Text: Regula Freuler | Photos: Markus Bertschi |Magazine: Customer focus – January 2019
“The future lies in omnichannel”
Mr Pichler, calida.com won this year’s Shop Usability Award in the Fashion category. What does this prize mean to you?
First of all, that we’ve done a great job. We now have a user-friendly webstore that can connect viewers to our other sales channels. People want a quick and easy way to make a purchase, yet still know what’s important about the product. We’re working on that constantly.
“The customer is king” is an age-old business imperative. What does it mean today?
It’s still the most important aspect. For us, meeting the needs of our customers is both the goal and the purpose of Calida. Profit and growth are the by-product.
“Calida is the opposite of ‘fast fashion’.”
Does the Calida Group mainly focus on customer needs, or does it want to create its own trends?
In Europe, we’re faced with saturated, stagnating markets. It takes a tremendous effort if we want to earn a larger share of our customers’ wallet. On one hand, we need to outshine the competition and, on the other, ensure that customers actually go to our shops. To accomplish that, you need to identify trends early on so you can play a role in shaping them. But innovations are also very important.
The Calida Group has a multifaceted product portfolio that ranges from traditional underwear, to lingerie, to outdoor wear, and even to garden and camping furniture. Is there still a typical Calida customer?
The common denominator between all of our customers is their desire for high quality. And we at Calida are obsessed with quality. Of course, quality gains its expression in different ways, depending on the specific brand. Our Mountain Group company offer the perfect gear for people who spend a lot of time with Mother Nature. When it comes to indoor/outdoor furniture, comfort is key. Calida, itself, has a very significant locational advantage: at our stores, but also amongst our wholesalers, we have a return customer rate of more than 70 per cent – that’s fantastic! It means we have a very loyal customer base that appreciates our performance.
And how do you win new customers?
By developing innovative, impeccable products. The Daily Functionwear from Calida, a stand-alone line that supplements the men’s collection, is an example of a very successful innovation of ours; as is the superlight down jacket from Millet. Calida is the exact opposite of “fast fashion”, and the exact opposite of “fast fashion” is durability, sustainability and quality. That’s what we work on, day in, day out – and it’s also what wins customers.
Reiner Pichler has been CEO of the Calida Group since March 2016. Previously, the 56-year-old German-Swiss dual citizen headed the Holy Fashion Group (where he built up the Strellson brand, among other things) and subsequently the much larger German fashion group S. Oliver. Since the beginning of 2017, he has also been chairman of the board of the Zurich eyewear label Viu.
With its biodegradable/compostable “I Love Nature” shirts, Calida is tying in with the trend towards sustainable fashion. What’s up next in this area?
For us, sustainability isn’t something “modern”, it’s part of our corporate culture. For one, at Calida we certify our products with the “Made in Green” label, a totally transparent means of knowing where and how they were produced. This already applies to a large proportion of our products. Then there’s our compostable “I love Nature” shirt, which was truly a great innovation. Soon, a series of other compostable products will follow. In the outdoor segment, we recycle goose down: this filler from pre-owned duvets and jackets is washed and reused in new jackets. We also recycle PET bottles for making jackets, and all our products are now PFC-free. More-over, once a year we go with the employees of the Millet Mountain Group to the Mer de Glace, one of the largest glaciers in the Mont Blanc massif in France, and clean it up. This evidences our attitude as a company.
The Calida brand stands not just for quality, but also for tradition. This appeals above all to an older clientele. How is the Calida Group zeroing in on Customer 4.0, i.e. the millennials?
For example, with sustainability. Two out of three millennials are prepared to pay a higher price for sustainably produced, high-quality products. In addition, “Monocle”, one of Europe’s foremost lifestyle magazines, entered into a product venture with us this past fall. The result is a fine capsule collection for the modern, urbane, big-city gentleman who likes things that are practical and fashionable at the same time. And of course, we put together the most suitable collections.
What look do the millennials prefer?
Basics play a major role, and we reinterpret their design. Essentially, simple things with all the right functions are very popular. But fashionable attire such as culottes or modern soft bras in the women’s collection are big sellers.
How specifically are you taking aim at target groups?
Today, “target group” is probably no longer the right word. It’s rather a matter of buyer groups or, more precisely, interest groups. Nowadays, one doesn’t think anymore in terms of age limits. When I go to the gym, a 65-year-old on my left and an 18-year-old on my right sweat just like me. The older ones are becoming ever younger, it seems. This is an exciting challenge for us.
