Brink is proud to celebrate its 120th anniversary

Brink was founded on September 3, 1903, in Assen, Netherlands, as a blacksmith shop. Over the years, Brink has evolved into an internationally recognized company in the automotive industry and a global leader in towbars.

How Brink conquered the world of towbars

This year marks Brink's 120th anniversary, a milestone they celebrate with deep gratitude. Brink was founded on September 3, 1903, in Assen, Netherlands, by Reint Brink as a blacksmith shop. Over the years, Brink has evolved into an internationally recognized company in the automotive industry and a global leader in towbars.

Since its humble beginnings, Brink has embarked on an extraordinary journey, transforming itself from a towbar manufacturer into an international player in the automotive industry. Today, the company boasts more than 800 passionate employees spread across nine locations (including Staphorst and Oosterhout in the Netherlands, France, Thailand, South Africa, Denmark, Poland, Italy, and Australia) with high-quality production facilities in the Netherlands, France, Thailand, and South Africa.

From blacksmith shop to vehicle manufacturer

In September 1903, Reint Brink opened a blacksmith shop in Assen. His son, Roelof Brink, later took over the business and shifted its focus towards building trailers. In the early 1930s, the first trailers were delivered. To further specialize in trailers, a new facility was opened in Meppel around 1946 under the brand name KAT (Kipper, Aanhangwagen en Trailer fabriek – which translates to “Tipper, Trailer, and Trailer Factory”). In the late 1950s, the factory was relocated from Meppel to Staphorst, where they began producing motor trucks. At that time, Brink in the Netherlands was registered as a “vehicle manufacturer.”

Brink becomes an international player in the towbar market

After several years, Roelof Brink decided to start manufacturing trailers and towbars. Initially, these towbars were produced exclusively for trailer owners, but the demand was so significant that in the early 1960s, towbars were sold as a separate product under the name “RBS” (Reint Brink Staphorst). Under the Brink brand, the company became one of the largest players in the international towbar market. To strengthen this position, Reint Brink opened a brand-new facility in Staphorst in the 1970s, where design, development, production, and sales of towbars were all housed under one roof.

Everything in-house: from design to production and product testing

Brink’s rich history has shaped the company into what it is today. Coen Rooijmans, CEO of Brink Group, says, “We still do everything in-house, from designing the towbar to development and production, but we also have our own testing centers where we ensure the quality of our products. We are incredibly proud of this.”

From fixed to detachable and retractable towbars

In its early years, Brink exclusively developed fixed towbars. By the late 1980s, they introduced their first detachable system: Brinkmatic 1, a horizontally detachable system. About a decade later, this was further developed into the Brinkmatic 2, serving as the foundation for all subsequent horizontal and diagonal systems. In 2001, the twist-knob detachable system was introduced. And in 2004, the first BMA (Brinkmatic Advanced) was launched, which is still one of the most user-friendly towbars in Brink's product range. Not long after, in 2005, Brink developed its first vertically detachable system, the T5, designed for the Land Rover Discovery 3. Remarkably, this towbar is still in production today. In 2006, the first mechanically retractable system was introduced, known as the MX. In 2013, the BMU (vertically detachable towbar) was introduced. Two years later, in 2015, the electrically retractable version of the MX, the MXe, was introduced for original equipment (OE) customers.

Brink expands to France: acquisition of SFEA (Atlux)

In the 1990s, Brink's internationalization efforts began to take shape with the acquisition of a French towbar manufacturer, SFEA, which operated under the brand name ATLUX. “At that time, SFEA was primarily active in the aftermarket and produced approximately 100,000 towbars annually,” said Olivier Irdel, Managing Director of Brink Towing Systems SARL. “SFEA was founded in the 1960s by an individual who had previously worked at 'le Rapide', a towbar manufacturer later acquired by Bosal. Since its inception, SFEA experienced rapid growth, driven by a dynamic automotive market and increasing interest in leisure and vacations.” In the years following the acquisition, the Atlux brand gradually transitioned to Brink. The Brink Group’s ambition was to become a top player in Europe. To achieve this goal, they pursued acquisitions and established new factories. Since France was one of the top three European markets for the company, Brink took a strategic step to build a significant production facility there. Olivier explains, “It was part of Brink's strategy to centralize production in larger factories.”

Brink France excels in flexibility

Brink France initially focused on increasing sales within its own market, with a particular emphasis on French automotive manufacturers (OEs). Olivier mentions, “To collaborate with OE customers, we established an R&D department.” Later on, Brink France also played an increasingly important role in the production of aftermarket towbars for the rest of the Brink Group. Coen Rooijmans adds, “Our Reims facility plays a crucial role in supplying towbars to French automotive manufacturers. They excel at combining this with aftermarket business. The location stands out for its flexibility, allowing us to quickly scale up when needed.”

