Since he was a child, Nico Serena has been well acquainted with snowy mountains. The Swiss native grew up cross-country skiing, also known as ski skating, and snowboarding in school. However, after years of skating and snowboarding, he made the switch to downhill skiing when he joined KJUS in 2002.
“I realised I couldn’t take my board to meetings as there was a bit of rivalry between skiers and snowboarders. So, I switched to skiing. But it’s equally exhilarating, and now I have so much fun skiing with my kids.”
Today, Nico is CEO of premium sportswear brand KJUS. In 2017, after 16 years at the helm, Nico’s father, KJUS co-founder and former CEO Didi Serena, passed the baton to his son. Under Nico’s leadership, KJUS has spent the past two years reviewing its strategy and focusing on opportunities to transform into a more agile and competitive team.
“We started by analysing our product,” Nico says. “No matter what we do, the product is at the centre. Innovation and passion are the most important drivers for success.”
A passion for innovation
Since Nico took over the reins, he has focused on new design, materials and technology, and has also expanded the team. “We brought in a new head of product and design,” he says. “Someone who has worked intensively on the structure of the collection and the design direction.”
As a result, KJUS released its revolutionary HYDRO_BOT Jacket at the end of last year – the world’s first wearable technology ski jacket, which contains an electro-osmotic membrane that actively pumps sweat out from inside the jacket at the touch of a button. KJUS also developed an app with which wearers can control the system and monitor their sweat levels.
“We believe strongly in a go-to-market strategy that makes our products quickly available to customers,” Nico explains. “As part of this strategy we focus on using our own direct-to-consumer communication platforms and sales channels to present these new innovative products quickly and effectively to the consumer so we don’t lose time and momentum.
We can see the interest on our website when we announce our in-season launch each year. The impact on our brand has been incredible.”
Along with developing high-performance products, KJUS focuses on nurturing employees as well as sourcing and retaining talent. “It is the people who make the business,” Nico says.
“If we don’t have best-in-class people we cannot create best-in-class products and drive our business forward. We go to great lengths to give our team everything they need, to empower them to deliver their best.” KJUS is innovative in more ways than one, and the company’s ‘open hours’ system is another example.
With no regular working hours, the team can come and go as they please. “We have the usual number of holidays our employees can take, but if someone needs a few extra days off, we look at the situation and see if we can make it work,” Nico explains. “With the overtime put in to meet targets, we know they’ll make up those extra days easily.
“The way we treat our employees is crucial. They should feel happy and comfortable, so they can perform at the highest level,” he continues. “That’s something we’ve done from the beginning. It’s a family-owned company, so we treat our people like family. My door is always open. We have a fantastic relationship, which I think is imperative for us to be successful.”
Best of the best
To maintain the highest level of service and retain its premium brand positioning, KJUS distributes selectively, only working with premium retailers in each market.
“Being selective about partners means we can ultimately offer a better, more tailored service to our retailers to ensure success at both ends. Once we find a partner that is a good fit for us we will look to support them in any way that we can. Growing strong, long-term partnerships is important.”
It was after encountering many wholesalers unable to meet KJUS’s expectations that the strategy was changed. For example, Nico explains how the number of accounts in Germany was cut by 40% in order to channel focus into the most important accounts.
“It was a tough decision to make, but we decided we had to streamline,” Nico reflects. “It’s important to us that a retail partner can represent the KJUS brand in the right way and with the right product assortment.
“Our shift in sales strategy has also focused more resources behind the development of our ecommerce platform,” he adds. “Apart from it being a very successful sales channel, it has also been crucial in helping the brand generate more awareness and establish a better understanding of our end consumers.”
On the supplier side, KJUS looks for partners that hold the same values. “From the start, our goal has been to create high performance, game-changing products. To do this we have to work with partners that have the same dedication to quality and the same capacity for innovation as we do,” says Nico.
“A great partnership with a supplier is crucial to getting quality products, period. We see long-term collaborative relationships as huge assets.”
Nature of the industry
Unfortunately in this business, the team faces a particular hurdle that is out of its control: the weather. “A few seasons ago we worked extremely hard for two years on creating a fantastic collection,” he recalls.
“However, once the season to sell came, the snow was not there. For this reason, the launch of our golf collection in 2012 was key,” says Nico. “It means we have a strong second channel with all-year-round visibility and it reduces the business risk of warmer winters.”
looking to the future
Although the US is currently the brand’s biggest market, KJUS has implemented a strategy called DRIVE2020, with one of its focuses being to make Asia a priority market. “We are pushing heavily there, particularly in Japan,” Nico explains.
He is frustrated to see many brands overproducing products that end up getting thrown away. “This hurts the environment and, as an industry, we have to find a way to meet demand while producing faster,” he says.
“To do this demands faster and more flexible production processes with super-short lead times so that we can react to things like the weather.
My vision for KJUS is to be at the forefront of developing new sustainable manufacturing technologies and processes, so that we are able to create groundbreaking products that we can then take to market quickly and efficiently. This would have a positive impact not just on the environment but on the bottom line.”
“My vision for KJUS is to be at the forefront of developing new sustainable manufacturing technologies.”
Looking forward, Nico believes KJUS will continue to grow as one of the leading global luxury ski and golf apparel brands. “KJUS still has huge potential for growth, particularly in the US and Asia,” he says. “To achieve this we have to be more agile, and that includes analysing consumer data to know what our customers want. The customer is at the centre of everything.”
Amid the plans for the future, Nico remains passionate about the brand’s founding vision: to offer the most advanced technical sportswear, delivering the best comfort and performance to its customers so they can enjoy the sports they love to the maximum, and perform to their highest possible potential.
Ultimately, Nico explains, “Passion for sport and the desire to constantly push the boundaries of what is possible drives everything.”