The stories are legion. Soldiers digging foxholes with their Swiss Army knives to save themselves, fishermen in the ocean untangling themselves from their nets with a timely cut of their Victorinox Swiss Army knives or even business presentation equipment being kept dry in a disaster by Victorinox Swiss Army luggage.
Those kinds of stories and that kind of brand loyalty cannot be bought. “These are the stories we hear more and more frequently as we open more stores and the consumers engage with us on that level,” relates Jason Gallen, senior vice president, of direct to consumer and retail development. “Stories like this you don’t get from a typical brand.”
Victorinox has opened a select group of flagship and outlet retail stores worldwide to promote merchandise bearing the Victorinox Swiss Army brand. Not just for its iconic, multi-purpose pocket knife, the Victorinox Swiss Army brand is emblazoned on kitchen cutlery, timepieces, apparel, travel gear, and fragrances, all of which are sold at the company’s stores and by retailers worldwide.
Gallen considers Victorinox Swiss Army an accessible luxury brand. “We sit with a lot of luxury players, ” he emphasizes. “In each product category, there is an opening and a luxury price point and product quality that we also design in. No matter what price you are paying, the quality of the product is never sacrificed.”
The company’s eleventh retail store opened recently and two more are scheduled to open this year. Since 2011, the company has opened four stores annually. Among the flagship store locations – which are targeted for tourist areas – are Wooster St. in New York City’s SoHo district and the Westchester Mall in New York, the Short Hills Mall in New Jersey, Copley St. in Boston, Bloor St. in Toronto, the Mall of America in Minneapolis and Bellevue in Seattle.
Additionally, flagship stores are planned for San Francisco, Chicago and south Florida next year. Among the company’s eight stores in Europe are flagship stores in Geneva, Switzerland, London and Dusseldorf, Germany.
The flagship stores have several varieties of black steel finishes. “Blocher Partners came up with the initial design with us,” Gallen notes. “They do the initial feasibility studies with us, and a local architect does all the implementation and adaptation. Many of the elements were inspired by the company’s roots in Switzerland.
“We’ve got terrazzo floors, concrete hand finishes, LED lighting in the cases and a lot of architectural details in the way that we attach certain wood components to the ceiling,” Gallen reports. “We used black steel as tables and shelves to pay tribute to the knife itself. There’s a lot of natural wood and concrete elements. The Swiss are very natural in how they approach things, so we tried to create a lot of that tension but still be luxurious. It’s a pretty beautiful store concept.”
Victorinox Swiss Army does local adaptations of its stores so they have a slightly different look, such as at the company’s Wooster St. store in New York, which was an old firehouse from the mid-1800s. “We wanted to pay tribute to the heritage of the building, so we maintained the existing storefront from the firehouse,” Gallen says. “We paid homage to the brand history of Victorinox Swiss Army by bringing in archival pieces from Switzerland and also incorporated pieces from the archives of the fire department of New York, such as a vintage helmet, fire extinguisher and even a fireman’s jacket.”
The outlet stores retain the overall design concept of the flagship stores. “It’s a much more stripped-down version of that,” Gallen says. “It’s definitely built more for the economy. The outlet is more about residual inventory, when it comes to apparel from the previous season.” Outlet stores also sell discontinued products. “We do have a certain amount of products we make for the outlet stores.”
Swiss Army knives are sold practically everywhere such merchandise is carried, and many of the company’s other products are sold in stores that specialize in different types of merchandise. “Based upon the wide range of Victorinox Swiss Army product offerings, accounts will carry parts of the line most relevant for their customer,” Gallen notes.
As part of its retail expansion, the company is preparing to roll out its shop-in-shop and corner concepts, in which all or a selection of its product categories are displayed in a small shop within a larger store. Gallen thinks the Victorinox Swiss Army brand products will complement its wholesale partners’ offerings.
“We’ve tried to make sure that going in, our wholesale partners understand that this is to help buoy up the brand and showcase the whole line of products we have,” Gallen stresses. “In a lot of cases, what we’re finding is that the wholesale accounts want to buy more products and different products, because they see how well they work together.”
Victorinox Swiss Army also sells merchandise on its website, but the total sales are comparable to that of the company’s No. 1 store, Gallen maintains.
Among the innovative products the company sells are knives that have a USB drive in them and other limited-edition models with rosewood or oyster shell handles or prints and patterns. At the company’s new store in the Mall of America, a knife assembler can create a custom knife for a customer.
The company only licenses its travel gear business. All other categories are manufactured by the brand.
Employees are hired locally and undergo corporate training. U.S. managers come to the East Coast for a few weeks of training. Additional training opportunities include an e-learning platform online that includes the brand’s history, product categories and how to sell the company’s merchandise. The company also has field personnel who travel store-to-store. “We offer one-on-one and group training to further solidify people’s comfort with selling the product and passion for the brand,” Gallen says.
When selecting employees, retail experience is necessary. “We also are interested in people who actually use our product,” Gallen mentions. “There is nothing better than people that use our cutlery or a Swiss Army knife or wear one of our watches first-hand.”
Victorinox Swiss Army is a heritage brand that has been owned by the same family for 129 years. “When somebody says ‘lifestyle brand,’ they really don’t understand what that means,” Gallen emphasizes. “We really do fully engage in everyone’s lifestyle, from the graduation gift or the commemorative timepiece you’ll buy from us, to the clothing you’ll wear or the business case you’re using, to the Swiss Army knife that will save your life.”
The company’s success is due to its emphasis on quality and family, along with the owners’ collaboration and appreciation of everyone who works for the company, Gallen says. This includes thank-you notes from CEO Carl Elsener, the grandson of founder Karl Elsener, who opened a cutlery workshop in Switzerland in 1884 and invented the pocket knife that bears his company’s name.
“When you get a thank-you note from Mr. Elsener, you know he really appreciates what you’re doing, because his ancestors have created this, and he is continuing it into the future to perpetuate the legacy of the company,” Gallen says.
An example of the company’s social consciousness can be seen at its headquarters in Ibach-Schwyz, Switzerland. The company uses the water that is heated when it cools down the knives in the manufacturing process to provide hot water for the town. “It’s unbelievable,” Gallen marvels. “They’re very focused on giving back to the community in Switzerland and the people who work for them.”