According to Olivier, Brink France owes its flexibility to its origins as a pure aftermarket company. He vividly recalls his start at Brink in 2002, saying, “I remember my start at Brink in 2002 as if it were yesterday. In the same year, we began building a new factory in January and successfully moved the entire factory in November within two weeks!” Following this remarkable achievement, Brink France acquired more IAM (Independent Aftermarket) productions from other facilities. This led to significant growth in the years after the move, averaging an impressive 20 percent per year.

Olivier takes great pride in what Brink has accomplished in recent years. He reflects, “When I started about 20 years ago, there were still five towbar manufacturers in France: Bosal, SIARR, Atnor, Boisnier, and Brink. However, the landscape is changing, and now there are only a few manufacturers left, including Brink! We are proud of our resilience. It's evidence of our strong presence in the French market, which we not only have conquered but also successfully maintained.”

Brink temporarily under Swedish flag

The international success of Brink was the reason for the Swedish Thule Group to acquire Brink in 2006. During the period from 2006, Brink continued under the name Thule until 2014. Then, Brink was sold to a Dutch investor. Since that year, Brink has been operating under its familiar name, Brink. The same quality towbars with the Brink name that have been around since 1903! In 2014, Brink switched to a new logo, which is still the current logo of Brink. In honor of its 120th anniversary, a special version was developed for use during the jubilee year.

Brink continues to internationalize with the establishment of Brink Thailand

Although Brink's internationalization efforts began years ago, the company continues to expand to this day. In 2017, Brink opened a production facility in Thailand to ensure further growth as an OE (Original Equipment) supplier. Lodewijk Berg, Managing Director of Brink Towing Systems Thailand, explains, “The primary motivation for establishing a presence in Thailand was to strengthen support for the Asian market, with a particular focus on the ANZ market (Australia and New Zealand), which offers significant growth potential for Brink.”

Brink built the Thailand facility from the ground up in 2017 and 2018. Official production began in 2021, and the first customers were supplied from Thailand. According to Lodewijk, it was challenging to get the initial projects off the ground. He emphasizes that it is crucial to consistently meet customer expectations now to secure future projects for Brink. This move reflects Brink's commitment to serving global markets and tapping new growth opportunities. Coen Rooijmans: “Thailand has now evolved into a fantastic location with a focus on high quality and a well-established logistics system, along with all the relevant certifications. This year, our focus is on expanding into Australia, a market with great potential that we can serve effectively from our Thailand facility.” Lodewijk adds, “We have recently achieved IATF certification, a crucial milestone required to supply OEM/OES.”

Lodewijk enthusiastically shares details of their collaboration with one of their main customers: “In 2022, we started supplying this important customer with towbars – we currently deliver daily. Additionally, we have transitioned to working in two shifts. And our workforce has grown significantly from 8 full-time employees in 2021 at the start of production to around 55 employees now.” The growth of Brink Thailand is not yet complete, and Lodewijk is optimistic, seeing even more growth potential. At present, he is developing business plans to significantly expand the facility beyond what has been achieved in the past 2.5 years. He explains, “We expect to open a new, larger factory within the next three years to accommodate our growing operations and continue to meet customer demand.” This demonstrates Brink's commitment to further expanding its presence and capabilities in the region.

Brink Towing Systems South Africa poised for growth

The Brink Towing Systems South Africa location is also making significant strides. The South Africa branch has been part of the Brink family for quite some time. It was established in 2006 as a joint venture between Brink Group and Ramsay Engineering. Mark Gutridge, Managing Director of Brink Towing Systems South Africa, explains, “At the time, we started with just 3 employees. The market completely collapsed, and we barely survived. However, we have now grown into a strong player with around 100 employees.”

Initially, Brink South Africa began production for export to the Netherlands and small OES (Original Equipment Supplier) customers. Mark continues, “While we were working hard to establish ourselves in South Africa, Brink was securing larger OEM/OES contracts.” Brink Towing Systems also began to establish a presence in the aftermarket through sales in concept stores, independent installers, and distributors. Mark proudly shares, “In 2009, we won a significant OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) order, which amounted to 53,000 towbars per year. In 2010, we moved to our current facility and acquired our first robot! Now, we expand our production every year, and we currently have eight double robot cells producing 140,000 towbars per year. It's a far cry from when we started in 2006 with just three people!”

Additional challenges for Brink South Africa

Conditions in South Africa sometimes pose additional challenges, including load shedding. Load shedding occurs when there is not enough electricity available to meet the demand of all customers, and the power supplier temporarily interrupts the electricity supply to certain areas. Mark explains, “Sometimes our electricity is switched off for up to twelve hours a day, which does present an extra challenge in securing large contracts and meeting customer demand. Additionally, safety concerns are prevalent in South Africa. Our flexible and innovative approach has allowed us to secure large contracts and continue to grow in the OEM, OES, and IAM (Independent Aftermarket) market despite these unique challenges.”

