Interview: mass customization of premium products for skiing enthusiasts

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Turning a premium product into a pièce de résistance – that’s what Fischer Sports, one of the world’s largest ski manufacturers, has set out to do. So what’s its mass customization campaign all about?

Austrian company, Fischer Sports GmbH, is a long-established manufacturer of ski equipment with a long and proud history. A special customization offering featuring five selected top models from its ‘Brilliant Selection’ is set to give customers the opportunity to transform their new skis into ones-of-a-kind in time for the next ski season. The underlying principle can be explained quickly and easily – the customer purchases a pair of Fischer skis from a specialist retailer and makes use of the accompanying promotional code on the end of the ski. After scratching off the coating to reveal the code, the customer can start designing their badge. There are text or picture customization options available and the badge is then ordered via a landing page designed for Fischer to full CI conformity by mylabel.one, Fischer’s software and fulfilment partner. The customized badges are then sent to the address provided by the buyer. The final step involves the badges being inserted into the dedicated recesses in the rear portions of the skis, which makes these unique specimens complete. Fischer Sports’ customers thus get the opportunity to transform their premium skis into something really special. I spoke with Gerhard Rieder, ski product manager at Fischer, about how this idea was born, developed and implemented. The upshot is a fascinating interview, which I don’t want to keep from you.

Bernd Zipper: Mr. Rieder, you are a project manager at Fischer, a long-established family-run business that’s one of the ski-making industry’s major players. What were the reasons behind this investment in developing customized skis? Which customers do you wish to appeal to in particular?

Gerhard Rieder: The trend towards customized products is impacting on ski-making too. That’s why we have selected a specific target audience that is looking for added value on the product and is proud of their product. That’s why Fischer is only using one of its exclusive ranges, which is not available from every retailer, for customization purposes. That makes this service an exclusive affair that offers customers with aspirations of owning customized winter sports products added value.

Bernd Zipper: So you could say that you regard customization as an accolade for premium products?

Gerhard Rieder: Absolutely right. That’s why we are restricting the program to premium products that offer a certain degree of exclusivity and are marketing it via selective channels. We are thus adding the finishing touch to these products.

Bernd Zipper: You unveiled this new product at ISPO in February of this year. How has this offering gone down with (potential) customers?

Gerhard Rieder:  Really, really good. It has gone down really well with customers and our competitors, who naturally observe what Fischer is doing, have paid us the compliment and told us it’s a great idea. That’s because the others are considering doing something along these lines. We are not getting masses of orders in yet, as the product was only unveiled at ISPO and will only be officially available from retailers in the fall.

Complete personalization package from mylabel.one. Here is the in-editor text tool at the campaign website; Source: fischersports.com

Bernd Zipper: So that means that you will start offering this personalized ski service in time for the next winter season?

Gerhard Rieder: Yes, exactly.

Bernd Zipper: Rathgeber‘s mylabel.one solution provides you with the software for the entire campaign. How did you become aware of Rathgeber or how did this link-up come about?

Gerhard Rieder: There were two issues involved here. Our starting point was always that we wanted to source this personalization service for our customers from an external provider. We had decided from the word go that we would not handle software and service in-house but would outsource it. Given that mylabel.one is a Rathgeber brand and that we have been acquainted with Rathgeber for a long time through our suppliers, the link-up was a no-brainer and reaching out to mylabel.one was a short process. What they offered was exactly what we were looking – we just liked it. It wasn’t just the software, it was fulfilment as a whole. Customized badges are sent to customers accompanied by very individual covering letters – this gives this service a very premium look and feel and meets the target audience’s expectations exactly. And since mylabel.one was able to cover all of this, we selected it as our partner.

“The right idea coupled with the right choice of partner creates a particular kind of offering for discerning, well-heeled customers. Fischer has successfully married its Brilliant Selection with an appropriate concept to the benefit of the upmarket skiing community.” – Bernd Zipper

Bernd Zipper: In other words that means that you source the entire software solution from mylabel.one and on the other hand have them take care of fulfilment. How should I visualize that? Was the solution simply incorporated in your website?