By acquiring Reich Online Services, the Calida Group reinforced its e-commerce business. Has your company now achieved its initial goals in this area?
We’ve even surpassed them. E-commerce is much more than a passing trend – it’s a revolution that has given rise to completely different behaviour on the part of end consumers. Singles’ Day in Asia has become the world’s top-selling online shopping event and grew from USD 20 billion to USD 28 billion in a single year – an incredible rate of growth! The demand these days is that we reach the consumer where he is and when he’s online; obviously, we have to be there at that point.
The portfolio of this international clothing group includes the Calida, Aubade, Millet, Eider, Lafuma Outdoor, Lafuma Mobilier and Oxbow brands. Its main division focuses on daywear, nightwear and luxurious lingerie. Outdoor equipment and garden/camping furniture are also part of the mix. Calida reinforced its e-commerce business with the purchase of German online retailer Reich Online Services in March 2017.
Calida was founded by Max Kellenberger and Hans Joachim Palmers in 1941, originally under the name Strickwarenfabrik Sursee AG. In 1946, the company was renamed Calida AG. The Kellenberger family are the principal shareholders of Calida and control 34.5 per cent of the voting rights. Calida’s head office is in Sursee. The Group employs close to 3,000 people.
Calida gained fame for its pyjama cuffs, which prevent the sleeves and legs from riding up, as well as for the high quality of its products in general. Most of the production takes place in the company’s own facilities in Hungary or else is centrally controlled from there and carried out in partner companies, whereas the design work is accomplished in Switzerland.
Two years ago, the e-commerce business accounted for about 3 per cent of Calida’s total revenues. Where does it stand now, and what proportion are you still striving to achieve?
We currently generate roughly 10 per cent of our revenues via our own e-commerce platforms. This equates to an increase of 60 per cent in the past year alone. If we add the sales attributable to pure e-commerce customers and those that our wholesale customers generate with us in connection with e-commerce, then we come to almost 20 per cent.
How does Calida go about handling the related online customer comments?
I find the possibility to comment online basically good, as it quickly conveys the opinion of customers. But this of course puts us under the gun. Any negative comments become visible to everyone, worldwide. And they can develop their own dynamic, which in turn can result in a painful loss of sales. But we’re happy to rise to this challenge because we fully support our products – and can also learn something from the justified comments.
The data collected through e-commerce make it possible for companies to gain a better understanding of their targeted customers. How does the Calida Group use customer data?
First of all, we may only use that data in compliance with a legal framework that is very constrictive. I’m also not sure whether we actually know all that much more about our customers than we did before. We’ve always had our own bricks-and-mortar business, and that gives us enough information about how well a product works, who the end consumers are and how often they come back. So we’ve never been entirely “clueless” about their tendencies.
Which other ways do you have for obtaining customer feedback?
We recently had a very interesting discussion with a group of alpine guides from Grindelwald. They were interested in a backpack from our Mountain division and made suggestions on how to improve it. Experiences of people like this – who are on the trail every day with one of our products – are very useful to us.
The e-commerce business is growing in leaps and bounds. What will ultimately be the function of bricks-and-mortar shops?
Our shops have an important function. The future is not to be found in e-commerce or proprietary stores or wholesale; for us, the future lies in what we call omnichannel. It’s the means by which we bring the different sales channels together. We’ve already opened the first two omnichannel stores in Hamburg and Bremen, and more are set to follow. We also plan to open additional new stores and integrate our wholesale partners.
Reiner Pichler as the customer
Do you wear Calida products yourself?
Of course I do! Every day. Not just because I like them; I’m also testing them.
What product or service would you definitely not want to do without?
I’m rather inclined to think about the things that need improvement, like travelling in Europe. Here, you often feel like you’re amidst a flock of sheep being herded in and out of the plane. Travel service is becoming increasingly important because people are journeying much more these days. The level of service you receive should be high. Asia beats Europe by a mile in this regard.
Is there a product that’s already accompanied you your entire life?
I have a pocketknife from my grand-father – I love it dearly.
Do you prefer to shop online or rather in a store?
Both, actually. I buy quite a lot in shops when I’m underway, whether abroad or in Switzerland. Online, I buy just about 100 per cent in Switzerland. I purchase books almost exclusively online, but no e-books.
Which online shops do you use most frequently?
Globus und Amazon.
What’s at the top of your shopping list for 2019?
I want to buy a Millet ski outfit, and I also need a new motorcycle helmet. I’m a passionate biker.