New-found freedom - interview with Christoph Bründl
One year ago, Intersport Bründl became BRÜNDL SPORTS - reason enough to put a few questions to managing director Christoph Bründl. A discussion about new freedoms and the true identity of the company.
"After 49 years Intersport Bründl became our past, Bründl Sports is our present and our future. There is more to this than some cosmetic change. We have a long-standing tradition behind us and have allowed new things to enter our souls, have once again critically asked ourselves who we are, where we want to go, with whom – and why.The results are, not least, high-end brands, our own revolutionary digital rental platform, our first junior academy, an even greater focus on sustainability, new faces and new stories. We move people has been our credo since way back when. And now it even forms part of our company name. And it is just as valid the other way around – people move us." - Christoph Bründl
Mr. Bründl, the crocodile of the mountains, as you like to refer to yourselves, has snapped its jaws once again. The number of Bründl stores has now topped the 30- mark, and the company employs 500 people during peak periods. Is your hunger never satisfied?
Our mantra is clear: even more simplicity, ever more speed, ever more excellence. As regards our business model, what that means is that we want to be the number 1 in the mountains – in terms of service quality, in our terms of our expertise with our products and advice, and with sincerity on the store floor. As I always say: The crucial thing is not size, but rather strength and innovative process.
What makes Bründl so strong and innovative?
The fact that we are continually questioning ourselves, our system, our corporate culture and values, always changing our perspective, and therefore also asking where is the benefit for the customer and, of course, for our employees. We are attempting to stay ever truer to the soul of our company. I’m not saying this process has meant dusting ourselves off exactly, but we have taken a very deep look at ourselves, examined who we are, who we no longer are. And that has allowed us to now develop tremendous freedom and autonomy.
Are you alluding to the departure from the Intersport group?
We were part of the invaluable Intersport family for almost 50 years, so it helped to shape our growth and success. That’s something that deserves great respect and appreciation, but a longer development process resulted in the realization that Bründl is not Intersport and Intersport is not Bründl. It was high time we lived our true identity and followed our own paths – which are likely to be radically different in future.
Hasn’t Bründl always followed its own paths?
We had certain freedoms, and at the same time we felt the slight pressure of expectation. After all, what we wanted was not always feasible within that constellation. Being free also means letting go of what is no longer cohesive. Now we can act with agility, have our own ideas about where we want to go. Part of our identity is also knowing what our bread-and-butter business is.
And what would that be?
Let’s take the rental business, for example, which accounts for a quarter of our sales. We have allocated a huge amount of money to setting up our own digital booking platform, one that matches our idea of an excellent customer experience journey. Or take the area of training: Now we are creating our own trainee academy, one tailored to our needs. Right now, we are working on building an app-controlled training program, an e-learning system – one of our best investments alongside the Bründl Academy. As far as our school of life is concerned, there are now almost 40 workshops and, most specifically, seminars for personal development among our employees, including humor and flirt training.
Yes, top-notch flirting, because selling is basically flirting. The question, however, is how can I build contact with someone without talking directly about the product – greeting, approach, charisma, deep talk rather than just small talk. It’s these things that make us unique. And we also work a lot on the mental and emotional level.
It's not the size that matters but rather the strength and innovative process.
Employees as a factor for differentiation?
To be honest, competition always revolves more around talent. That’s why we do everything we can to be perceived as an attractive and cherished employer. It’s no coincidence that for us, jobs are a means of earning and developing, where quality of life can be enjoyed before the clock strikes 6 p.m. This is partly thanks, of course, to the amazing spaces we create with our architects. Even the administration, our new service center, is becoming a really cool space with intriguing elements.
What’s happening on the brand side?
We’re holding a lot of talks, opening up to new forms of partnership or partnership-based approaches. This also means that we are shifting away from certain entrylevel brands and thinning out the middle – and refining our profile at the same time. These premium brands can benefit from an entirely different environment with us – be it because they can present themselves accordingly on the store floor or because we can integrate them into our social media activities, and thus supply additional sales arguments for them too. The trading-up will go hand in hand with an entirely new way of thinking and acting, not only with regard to managing the store area, but also the goods management or communication.
Is Bründl also considering new hunting grounds, such as city branches?
We are always getting offers from places like Munich, Vienna or Innsbruck. But we’ll stay in the valleys and the mountains – that’s where our strengths lie and that’s the foundation of our business model.
Now we live and feel our own identity and soul
How do you explain this business model to an outsider?
No less than 70 percent of our customers are international guests. We’re therefore talking about a tourist model with the fundamental success drivers being ski rental and sales of sports equipment. The crucial thing is that we are represented in all those places where our guests participate in sports. When they buy a pair of ski boots from us, then they can be in the snow just a few minutes later. And vice versa – if something doesn’t fit, then they just come straight back to the shop. Customers don’t want to have to lug things everywhere, they want to try them out. Added to this: We reach guests under entirely different circumstances to the city. They are in a holiday mood; they’ll come in, possibly with snowflakes in their hair, and say: ‘I desperately need a helmet or base layers for skiing – it’s too cold.’ They are relaxed, they’ve got time and can come in more frequently. On the first day they might just browse the merchandise as if online. Here though, they are in a space where we can present it even better, and where we can appeal to the guest entirely differently in an emotional sense.
So it’s where there’s a need.
Yes, we are right where people are directly involved in sports. And this means we can not only fully bring our expertise to bear, but also continue to develop.
Where you find Bründl on the inside, you’ll now see Bründl on the outside too – Bründl Sports to be precise.
Yes, the new identity feels pretty cool. We have a new name and a new image, and the claim ‘Wir bewegen Menschen’ – ‘We move people’ – applies more than ever, be it for customers or employees. And in the new campaign we can make it clearly visible who we are and what we stand for. Continually moving, growing, developing – that is one of our overriding goals. And at the same time, quite simply just staying true to our soul.