Gerhard Rieder: Exactly, we use the mylabel.one software,  which is integrated into our website, and mylabel.one also handles fulfillment. The customer always thinks they are visiting a Fischer website, meaning that CI conformity is always maintained, but the mylabel.one software is always running in the background.

Bernd Zipper: Some major sports equipment and clothing providers, e.g. Nike or adidas, have offered an online customized product design service for some time now. Is such a service only in its infancy in the winter sports segment or is it commonplace?

Gerhard Rieder: It’s only just getting going. Atomic has already done something along these lines with a B2C ski creator. This enables you to design skis yourself in certain colors and fonts and using uploaded photos. Otherwise there have only been a couple of tentative attempts to provide such a service. However that will certainly increase in the future. As far as the skiing industry as a whole is concerned, it still lags behind the major sports equipment and clothing players to some extent.

Bernd Zipper: So product personalization is therefore not a short-term trend in your industry either. Can you envisage this concept being applied to other products in the future, not just your Premium range?

Gerhard Rieder: Yes, definitely.

Badges personalize Fischer Sports’ Brilliant Selection ski models and therefore enhance them too; Source: rathgeber.eu

Bernd Zipper: That then begs the question whether customers think positively about this offering? Do “normal” customers derive added value from it – or is it merely a way of labelling premium products?

Gerhard Rieder: We will have to wait and see. I believe that there is generally interest in this offering. The Brilliant Selection represents our initial attempt to get a foothold in the customization business. We are now waiting to see what the response to our campaign is and how customers rate it. The whole thing is of course linked with extra inputs and extra costs for us as a manufacturer. Depending on how things pan out, I definitely think we could take customization into other segments of our business.

Bernd Zipper: As a product manager you would be quick to acknowledge the value that a campaign of this kind can add. Was there any resistance to or were there any concerns about the program from your colleagues or internally at Fischer?

Gerhard Rieder: The main point of discussion was the issue of how much commitment and how many options are required for the campaign to make commercial sense. How much customization does the consumer need? In the skiing industry there are examples of being able to self-design skis entirely. We have moved away from this approach, especially as our product designers invest a great deal of time in ski design to ensure they look like a million dollars. We asked ourselves whether the consumer even needs tools to help them modify design details, colors and typography. We came to the conclusion that a certain degree of personalization is a good thing but that the essential characteristics or the basic design of the ski should not be altered. In our opinion the option of adding your own name or likeness as a customization detail to your skis was the right solution. That really does make the product unique. The ski per se is not altered significantly, it remains a special product from Fischer’s premium range and features a personal touch.

Bernd Zipper: The final question that needs to be asked is how your sales team views the campaign? Is it involved in decisions about customization options?

Gerhard Rieder: The sales team is extensively involved. We all very much appreciate the fact that the customization option adds value and therefore provides a sales angle, which is why our sales team is excited about these new opportunities. The sales team is not really involved in handling once the order has been placed and delivered. The design tool is self-explanatory and customers know exactly what to do after logging in. The campaign does not subsequently cause them extra effort and expense.

My take: Superb idea, well-thought-out concept. Fischer Sports is using this mass customization campaign to appeal to customers in the premium-price segment, but potentially delivers even greater customer satisfaction and thus ties them in to the brand for longer. To date the campaign has been limited to B2C, but the company already has a B2B-relevant concept up its sleeves – that’s all I can reveal. For example, this would give ski hire businesses the opportunity to add premium labelling to their skis. And mylabel.one is a reliable partner as far as front-end and back-end design is concerned and handles the entire fulfilment process once customers have registered. Only the next skiing season will indicate how successful this well-thought-out campaign will be – but to my mind the overall concept is a winner. Fischer and mylabel.one are performing pioneering work of a kind as far as skiing customization is concerned – and others are bound to follow.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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