German erotic chain struggles for survival | News | DW | 17.12.2017
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Erotic industry

German erotic chain struggles for survival

Sex chain Beate Uhse's filing of an insolvency rescue plan has left Germany wondering why the firm failed to keep pace with the revolution it triggered post-war. Its new head Michael Specht says he's still "confident."

Germany on Sunday pondered the looming demise of the concern founded in 1946 by former World War Two delivery and stunt pilot Beate Uhse, despite recent bids to re-brand it more for women customers.

Her unashamed belief in eroticism transformed German sex life through to her death in 2001.

On Friday, the founder's holding company, Beate Uhse AG (BU), based in Flensburg in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany's most northern state, said it had filed for insolvency but under self-administration coupled with court oversight.

Michael Specht Beate Uhse AG (picture alliance/dpa/Beate Uhse AG)

BU chief Michael Specht is still "confident"

Still open were its remaining 43 shops, run by subsidiaries, which had some 345 employees across Europe, including in the Netherlands, France and Britain, the concern said.

Support pledged

Specht, the concern's chief executive since April, said the filing took place because "no agreement could be reached" with one group of investors. Key investors, however, had pledged their support for the restructuring process, he said.

Looming over the holding is €30 million ($35 million) of bonds due for repayment to creditors in 2019. The concern's loss for 2016 was €6.2 million, before tax and interest, from earnings of roughly €103 million.

"We are taking a path that we are confident will allow us to restructure the group as a whole," Specht said Friday. A new start was possible, he added.

Share price rise and fall

When Beate Uhse went public in 1999, it had an initial share price of €7.20 that soared to €28.20. Its earnings peaked in 2005, but by 2008, its share price had sunk to 58 euro cents.

Beate Uhse (imago)

Uhse in 1999 when her firm issued shares publicly

Over the weekend, it traded at a little over just 5 cents.

Specht said Beate Uhse — although a leader in France — had lost "significant" market traction in Germany amid management changes and reticence to turn retail outlets and online sales into a "seamless shopping experience."

Scepticism

On Friday, Flensburg's Schleswig-Holstein Zeitung newspaper quoted the Düsseldorf-based DSW investors' association as saying it was skeptical whether the self-administered recovery plan would bear fruit after years of managerial changes.

It quoted branch insiders as saying that Beate Uhse had reacted too late to e-commerce trends practiced by newcomers such as Eis.de and Amorelie with their "fresh appeal" pitched at women and couples. 

In an editorial, the Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ) newspaper said there was a "high risk" that Beate Uhse would face a demise during insolvency proceedings similar to failed German concerns such as Neckermann and Schlecker.

Beate Uhse's key owners include two firms in the Netherlands as well as Venus Hyggeli, an offshoot of a northern German savings bank group with a 13 percent holding stemming from BU shares once offered in Flensburg as collateral for a loan.

Beate Uhse (imago)

An erotic shop, Berlin 2002: Beate Uhse has become a household name

Stunt pilot

Uhse, who gained her stunt pilot's license in 1938 and survived the Nazi era flying Messerschmitt fighter planes in battle, began her erotic foray in 1946 by marketing pamphlets to tell women how to avoid pregnancy.

Her mail order business thrived and in 1962 her Institute of Marital Hygiene opened its first store in Flensburg, selling lingerie and contraceptives, despite numerous lawsuits by complainants upset over perceived breaches of morality.

Germany relaxed its anti-pornography laws in the 1970s. By then BU was a household name across Germany.

Beate Uhse as a young pilot (picture-alliance/dpa)

As a wartime pilot, Uhse delivered fighter planes to the front

Sponsor at last Hendrix festival

A lesser-known gesture was Uhse's major sponsoring of Germany's answer to Woodstock, the Love and Peace Open Air Festival on the Baltic Sea island of Fehmarn in 1970, where Jimi Hendrix made his last major appearance. Her shops sold festival tickets.

Her empire, including a television sex channel, expanded, profiting also from a boom of sales of erotic items in the former East Germany after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

Competition, especially from often free internet-sourced video clips, began to erode the Beate Uhse concern dominance.

Single-handed reformer

"One dauntless woman" had, however, changed Germany's mores almost "single-handedly," wrote the German news magazine Der Spiegel in 2011.

To overcome its image as a "grubby" male red-light provider, the concern in 2004 opened its first sex shop for women in Hamburg and developed retail partnerships with cosmetic and fashion retailing chains.

But, despite the "feminization" of its logo and increased focus on women as customers, Spiegel concludes that the "decline" seems unstoppable.

ipj/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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