In April, Stihl GB celebrated the grand opening of its new, purpose-built head office and state-of-the-art distribution centre, ushering in a new chapter of innovation and service excellence for the business. Forestry Journal was in attendance.

THE large hospitality marquee outside Contra House in Surrey is buzzing. Inside, 160 of Stihl’s 700-strong approved dealer network have come from across the UK to attend the opening of the new multi-million-pound purpose-built HQ and expansive state-of-the-art distribution centre.

This event, with log-cutting opening, new product displays, chainsaw demonstrations and building tour, is as much a celebration of what Stihl GB’s dealers and end-users have helped to build as it is about the enhanced operational efficiencies, customer service and employee well-being that Stihl will provide from these new premises.

The BREEAM-certified Contra House HQ offers fully fitted technical workshops, dealer training facilities and a studio, collaborative workspaces (indoor and outdoor) and an onsite restaurant. A showroom is coming next year. The new distribution centre offers expansive storage and next-generation picking systems for a faster delivery service.

Dealers are impressed with their first view of the building and are keen to explore inside, looking forward to seeing how the dispatches work.


Stihl GB’s aim for this year, with its biggest ever investment in UK-wide advertising (with TV slots booked on Channel 4 and Sky, VOD for web and podcast sponsorship and more), is “to be the number-one brand for professionals and the leading premium brand for consumers,” says Kay Green, Stihl GB managing director.

 Dr Nikolas Stihl, chairman of the supervisory board of the Stihl Group.Dr Nikolas Stihl, chairman of the supervisory board of the Stihl Group. (Image: Supplied)

A ‘battery-first’ initiative is at the heart of this ambition. To support this, approved dealers can book product event days with the ‘Commercial Solutions Team’ (an initiative rolled out globally), a sort of ‘try-before-you-buy’ for customers. Support is also provided for merchandising and local marketing campaigns in the digital space, such as reusing company content for optimising a website or working with local influencers.


The company was founded in 1926 by Andreas Stihl. It was his 1959 invention of the world’s first portable chainsaw – the Contra gearless one-man forestry chainsaw – that began this path to Contra House.

Dr Nikolas Stihl (Andreas’ grandson) opens with: “We established the UK subsidiary 46 years ago. It is one of our most important markets for outdoor powered equipment. Building this centre underlines our ambition for sustained success.”

Stihl has 20,000 employees in 160 countries. With manufacturing bases in seven countries, “we operate the largest research and development (R&D) company in our industry. Over 500 engineers work in Waiblingen (worldwide headquarters) alone. We are a family-owned company, with a firm commitment to our dealers, but we are only as good as our service. Today, we work with 55,000 sales dealers worldwide; 700-plus are based in the UK.

 “Our main market focus is on professionals and demanding private users. The change in sales of petrol to battery products is mostly in entry-level products. Competitors have emerged. We are investing heavily in our battery-first strategy and in R&D, to further develop battery technology and expand our battery product portfolio.”

 Stihl’s Advance ProCom ear protectors allow direct connections with (up to) 16 headsets within a range of 600 metres.Stihl’s Advance ProCom ear protectors allow direct connections with (up to) 16 headsets within a range of 600 metres. (Image: FJ/CL)

A market leader for petrol products, the aim is for similar in the battery market. Petrol products will be maintained (and expanded) as long as there is customer demand.

“Today, battery products account for 24 per cent of all tools sold worldwide (rising from 20 per cent in 2023). This will pick up speed, to (predicted) 35 per cent by 2027, rising to (predicted) 80 per cent by 2035. Stihl UK’s battery-first strategy has helped to make inroads with customers as the brand (especially in the service and dealer channels), especially when power tools already account for over 40 per cent of tool sales in the UK.

“The opening of the 11,500 m² Contra House marks a cornerstone for our future. Costing €50 million, such an expensive project requires a lot of planning; intensive cooperation between architects, construction workers, craftsmen and engineers; and also the support of the local councils.” He thanks everyone involved, especially the onsite team who managed the project in addition to running the day-to-day business.