Awards for Manufacturing Company of the Year

“South Africa has already won a prominent award in their region for Manufacturing Company of the Year several times, a great milestone to be proud of!” says Coen Rooijmans. Mark adds, “We absolutely owe this to our consistent quality, growth, and delivery performance – something we are incredibly proud of and that is only possible thanks to our team. This is truly the key to our success! Most employees have been with us for over ten years, and some have been with us since the beginning of the Brink adventure in South Africa. Thanks to their loyalty and dedication, we are where we are today and look forward to a bright future!”

Shaped by the employees

The importance of employees as the key to success is not limited to South Africa; it holds true at all Brink locations. Coen emphasizes, “We've existed for 120 years by listening to our customers and delivering good products. We have been a reliable partner to our customers for an awfully long time, and we intend to remain so for a very long time. We are very aware that we exist thanks to skilled and motivated employees. So, we need to show our appreciation for our team!” Brink would like to thank its employees for their contribution to the success story. It is their dedication, craftsmanship, and trust in Brink that have led to the special milestone of the 120th anniversary. To show appreciation for their employees' hard work and dedication, Brink has recognized them with special gestures. Everyone received a beautiful beach towel to commemorate the occasion of the 120th anniversary – and in early September, a relaxed and informal barbecue was held where employees could gather and reminisce together.

Coen continues his story: “Brink is a wonderful company, and it's the employees that make it so. The loyalty and dedication of the employees make Brink unique. There is so much knowledge and experience there, and I find that truly inspiring!” The loyalty of the employees is evident in the number of long-serving team members. Not only is Brink celebrating its anniversary, but many employees are also celebrating their own anniversaries with Brink. For example, Jan Hofstede from the Staphorst location will reach an impressive milestone in 2024 with 50 years of service at Brink.

Nearly 50 years with Brink for Jan Hofstede

Jan shares his career journey with Brink: “I've been working at Brink for 49 years! During these years, I've taken on various roles, primarily in the development of new towbars. Currently, I work in the workshop at Brink, where I focus on adapting towbars to ensure a 'perfect fit' for different car models.” When you work for the same employer for 49 years, you undoubtedly experience a lot. Jan enthusiastically shares about the various product developments he has witnessed during his time at Brink. In the early years, Brink only produced fixed towbars, but later, they introduced detachable and electric towbars as well. 

Over the past five decades, Jan has witnessed firsthand how Brink has grown into an international company. He says, “I have witnessed many changes within the company up close. The expansion into other countries, significant growth, including the number of employees, and important product developments are memories that have stayed with me.” These product developments aren't just about different types of towbars but also about continually adapting to increasingly stringent market requirements to deliver a high-quality product.

Brink has always aimed to deliver the highest quality products, supported by a deep-rooted belief in craftsmanship and innovation. Coen states, “Continual innovation and improvement have certainly contributed to our success over the past 120 years. A company can only exist as long as it delivers good products, is a reliable supplier to its customers, and takes good care of its employees.”

Jan remains an enthusiastic employee, saying, “The enormous variety in the work and the freedom I get from the company make me still enjoy working here! I've always had the opportunity to work independently, which I greatly appreciate. In the past, I also had the chance to travel extensively to visit dealers and customers, which made my experience at Brink even more special. I've seen the past 49 years as an adventure. At the moment, we're working on the development of a new electric towbar, the 'Brink Lightweight Electric (BLE).”

Brink Lightweight Electric (BLE) – Brink's latest innovation

The BLE mentioned by Jan is Brink's latest innovation. Coen explains, “When retracted, you don't see the BLE. It makes the car aesthetically more appealing. There's a lot of technology involved; it's like a towbar that communicates with the car.” Coen adds, “The BLE is a beautiful, fully electrified towbar that we developed ourselves with the support of several partner suppliers. In our industry, you can only be successful if you have a network of knowledgeable, reliable, and high-quality suppliers. Then you can work together to think about improvements and the next generation of products. That's exactly what we’ve done with the BLE. We've already secured multiple contracts to produce the BLE for various car manufacturers, which we are extremely pleased about!”

Brink has become a major player in the market with fixed and detachable towbars. It's estimated that around 25 million cars are equipped with a Brink towbar. “It's very exciting to see how electrification will progress,” says Coen. “At what pace will customers transition from fixed and detachable towbars to fully electrified towbars? This is one of the significant challenges for Brink in the coming years. Coen is optimistic about the future for Brink. He concludes, “I am convinced that in 5 years, we will be celebrating our 125th anniversary and will have reached new milestones!”