Whether you are skier, coach or , perhaps, working for a retailer selling Nordic skis & equipment, you have surely came across products produced by Fischer Sports. No other brand came to define the great sport of skiing as much as the company from the Austrian town of Ried im Inkreiss in the last 50 years.
Yet the people behind the company’s success are not going on record with media very often. And this is something we aim to ameliorate with this two-part interview. Here’s straight from the source:
Thomas Drindl, 50
Worked for Fischer Sports since 1999 , became a Head of Fischer Nordic ten years later, in 2009.
One of the architects of Fischer’s last decade’s success – both in racing and amateur/mass skiing department. Arguably, the most important manager in the whole of cross country skiing industry today.
Fischer Sports GmbH. Headquartered in Ried im Inkreiss, Austria. The only family-owned company in cross-country skiing industry – though, as a non-listed, is not required to publish its financial reports. The company is profitable and “has been for quite some time” , to quote Thomas Drindl.
In cross country skiing Fisher offers full line of products: skis, bindings, boots, poles and rollerskis.
In 2018 Fischer bought all intellectual property rights (copyrights, patents and registered trademarks) of bankrupt One Way Sports.
The skis are manufactured in-house, Fischer operates two production facilities: top-end skis are made in Ried and recreational skis at a fully-owned subsidiary in Mukachevo, Ukraine. Number of employees: around 450 people in Ried and around 1000 in Ukraine. Compare to Ried, there is more handwork involved and more volume production in Mukachevo.
The rest of the cross country related products bearing Fischer logos are developed at Ried, but manufactured by independent companies: Turnamic plates and bindings, for instance, are made in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Around the world Fischer operates via a network of fully-owned local subsidiaries. The biggest ones are in Russia and in the United States. There are also subsidiaries in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. The other countries are served via national distributors.
Fischer cooperates directly with 220 Nordic specialists shops carrying the badge of “Fischer Racing Center Nordic” ..
How’s cross-country skiing business going for the market leader?
– We are happy with the past business year. Nordic department is profitable and has been for some time.
Will you reveal many pairs of Fischer skis you produce per year? Of which the so-called Rennski ( RCS, Carbonlite and Speedmax)?
– Sorry, but it’s our long standing policy not to publish production figures and sales figures for any product category
OK, how about which segment is growing the fastest?
– Skin Classic skis has been the fastest growing segment in all markets (except Russia) for three seasons in a row, nowadays more than a third of our total ski output are skin skis.
How is it so that Fischer lives and prospers while many others e.g. Kneissl, Blizzard etc. have failed and had gone from cross country skiing?
– We are the only company that is actually focused on Alpine and Nordic skiing. There is Madshus, of course – but compared to Fischer they are relatively small. Fischer is an international company. For Amer Sport with Salomon/Atomic and Rossignol the Nordic skiing plays a much smaller role. The development technology that led to production of Speedmax race ski was quite an investment and it would take some time until it paid back. But within Fischer group you do get the money for such an investment. We are a privately owned company – the decisions are reached and implemented much faster compared to the competition. Our clear goal is to defend our No 1 position in cross country segment.
What’s the trend for the last 5 years – is your revenue growing/stable/declining?
– Growing! Growing in each of the segments ( except for waxable and crown skis) and new products have been included (in particular rollerskis, bindings, Easy care & wax)
What’s the total size of the global market in Nordic, you best estimate, please?
-There are between 1,8 to 2,2 million pairs of skis produced in the world each year. That’s an estimate average over the last 10 years.
And what’s the trend, overall: growing/stable/declining?
You purchased One Way brand and patents. What are you plans for the brand? Will the R & D stay in Finland or be moved somewhere? in which case – where?
– We want to become the No.1 poles brand worldwide, Nordic first but more to come. R&D will be integrated on Fischer premises.
Why do all top Fischer skis – RCS, Carbonlite, Speedmax – look similar?
– Speedmax are top-end skis and their design support sales of the cheaper skis. Whether you buy RCS or Carbonlite, you still should feel you are on top-level skis. There is similarity in bikes where frames are the same but main difference is in technologies and customization of components.
In auto-industry, for instance, the trend is towards emphasizing more expensive trim or variant of the same model as much as possible. Do you see it’s coming to skis?
– No, I don’t see it – not yet. In general, car business is not to be compared with sports industry and skiing business.
Are you planning to offer customization, personalization of top-end skis any time soon?
– We keep an eye on this trend and have put certain resources into it, but customization shall not come via outer design only – it has to be via selecting the right skis for the customer.
Did you consider offering something like guided tours of this very facility at Ried combined with purchasing skis, perhaps even made-to-order skis?
– We operate via a network of specialized shops worldwide– doing so would feel like stealing business from them. There are 220 shops around the world that are accredited as the Fischer Racing Centers – and they offer the best expertise in selection and a good assortment of racing products. If you are performance-to-race level skier, there you should go.
What about direct sales?
– Direct or online sales is a topic that comes up more and more often – and in general it’s unavoidable. But when it comes to high-end racing products –I do not see it’s coming any time soon.
What of rollerskis?
– The Rollerski market is pretty small and I don’t think it could grow to the size of snow skis ( smiles) . There is a potential, we all are aware of the Chinese government program, that aims to put a lot people on rollerskis. But we think of rollerskis as a top of a pyramid – basically, a summer tool for people who use our racing products in the winter. It’s not a mass market product yet. Typical recreational skiers – I don’t see them on rollerskis. But all racers, performance oriented skiers and, of course, kids, I do.
What will change in 5 years?
– We need to take much more care of consumer of the future, demands of consumers are growing constantly and we have to adopt to it. The multichanneling will be decisive – in the future one won’t be able to survive without online sales. We are not quite there yet – and we need our partnership with the best dealers. We are not planning to completely switch to online sales – not with goods we produce, not with, say, boots, – you always want to try one first before buying.
Is the sport of xcskiing too conservative?
– Yes and it needs to become more trendy. We have a marketing concept and we are trying to change that. Our SKILETICS is the fitness program on skis and rollerskis for every for every level. The perception of skiing as a sport of running in the woods and feeling totally exhausted after 50k is outdated and needs to go. It shall be replaced with a notion of xcskiing as fitness option, that of a long-lasting exercise. The cross country skiing is by far the best fitness option to train your whole body. That’s what the Fischer concept of SKILETICS is about.