Autostore and ‘picking’ robots. Autostore and ‘picking’ robots. (Image: FJ/CL)

Stop 1: Powerful Products and Battery Technology
The tour begins sheltering from the rain in the Stihl mobile showroom. Product and marketing manager Paul Hicks talks us through some of the new products coming to market over the next six months (more information will come in due course) including a mix of both battery and petrol products.

Stop 2: Commercial Solutions
The ‘Commercial Solutions’ tent highlights what this team can offer when visiting approved dealers (to educate staff or customers) or large end-users (such as local authorities), familiarising both with the products.

This display of battery-powered products (chainsaws, mowers, brush cutters, hedge cutters, accessories, service kits and charging solutions) is extremely portable and fits easily into the back of one van.

Stihl’s Advance ProCom ear protectors allow direct connections with (up to) 16 headsets within a range of 600 metres. Headsets can also be connected to mobile phones so a user can answer calls safely at the touch of a button.
Stop 3: Chainsaw Sculptures and Stihl Timbersports
Stihl ambassador Simon O’Rourke is a chainsaw carver of 20 years’ experience. He has featured in Forestry Journal and it is good to finally meet him in person.

Simon has sculpted two chainsaws: a larger-than-life original Contra chainsaw and an MS 500i. The bodies are cut from single pieces of cedar and the bars and chains from ash. Both feature redwood bases. He admits to inserting dowels to secure the handles.

: Stihl Ambassador Simon O’Rourke is a chainsaw carver of 20 years experience, here with carving of the larger-than-life original Contra chainsaw.Stihl Ambassador Simon O’Rourke is a chainsaw carver of 20 years experience, here with carving of the larger-than-life original Contra chainsaw. (Image: FJ/CL)

Sculpted using an array of chainsaws, they are being finished off with an MSA 200 battery-powered chainsaw with a small purpose-developed carving bar. Simon says: “Battery products have made a world of difference.” For one, less petrol fumes means that “the workshop is a much more pleasant place to work.”

Tonight both sculptures will be auctioned off, with the proceeds donated to Perennial, a national charity dedicated to helping people in horticulture.

Stihl Timbersports champions Justine Narusa (Current British Women’s Champion) and Glen Penlington (current British Pro Champion) demonstrate the ‘Single Buck’ event.

Glen explains the discipline to the group while Justine ‘sets’ the 2-metre Single Buck crosscut saw (designed for competition). On ‘Go’, she slices through the log in seconds. Justine’s best ever time for the Single Buck, 19.89 seconds, is the current GB National Women’s record.  Members of this tour group, eager to test their own sawing skills, take minutes.
Stop 4: Contra House HQ (Downstairs)
For this tour, the 160 attendees have been split into groups. Each group has time in the spacious lobby to admire historic Stihl chainsaw models (on loan from George Carr Power Products) and to rest in the communal refectory area (an atrium of sorts) where glass-laden tables and bottles of something cool and bubbly are already chilling for the drinks reception at the end of the tour.
Stop 5: Distribution Centre 
The 9,000 m² Distribution Centre took a year to build and has the capacity to store 11,000 pallets. Already one-and-a-half times the size of their previous depot and twice its height, it can be expanded by a further 50 per cent if needed. Fully sprinklered (900,000-litre-capacity tanks), the roof supports enough photovoltaic panels to produce 30 per cent of the electricity needed to power the operational logistics.

STIHL TIMBERSPORTS champions Justine Narusa (Current British Woman’s Champion) and Glen Penlington (current British Pro Champion) demonstrate the ‘Single Buck’ event.STIHL TIMBERSPORTS champions Justine Narusa (Current British Woman’s Champion) and Glen Penlington (current British Pro Champion) demonstrate the ‘Single Buck’ event. (Image: FJ/CL)

Each pallet that arrives into the warehouse is barcoded to enable the warehouse system to quickly place them either in short-term storage or in longer-term high-density buffer storage. Spare parts go directly to the Autostore.

Walking these aisles of metal canyons feels a little like being in Hanger 51, the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant in the Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Except that in this warehouse, on any given day, 4,000 lines are picked, equating to 22,000–25,000 items each week. This being April, mowers are flying off the shelves. Come September, it will be blowers and chainsaws.

(Image: FJ/CL)

A Contra House architect is in this tour group. He says that as a condition of planning, the trees cleared from the site before building works began were indexed by breed and species (numbers of) and reinstated (plus 10 per cent) over three locations in the surrounding area. 

