Swiss Army knives took time to become popular in India: Victorinox CEO

Carle Elsener, CEO of Victorinox

Carle Elsener, CEO of Victorinox

Victorinox India, the subsidiary of global company Victorinox, which was founded in Switzerland 138 years ago and remains family-owned, looks to grow its footprint in India by increasing its retail presence to 360 doors from 190 currently, before the end of the year.

Global reports peg the company’s annual revenues at around $ 600 million. While Victorinox is synonymous with the Swiss Army knife, it has also successfully diversified into categories that include luggage (now its largest category), timepieces and fragrances.

Moneycontrol caught up with Carle Elsener, the CEO of the company worldwide, and the great grandson of founder Karl Elsener. Edited Excerpts

What’s the outlook for the India business in the year to come? 

Aggressive but sustainable. We have laid a strong foundation for the brand in the last 5-6 years, and have received a lot of love from our customers in India. We look forward to expanding our presence and capitalising on the foundation laid in all the channels of sale we are present in. Our goal is to serve the 10 million premium households of India to the best of our abilities.

What have some of your challenges to growth been in the past?

Conventionally, India has not been a ‘do it yourself’ country. Hence, unlike our European and American markets, the multi-purpose tools, popularly known as the Swiss Army knives, and our entire range of kitchen knives, too, needed an investment of time, effort, and money towards educating and building awareness for these two product categories.

It is heartening to see that the Indian consumers have well accepted our multi-purpose pocket knives and kitchen knives as part of their lives, and, now, we will aggressively reach households through our online and offline channels

Which is the best-selling category for you in India, and is that different from other emerging markets?

Our product categories include Swiss Army pocket knives, kitchen and professional knives, travel gear, watches, and fragrances. Our knives, watches and travel gear are almost of an equal share, but travel gear is poised to be our best-selling category, with almost 40 percent of our business coming from there. The Swiss watch industry is a matured industry in India, with maturity at point of sales and channels. Hence, that also accounts for 30 percent of our sales and the knives are at 30 percent.

Do you manufacture locally? If so, what would that be? 

We do not manufacture anything locally, as of now. Our Indian subsidiary, Victorinox India, imports various product categories from our global central warehouse and sells via various channels in India.

Our Swiss Army knives and kitchen knives will continue to be manufactured at our HQ and central factory in Switzerland. All the 200-plus countries that we supply shall continue to get their supplies from there. Also, Swiss watches shall continue to be made in our factory at Delemont, Switzerland, as being a ‘made in Switzerland’ watch retains its iconic quality of ‘Swissness.’