, was quite laborious. The BASF dyes were offered almost exclusively in small packages in southern China. The dyes were sent in crates that contained cans.
Chinese merchants sold the dyes from these cans by the spoonful. The customer received the pigment powder neatly wrapped in bamboo paper. Yet overall, the enormous number of these small-scale consumers still yielded a high revenue.
The presentation of the new products was tremendously important. The labels had to be colorful and eye-catching. The customers, many of whom were illiterate, would recognize their preferred brand with the help of colors and symbols.
On the whole, business with China gained enormous momentum after the turn of the century. While sales in the Asian country made up 5.6 percent of BASF’s total sales of about 51 million marks in 1904, this increased to about 14 percent of the BASF turnover of nearly 120 million marks by 1913. Synthetic indigo from Ludwigshafen played a major role in this.
"There is no country on earth that claims to be cultured but in which you would not find a single sales person offering this factory’s product."
Lothar Brunck, 1923
Member of the BASF Board of Executive Directors