«The World's Finest Underwear» – Zimmerli of Switzerland

Tradition and Innovation in one and the same place – How Dr. János Heé, CEO of the Swiss company Zimmerli, is going digital.

Dr. János Heé has been CEO of the traditional brand Zimmerli of Switzerland since the beginning of this year. He is talking with us about digital transformation and the opening of new sales channels.

Zimmerli – a most cherished brand in this country – was founded in 1871 and will be celebrating its 150-year anniversary next year. What areas of the company do you think will continue to be a success, as it has been in the past 149 years and which areas of the garment industry will likely undergo change?

One of our key strengths is durability. Our clothing lines «Royal Classic», «Richelieu» or «Maude Privé» have been sold for generations. Our clients know exactly what to expect from a particular product. And sometimes this knowledge is even passed on from parents to children. We live this continuity also with our sales partners. Le Bon Marché in Paris, for instance, was one of Zimmerli’s first trading partners and has remained with us until today. Pauline Zimmerli herself managed to get them signed and other worldwide sales partners, such as Harrods or Selfridges form the backbone of success in our enterprise.

I also believe that the will for innovation will be a driving force in our sector, though this has always been part of our DNA – which Pauline Zimmerli showed us from the very start. More than ever we encourage innovative thinking in our teams and apply it across our company structure. Sustainability is no longer a trend but something our customers expect. Zimmerli has been working hard on improving a more sustainable value chain, we just need to bring this information across to our customers now. Last but not least, we expect a new type of communication in the Luxury Segment, enabling the presentation of a product in the context of its story of value and knowledge. We are thinking about inviting customers to our manufacturer in Mendrisio, where they can experience some of the crafts and the top quality fabrics involved in the production of a Zimmerli garment first hand.

You have a reputation for being an expert leader in the area of digital transformation. What type of changes can we expect?

We have started building up our internal digital team recently. It is important for us to learn who our customer is and what type of expectations he or she holds. Until now, we have relied on excellent physical feedback from our various trading partners, but we want to learn more about the digital Customer Journey, as more and more young people are buying our products online. Personally, I am a big fan of the Build-Measure-Learn Approach and we have just re-launched a new website, complete with e-shop. This new shop is particularly efficient, as it uses top modern tools to help our customers find the correct size. We even offer a made-to-measure possibility, but as Zimmerli products are handmade, this poses no problem for us at all. With these digital innovations we are able to reach out to new consumer groups, which we have not yet been focusing on. Additionally, Zimmerli is looking at Managment Approach or Collaboration Tools from the digital environment.

Zimmerli has been opening a number of flagship stores across large cities since 2012 – How much do you focus on Brand and Customer Experience?

It is important to mention, that we have been steadily reducing the number of our own flagship stores in the past few years. We want to go digital and this demands a simplification of formerly complex processes, which is harder to achieve with our own branch network. However, haptics as well as a perfect fit are indispensable factors when it comes to attracting new customers. We can see that once a consumer holds a product in his hands, the feel and convincing quality kindles a sense of well-being – and the will to buy is suddenly there. Such stories can be told digitally, but can also be used to support our sales teams on site, where we will also focus more on digital storytelling.

„The World’s Finest Underwear“ is quite a promise. Expectations and customer behaviour, with regard to quality, have been changing in the past few years – surprisingly – in the younger generations. How do you assess the trend to go back to quality and Swissness?

The older, more classic Zimmerli customer is focused on high quality, but also a certain understatement. We call them the Open-Minded Conaisseurs. They expect a perfect service online as well as offline. Younger generations feel more like a part of a culture, or a group, in which they partake and often quality, sustainability or locality are important criteria for purchasing a product. Social media plays an important role with storytelling and it reaches those groups, for which Swissness and sustainability are an important factor.

In 2015 Zimmerli entered into an inspiring cooperation with Julian Zigerli. Are you planning to continue such projects and partnerships in the future?

Yes, we are indeed planning more partnerships. I cannot name any details at this point yet, but we love this approach to gain access to different target groups and to promote a creative exchange at the same time.

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