Repairs workshop
This state-of-the-art workshop is where repairs are assessed and root causes are analysed. A dedicated ‘helpline’ (upstairs) provides for direct communication with customers (end-users and the dealer network).

Currently at work are a technician with 25 years’ experience, a student of mechatronics engineering and an apprentice. Stihl’s in-house training is structured, with specific goals and ‘need to know’ lists covering electronics, robotics, petrol diagnostics and more. The space is purpose-built. Each technician has a workstation from where they can check emails, order parts, look at parts diagrams or run diagnostic software. Each has their own tool set, encouraging the use of the correct tool for the job and to keep the space tidy. Special tools not often used line the back wall.

To prevent manual-handling strains and injuries, each workbench is supported by hydraulic lifts. Each bench top is covered with a blue PSD (preventative static discharge) mat, to prevent electrostatic build-up from transferring from clothing to, for example, a robotic iMOW mower.

In the repair workshop, an IMOW robotic mower on work bench.In the repair workshop, an IMOW robotic mower on work bench. (Image: FJ/CL)

Equipment contaminated with grass, debris or motor oil, is cleaned in the industrial hotwash or by the hydraulic spray ensuring unobscured views during diagnostics. Engines are run in the ventilated testing booth. Diagnostic issues or potential defects are evidenced digitally, with photos and videos reported downstream to dealers and end-users, or upstream to Stihl’s manufacturing facilities.

Contra House HQ: Upstairs 
Upstairs, some of the 100 staff based at Contra House work at their desks in a large and airy open-plan office. The doors of the meeting rooms are fitted with electronic diaries to help staff collaborate.

Training approved dealer staff in product knowledge, technical knowledge and innovation is key to delivering good customer experiences and sales.
Accessed via the dealer portal, the Stihl Academy online training platform (2,300 active users) includes the Master Technician Course (now with Advanced Servicing), iMOW training, and the ‘Battery First’ course. 

Learning paths are a mix of online tuition (video-on-demand (VOD) modules and live-streamed webinars) culminating in face-to-face hands-on tuition. All training counts towards a dealer’s discount.

With its forest backdrop, the purpose-built digital recording studio feels quite spacious. There is enough room for eight trainers (each with individual studio mic) to move around. The feed from five cameras is mixed on a high-powered gaming computer and sent out live. Students interact (live) via the Chatbox.

Training room
The Training Room is a flexible space. Every item of furniture, including four workstations, is portable. The room accommodates everything, from filming yoga videos run by the in-house ‘Wellbeing’ team and running small product and technical workshops for in-house and dealer staff to hosting large training groups.

 With its forest backdrop, the purpose-built digital recording studio feels spacious.With its forest backdrop, the purpose-built digital recording studio feels spacious. (Image: FJ/CL)

Last week, this room hosted an iMOW course. It was raining, so desks and workstations were moved aside and the robotic mowers given free rein. In fine weather, training can take place outside. Stihl GB was the first subsidiary to launch the new ‘Battery First’ learning path. It is designed to give staff in dealerships the confidence to sell the benefits of Stihl battery products. The training path combines both online and face-to-face sessions.

Small parts and accessories are stored in the Autostore, an aluminium frame containing 19,000 grey bins set on top of each other with firebreaks at regular intervals. Each bin can hold up to 30 kg in weight. Some bins may be divided into quarters or eighths depending on a part’s size.

Drone view of Contra House, Stihl HQ and Distribution Centre.Drone view of Contra House, Stihl HQ and Distribution Centre. (Image: Supplied)

Each item is picked to order (from up to 30,000 possible locations) by 19 robots that self-charge at night. Each item is sent down a dispatch chute to where a picker packs them for sending out. The faster the picker packs each item and confirms the order ‘fulfilled’, the faster the robots respond.  Delivering items to the packer is where the time-saving efficiencies of this system lie.

Drinks reception 
Over a glass of ice-cold sparkling water, the verdict of an approved dealer who once supplied arborists but has since moved into supplying robotics (mowers) is sought.  Their response? “Today was great, especially the distribution part with the robots. Well worth it.”