Since July, the Shopping Arkaden at Potsdamer Platz has been the proud location for a socially engaged business: The Haus der guten Taten (House of Good Deeds) which supports the sale of products from workshops for people with disabilities and fair trade articles. Anyone shopping here is doing good: The proceeds don’t go into the partners’ pockets, but instead finance fairly paid jobs and sustainable, fair trade products that help people around the world to provide their families with a livelihood. We had the opportunity to ask the founder, Wilfried Franz, a few questions.
Mr Franz, it is great that the COEO, “Haus der guten Taten”, is now located in our premises on Potsdamer Platz. Welcome! Why did you choose this site for your business?
Wilfried Franz: COEO Haus der guten Taten opened in Berlin in 2010. Following a four-year learning phase, in which we explored how this innovative model for a socially engaged business could operate successfully, we are now open for a cautious expansion.
The shopping centre where we were previously located was about to be restructured. As a consequence we made inquiries at a number of shopping centres in Berlin that appealed to us, asking whether they were interested in the COEO concept. By the way, one year after opening COEO was voted “Store of the Year” in its category. This is the highest accolade awarded by the German retail industry. The upshot was that three shopping centres expressed an interest. In the case of the Shopping Arkaden at Potsdamer Platz all the framework conditions were optimal – e.g. a well-frequented location, a good mix of retailers, professional centre management etc.
How did you get the idea for COEO “Haus der guten Taten”?
W.F.: As founder of the Spiele Max AG, for a number of years – prior to selling Spiele Max in 2008 – I had considered building another chain store company. For me the first question was: Is it possible to develop an innovative shop concept for products from workshops for people with disabilities? A team rapidly formed around this idea and it was not long before we realised that the workshops produce products of a surprisingly high quality. However, the bottom line was that there were not enough articles. As a result we visited trade exhibition’s for fair trade products both in Germany and abroad. Now it was possible to gather together an interesting range of products. However, the fair trade and workshop industries are not particularly innovative. This means that customers are initially enthusiastic, however, after a few months they begin to complain that the articles are always the same. That is why we visit normal consumer goods fairs looking for special articles which can’t be found on every street corner for our target group – women between 30 and 60.
Ultimately, our main goal – on a charitable basis (none of the partners receives any profits) – is to integrate people with disabilities into the mainstream labour market. That is why every customer who buys something at COEO is doing good by helping to make this possible.
You are a native of Berlin. What does Potsdamer Platz mean to you?
W.F.: Before the wall came down I often took visitors to Potsdamer Platz to look at the deserted no man’s land from a viewing platform. This used to be the pulsing heart of Berlin. For me it is a divine miracle that such a fantastic new city district now stands here.
Up to 100,000 people visit our square each day. Which attractions can you recommend to visitors?
W.F.: – Naturally the COEO Haus der guten Taten in the Shopping Arkaden at Potsdamer Platz.
– The sensational Sony building with its tent-like roof and the fantastic atmosphere at events held there.
– The view from the observation platform of Potsdamer Platz 1 with the fastest elevator in Europe.
– I love the musicals staged here.
Your store offers a range of different products. What exactly can one find there?
W.F.: As a matter of principle the product range is so varied that there is always something new to discover – especially amongst the gift articles.
The biggest sellers are the wonderful Kybun air cushion shoes which in Berlin are only available from COEO. Anyone who thinks they have comfortable shoes hasn’t tried Kybun! Furthermore, Kybun belongs to a foundation, so its profits are also used to do good. In addition to workshop and fair trade articles, the book department is also something special – offering the largest selection of value-oriented and Christian books in the whole of Berlin. A lot of people browse here while enjoying a delicious cup of fair trade coffee. By the way, at COEO you can also order any book available in Germany.
On top of that there is a special selection of handbags and choice jewellery. Our range of delicious fair trade sweets and chocolates are also proving very popular, along with a variety of food articles which also make unusual gifts.
What events do you have planned at the Haus der guten Taten over the next period?
W.F.: At the moment we are very busy with the reorganisation of our computer system. As soon as this is finished COEO will again be hosting readings from authors and musical events.
Thank you for your time! Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
W.F.: We hope that more and more people will discover COEO and experience the great feeling of doing something good when shopping!
For more information: www.coeo-berlin.de