Introduction: In this guest column, Victorinox Head of Global Travel Retail & Fragrance Sales Gloria Dix talks about how Victorinox puts people at the forefront of its business approach from its employees to its partners and distributors. She outlines the key pillars of Victorinox’s people-centric ethos and how this serves as the starting point for its approach to travel retail, which she describes as a ‘people-centric industry’.
For almost 140 years, Victorinox has stood as a symbol of Swiss precision and excellence, known worldwide for its Swiss Army Knife and its commitment to quality engineering and cutting-edge design. Yet, beyond its world-renowned products,the company’s enduring legacy is rooted in a commitment to putting people first.
From its inception in the picturesque valley in Schwyz to its present-day operations, the dedication of Victorinox to people – employees, customers, and distributors – has been unwavering. This legacy has been key in our approach to building a global business in travel retail, which is truly a ‘people industry’ if ever there was one.
A history of empathy and responsibility
Victorinox’s journey began with our founder Karl Elsener’s visionary quest to combat poverty and unemployment in the Schwyz Valley during the late 19th century. Faced with dire economic circumstances, Karl Elsener embarked on a mission to create jobs, stem emigration and uplift the local community. The result was the founding of Victorinox in 1884, an enterprise that not only produced exceptional products but also served as an engine of positive social change.
Karl Elsener’s ethos of social responsibility has been deeply ingrained in Victorinox’s DNA ever since. The company has consistently sought to treat employees with the utmost respect. This commitment extends to the present day, where Victorinox remains an independent family company, with 90% of its shares held by the Victorinox Foundation. This structure ensures the company’s long-term stability as 90% of generated profits are reinvested, allowing for continuous growth and innovation. The remaining 10% of shares are held by a non-profit foundation, which actively supports various charitable projects, further underscoring Victorinox’s dedication to making a positive impact on society.
Victorinox’s people-centric philosophy extends far beyond its ownership structure and permeates every aspect of the company’s operations. Central to this philosophy is a profound appreciation for the people within and beyond the organisation.
- Employees: At Victorinox, employees are more than just workers but valued contributors to the company’s success. It invests in its workforce, fostering a culture of growth and development. This investment in human capital not only ensures a skilled and motivated workforce but also reflects the company’s belief in the importance of individual wellbeing and job satisfaction. This investment – emotionally and financially – in people pays off. Victorinox’s employee turnover is well below the Swiss average. Most employees stay with the company for many years, on average more than 20. This incredible commitment is key to the company’s continuous growth.
- Customers and distributors: Victorinox understands that its customers are the lifeblood of the business. The brand’s unwavering commitment to quality, durability and customer satisfaction has earned it a loyal customer base spanning generations. Moreover, the relationships forged with distributors, partners and retailers worldwide are built on trust and mutual respect, reinforcing Victorinox’s global reputation for excellence.
By creating an open and appreciative culture, you foster innovation. Although we are a company firmly rooted in its heritage, we need to attract new talent with diverse experience and skillsets to drive the business forward. Victorinox has received the Best Employers Award in Switzerland by Handelszeitung and PME Magazine for three consecutive years, which is a strong proof-point in the recruitment market.
Attracting great people is important, especially when they have to understand a large and diverse product portfolio like Victorinox’s. Equally crucial is having a culture of learning. Whether through our bespoke online training portal C.A.R.L (Creative Active Relevant Learning), Lunch & Learn sessions, Company Ideas Board, or Lunch Lotteries to foster interdepartmental exchange, a people-centric culture by default embraces learning and development.
Travel retail: The people-centric industry
Kicking off in just a few weeks, the TFWA World Conference & Exhibition is a reminder every year of the importance of relationships and investing in people – be they internal teams, employees or partners. For our team, TFWA really starts a week early, as our global team convenes in Switzerland for a variety of strategy, training and teambuilding sessions.
Our team spirit continues in Cannes, where the closeness of our relationships with partners shines through. We see many of our partners as an extension of our team. For example, Affluent Brands in Panama, Purple, our marketing and communications partner in the UK and SUTL in Hong Kong, are all part of our travel retail family. Our strategy of embedding our regional travel retail sales teams into local subsidiaries – e.g., our Hong Kong subsidiary for APAC and our Mexico subsidiary for LATAM – exemplifies this approach where we invest in and leverage our partners’ expertise and passion for our brand.
Ultimately, behind every exceptional travel retail experience is a well-trained workforce, particularly front-line sales staff. Victorinox’s training programmes include language courses and cultural sensitivity training, ensuring that employees can cater to the diverse needs of international travellers. It’s also a focus for our global travel retail team to spend time with sales staff and deliver training whenever they make an in-market visit.
These individuals represent the values, ethos and premiumness associated with Victorinox products and their ability to convey these attributes through their interactions, knowledge and passion for the brand elevates the entire shopping experience. So far, over 1,000 staff have been trained this year – a clear demonstration of our belief in the importance of people.
Another way in which we are bringing partners into our extended family is through brand immersions at our home-base in Schwyz. Canton Schwyz in Switzerland is a magical place, rich with historical storytelling, where Victorinox’s heritage and influence can be felt so clearly.
One of our global travel retail teams’ strategies for next year is to invite even more travel retail partners to our birthplace and factory to deepen understanding, collaborate on common business planning and fuel strengthened partnerships. This is a powerful way to not only enrich the Victorinox experience and bring the brand to life, but also create lasting memories with our partners.
Victorinox’s enduring success for almost 140 years is a testament to the company’s unwavering commitment to putting people first. From its roots in Schwyz, where it fought poverty and unemployment, to its current status as a global business, Victorinox has never lost sight of the importance of people in its business.
As a starting point for building a business in global travel retail – ‘people-first’ has proven to be a powerful mantra. Our industry is full of inspiring stories about people and teamwork – whether that’s the Qatar Duty Free staff volunteering during the FIFA World Cup or the countless other examples of amazing acts by industry peers.
Behind the scenes, in forums such as TFWA, and on the front lines of retail, investments in people – colleagues, partners, sales staff and customers – are a crucial part of futureproofing and growing this great industry.