The Grisons ski manufacturer zai restructures: the new manufactury is formed in a joint venture with the Italian company Blossom Skis in Bregaglia. The zai lab and the showroom will relocate to Zurich, closer to the partner ETH.
The reorientation is supported by the investors, who have invested more than 14 million Franconia in the no-compromise idea of a hand-made ski from the Grisons Mountains in the last 15 years. We are looking at production, research and distribution with an overall vision: the production remains in Grisons. Research facilities will be separated, and our distribution structure with our proven selling partners will remain the same.
Manufactury in Bregaglia
zai professes to the production location and the DNA Grisons. The manufactury relocates from Disentis to Bregaglia. The exact location is still pending. zai and Blossom Skis aim at connecting authority and quality, as well as Swissness and functionality with the joint venture by ensuring efficient production processes and, hence, meeting the spirit of the time with the production of skis. The cooperation with Blossom Skis allows zai to continue the production of high-quality skis in Switzerland but also the offering of high-quality and hand-made skis in the middle price segment. This will cover all types – from all-round to racing skis. The sale of zai skis will continue at proven dealers, who drive the zai products in particular in the Engadine and Flims Laax, but also internationally.
zai lab in Zurich
While the collection for the next winter has been already produced, zai lab works on a revolutionary new ski for the season 2019/2020 in the region Zurich. The new ski will bring the stone from the core to the surface and will surprise with a new design. The location of the zai lab is important, in particular, for close cooperation with the ETH. On the one hand, one is working on an innosuisse-project concerning material sciences, on the other hand, there is an ETH spin-off design in the making. In addition, zai has access to the largest 3D-printer in German-speaking Europe. The zai lab is near Zurich and, thus, a hub for technology, business and marketing. The showroom, which presents the zai world of skis from helmet to clothing and golf in a central international customer location, is attached to the zai lab. Customers from the Alps will have still the opportunity to test the zai products, learn more about the zai philosophy and make use of the zai service. The former Grisons Worldcup athlete Franco Cavegn will continue his support at the zai events. He also values the “tough” quality and longevity of zai skis (zai – Romanic for “tough”).
Questions to the CEO:
zai has to save costs and, therefore, leaves Disentis. Why is a production in Bregaglia more favourable – could one not have stayed in Disentis anyway?
The decision to leave Disentis was not an easy one for us. Rightly, the investors required an overall vision of research, production and sales. We did that. With the production, we can share know-how and costs in the joint venture. With the research, we move closer to ETH, where we run large projects. And with the sales, we keep concentrating, together with our showroom in Zurich, on the proven selling partners, who convey the zai philosophy to our customers in the mountains. We produce the Grisons ski in Grisons and are, altogether, even closer to the customer with our sports devices.
What happens with Disentis and the employees?
We have given notice for the production site Disentis as per end of March, just as announced last fall. The employees (520 percent by position) didn’t want to move from the Surselva and, unfortunately, will lose their jobs with zai. They were employed in Disentis for 15 years and did a fabulous job. The international constellation in the ski market and the investors force us, however, to restructure our research, production and sales. We do not only have to be able to manufacture the best skis but need a broader assortment; we need to be ahead of the market with the research and establish an even closer contact to our international customers.
What happens with the zai founder Simon Jacomet?
Simon has been a founding member of zai in 2003. I joined in 2009. Now, we go our separate ways. That is very emotional for me, and it does hurt. But: we need to focus on the customer, and we cannot structure the development of the company around people. Simon did not want to be part of this zai reorientation. But the roots of zai will always remain connected with Simon.
Now, you also enter the middle price segment with zai. Are you not concerned about destroying zai as a brand?
Yes, we are entering the middle price segment with zai. I cannot give away details – however, we are very much aware of the fact that we cannot cannibalise our brand. On the contrary: customers who get the taste for zai in the middle price segment, will become customers of zai as a brand in the future. One thing remains: Swiss-made will remain high-quality but also high in price. Shared know-how and production in Switzerland are efficient and meaningful, it has, however, its price.
Why exactly the cooperation with the Blossom Skis?
Blossom is still a few years older than zai and also produces outstanding skis. We pursue a similar philosophy. We complement each other well. Blossom has more experience in the middle to higher price segment, we have experience in the more exclusive luxury segment. And Blossom produces in Chiavenna. With the zai production in Bregaglia, we can use synergies and improve production processes.
Lower production costs with a cheaper workforce from Italy?
No, it is not about that. However, we can share costs, profit from the know-how and move together even closer to the customer – for example, in the Engadine.
It is not a secret that zai profited from contributions of the promotion of the economy in Grisons and now moves its research and showroom to Zurich. Is that what the inventor had in mind?
zai remains a product from the Grisons Mountains. After 15 years, we have to restructure to ensure zai’s future and the future production in Grisons. That is surely also in the interest of the Grisons promotion of the economy. zai professes to Grisons. For branding reasons – but also for the reason that we always experienced the cooperation with the promotion of the economy as a partnership. Grisons is also part of the international economic area of the greater Zurich. With the lab and the showroom, as well as the production and customer experience in Grisons, zai illustrates exactly this connection.
Who are actually the investors of zai?
The main investors, who own together approximately 80 percent of zai, are Thomas Staubli, former partner of the Partners Group Zug, Walter Bosch, former VR vice-president of the Swiss, as well as former chief editor of “Blick”, entrepreneur Patrik Lütjens, and Ricardo Cordero, ex-CEO of the BZ Bank. They invested altogether approximately 14 million Franconia so far to secure the survival of zai
zai’s Benedikt was interviewed by Reto Küng from Küng pluskom