(Filed Under wholesale Lingerie News). Last month Zimmerli of Switzerland expanded the assignment of CMK (the U.S. distribution firm operated by Cynthia Kelly) to include men’s apparel. CMK had already been handling women’s intimates here since 2011. In this interview, BODY publisher Nick Monjo asked Zimmerli CEO Marcel Hossli about the men’s business in this country, as well as the firm’s rebranding and expansion efforts, already underway.
MONJO: I have read the recent news about your rebranding efforts. What was the reaction at the July lingerie show in Paris?
HOSSLI: I have spoken to many personalities from the professional world and the feedback has been very positive for many different reasons. Some are enthusiastic about the very sharp positioning statement “The world’s finest underwear. Handmade in Switzerland since 1871.” Others welcome the contemporary yet timeless new corporate design and some love the new imagery of the brand – produced by the young American photographer Zoé Gaertner in a nice location in the Swiss Alps. All acknowledge that Zimmerli has built a strong bridge from its expertise in manufacturing fine undergarments to an attractive an contemporary brand management.
MONJO: What do you think the rebranding will mean to the U.S.?
HOSSLI: I think that our brand, which has a very long tradition and the unique proposition of being the only manufacturer producing exclusively in Switzerland, is now much more consistent in its positioning. Zimmerli has always been among the very few top brands when it comes to the finest products in our segment. On the other hand, we have probably not invested enough resources into a professional brand management. Now, the personality of the brand is likely to be understood much easier – which will contribute to an impressive development not only in the U.S.
MONJO: Where does the U.S. fit in the overall expansion plans for Zimmerli? How would you rate the growth potential?
HOSSLI: The U.S. is no. 4 in the ranking of our export markets. I strongly believe it should be no. 1 or 2 and we attach a strategic importance to this market. The potential is enormous and we will do whatever it needs to initiate a stunning growth.
MONJO: Do you have a dollar sales goal for the US?
HOSSLI: Zimmerli is a privately owned company and therefore I am not in a position to talk about dollars. However, we have the ambitious but achievable goal of doubling the turnover in 5 years. As a first consequence we have just changed the distributorship to CMK Distinctive Brands because people make the difference and I fully trust in Cynthia Kelly and her team.
MONJO: Do you think the U.S. has the same potential as Europe, for example? What is different about the U.S. market? How many consumers could be wearing Zimmerli in the U.S.?
HOSSLI: The U.S. may be a market which is a bit suffering just as Europe too. But one should not forget that the U.S. is by far the no. 1 market for luxury goods and that this country counts as many wealthy people as nowhere else. Urbane Americans love high-quality European goods whereas Europeans have somehow been depressed and are more fascinated by bargain buys. Zimmerli is surely positioned in the luxury segment. But one need not be a billionaire to be able to buy our products. A set of undergarments costs around $180 retail. But everyone can feel and see the value they get for their money. A pair of handmade Zimmerli undergarments have nothing in common with mass production coming from the Far East. And one nice shirt or a belt cost just as much. The only problem is that even wealthy people often don’t bother to ponder the importance of fine undergarments. However, it makes already a difference in the morning when it feels good to your skin. And it becomes even better during a long day when you just forget that you wear something underneath.
MONJO: How do you compare the women’s market vs the men’s in the U.S.?
HOSSLI: It is comparable to the market in Central Europe: Men hunt and women pick. We consider the men’s business as easier as they come back every other year to by a dozen new pants of exactly the same model they are used to. In contrast, women come to the stores every other week and wish to buy one new item. As a consequence, the fashion collections play an important role in the women’s market. But one aspect usually reunites the two genders: Once they have experienced the superior sense of well-being of a Zimmerli they come back and buy more.
MONJO: On the retail side in the U.S., how many potential retail shops could there be carrying Zimmerli in three to five years? What is your goal for department stores?
HOSSLI: I believe that we need to support a well-balanced distribution formed by first-class specialty stores, luxury department stores and online shops. Each of these channels are complementing each other and cater for a specific customer group without dramatic overlapping. To be honest we do not have a specific number of point of sales given in our business plan. But we have defined an list of qualitative criteria which define a Zimmerli partner. Quality comes first – also in the distribution network of Zimmerli. We attach a lot of attention to this and we need to clean up some damage we have done in the past. Not all of our existing partners comply with the standards a brand like ours needs to insist on. Without arrogance we will need to abandon some of the existing customers in order to secure the reputation of our brand.
MONJO: Do you have plans for Zimmerli monobrand stores in the USA?
HOSSLI: Monobrand stores have become vital to brands occupying a higher positioning. They contribute tremendously to the brand awareness and create spaces where the brand and its products can be experienced in all their facets. Zimmerli will mainly focus on its wholesale strategy but we are actively looking for franchise partnerships for the operation of monobrand boutiques. Over the last 12 months, we have launched boutiques and shop-in-shops in Paris, Zurich, Berlin, Moscow and Taipei and the success has been overwhelming.
MONJO: When would you open shops in the U.S. — and where and how many would there be?
HOSSLI: Yes, we are looking for partners but again, we are not fixed on a certain pace. The rule is the same, quality above quantity. The owners of Zimmerli do not expect me to open as many boutiques as possible but they ask me about the personality, commitment and enthusiasm of the partners and the quality of the locations.
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