No matter how Victorinox may slice it, it’s not a well-known brand in the United States. What is well-known is its oldest product, the Swiss Army knife. So making the Victorinox name a true fashion brand in the U.S. is the crux of the company’s new retail strategy.
The Switzerland-based company actually produces a range of high-end merchandise – cutlery, timepieces, travel gear and even fashion apparel. So it’s hewing to the old retail mantra of “location, location, location” by opening four new mall stores in some of the toniest venues: Copley Place (Boston), The Beverly Center (Beverly Hills, Calif.), the Short Hills (N.J.) Mall and The Westchester (White Plains, N.Y.). This year, it will also open streetfront stores on Wooster Street in New York’s SoHo neighborhood and on Toronto’s Bloor Street.
“We saw our retail roll-out as a way to showcase all our product categories under one roof, with a corporate design and a consistent corporate merchandising program,” says Joachim Beer, the company’s president of global fashion retail.
The positions are premium. In Westchester, they’re opposite Michael Kors, Coach and LVMH; in Short Hills, they’re in the Neiman Marcus-Nordstrom corridor; and in Copley Place, they’re in an anchor-like position on the center’s most important hallway.
“We get all the businesspeople coming up from the train station,” says Jason Gallen, vp, retail and e-commerce, of the Copley store. “In fact, our storefront flanks the two-story escalator, so when you reach the top of the escalator, the store emerges with glass curtains.”
Beer adds, “Our products are first-class in quality, function and design. It wouldn’t have made sense to locate our stores anywhere else.”
Once they were in the right locations, Victorinox still had to address the problem of consumer education. Much of the public knows it as the company that’s been making the Swiss Army knife since 1884, in the mountain village of Ibach near Lake Lucerne, Switzerland. Yet, over the years, Victorinox has acquired companies that produced fashion, fragrance and luggage. These areas have been so successful that Beer estimates that knives and cutlery account for only 10 percent of total sales.
Since the Swiss Army name is so recognizable for quality and function, the company knew it had to include it in the new branding formula. So the signs above the mall store doors feature Victorinox in large block letters and, below it, the knife’s familiar shield logo of a white cross in a red field that emulates the Swiss flag. (In some cases, “Swiss Army” is also included in smaller lettering.)
Inside, though, the focus quickly turns to the fashion apparel component, which Beer expects to account for 40 percent of sales. While the knives occupy almost the entire right side of the store, the fashion presentation begins at the front and continues through the center on a runway full of mannequins. Wood baffles on the ceiling accompany the runway to the back of the store, driving sightlines and foot traffic.
Most of the flooring is natural-stone terrazzo. However, toward the rear of the store is a carpeted consultative area where customers can sit in private and discuss timepieces, which run up to $3000.
It’s a Swiss company, after all, so function is never far from intent and the store design emphasizes that with its clean lines and sleek surfaces.
“Our fashion is somewhere between the classic sportswear of Ralph Lauren and the technical, functional performance of The North Face,” says Beer. “It’s like an SUV: It looks smart but it has the potential to go
Design: Blocher Blocher Partners, Stuttgart, Germany - Gwenn Vollmer; Mirjam Herrmann, interior designer; Jutta Blocher, director, interior designer
Executive Architect: Design Republic Partners LLP, New York – Muiris Dore, associate; Steven Segure, principal
Project Manager: Integrity Consulting Group, New York – Richard Jantz, managing partner
Construction Manager: Mackenzie Keck Construction, Rockaway, N.J. – Michael Stanley, vp, construction; John Sotir, chief operations officer; Vikram Reddi, chief development officer
Outside Design Consultants: AKF, Atkinson Koven Feinberg, New York (MEP Engineer); Severud Associates, New York (Structural Engineer
Audio/Visual: DMX, Austin, Texas
Furniture/Fixtures: Baumgartner, Munich, Germany
Fixtures: Visplay, Allentown, Pa.
Terrazzo Flooring: Durite USA LLC, Great Neck, N.Y.
Lighting: Wiedenbach-Brown Co. Inc., Yorba Linda, Calif.
Mannequins/Forms: Almax, Mariano Comense, Italy
Signage/Graphics: DPJSigns, Rahway, N.J.
Specialty Plaster Finishes : Croydon Finishing, Montgomery, Ala.
Photographer: Thaddeus Rombauer, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Prior to opening its Westchester Mall store in White Plains, N.Y., Victorinox took a creative marketing approach. It set up a freestanding kiosk in the common area opposite its new location.
“We had a limited amount of product there – knives, timepieces, fragrances, travel accessories,” says Jason Gallen, vp, retail and e-commerce. But while the kiosk had merchandise to sell, the bigger intent was to make mall shoppers aware that it was about to move in, to gather important demographic information on its high-end consumer database, and to build brand awareness.
“We learned that everyone values the Swiss Army brand but not everyone connects it to Victorinox,” Gallen says. And many shoppers were surprised to hear about the wide range of products offered.
“The standard response was, ‘I didn’t know you guys sold all those things,’ ” says Gallen.