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An RBN interview with Thomas Wimmer, Sales and Marketing Manager of Wissler Mannequins, about the current crises in retail and the direction of Wissler Mannequins.
Retailbrandnews: How do the current crises (Corona pandemic, Ukraine war) affect stationary retail?
Thomas Wimmer: We see a very differentiated picture among our customers. The fashion industry is clearly one of the losers of the Corona crisis, while the sports trade benefited from the fact that end consumers could not travel and thus spend more money on sporting activities. The outdoor and bike segment in particular experienced a boom. This is reflected in the retail trade’s investments.
RBN: Brick-and-mortar retail has not only been in a deep crisis since the Corona pandemic. The Corona crisis is exacerbating the difference between those who are successful online and those who are not. Retail and e-commerce expert Prof. Gerrit Heinemann says: “For the small local traders in the city centre without an online shop, things look bleak.” Do you agree with his assumption and how will or should stationary trade develop in your eyes?
Wimmer: The strong growth in e-commerce was already there before the crisis. However, the lockdowns have massively accelerated growth. Nevertheless, consumers long for a shopping experience and personal advice. The oft-cited shopping experience is more important than ever. Consumers want to perceive shopping as recreation and leisure. This must also be reflected in the shop design. Retailers who meet this demand were able to quickly return to their old successes after the crisis.
RBN: What does this mean for the display mannequin industry?
Wimmer: Display mannequins are still an important building block for perfect product presentation. Our task is to trigger the so-called identification effect with the consumer. This can only be achieved with contemporary styling. The interplay of the collection with the product carrier triggers the emotion in the customer, which ultimately encourages him to buy.
RBN: How does Wissler Mannequins get through these crises?
Wimmer: We are in the fortunate situation that many sports retailers are among our customers who are currently investing in the future. At the moment, our problem is not so much the order situation, but rather the ability to deliver. We are also massively affected by the unstable supply chains. In addition, the constantly rising raw material prices are also causing us problems. Nevertheless, we are very satisfied with the last business year. In the current business year, too, we see that customers are daring to invest in mannequins again. At the moment, it is difficult for us to assess how the Ukraine crisis will affect our business.
RBN: The mannequin manufacturer Wissler Mannequins has been around since 1925. To what extent has Wissler helped shape the mannequin industry?
Wimmer: Wissler has been an integral part of the mannequin sector for almost 100 years. Almost all the big trading companies have been customers of Wissler Mannequins. Until the 1990s, there were almost exclusively realistic mannequins, with make-up and wigs. At that time, the Wissler business model was characterised by restorations and repairs. When Fritz Hedrich took over the management in the third generation, he quickly realised that there were almost no sports mannequins on the market. This segment was occupied by Wissler and still shapes the appearance of the Wissler brand today.
RBN: What does Wissler Mannequins stand for?
Wimmer: “Wissler means Innovation” is the slogan of our image brochure. Spectacular mannequins such as the overhead kick or the sprinter are the flagships of the sports collection. But Wissler also stands for innovative individual solutions. A very good example is the current collaboration with the Salzburg Festival. For a production in the summer of 2022, we developed a solution in which more than 400 mannequins stand on the stage. This required rethinking the stand system, posture and a high degree of flexibility. I see understanding the customer’s needs and the know-how to develop the appropriate solutions as one of our greatest strengths.
RBN: Speaking of individual solutions: many customers demand individual and, above all, sustainable solutions from their suppliers. How does Wissler Mannequins deal with this issue?
Wimmer: Changing production to short supply routes and environmentally friendly materials is a lengthy process that we have already initiated. We are looking at recyclable materials that can be used for the production of figures and, at best, are also produced in Europe. Nevertheless, we already want to make our contribution to CO2 offsetting until we can implement the topic of sustainability in our assortment as well. We work together with the renowned organisation Plant-my-tree. For every delivery that leaves our warehouse, a tree is planted. This is confirmed to the customer with a so-called tree certificate. The planting takes place in Baden-Württemberg. An endowment model guarantees that the trees will not be used commercially for 99 years. This ensures CO2 compensation.
RBN: In 2017, Wissler became part of the Bohnacker Group. What is your summary of these five years?
Wimmer: Wissler Mannequins was an important building block for the Bohnacker Group on the way to a 360° solution in the area of shop fittings. Together with the online shop ShopDirect – the Bohnacker retail platform with over 5000 articles – Bohnacker now offers a full range of shop fittings. Customers benefit from the “one-stop shop” principle. But the 7,500m² logistics centre, which dispatches up to 500 parcels per day, also opens up new opportunities for Wissler, such as worldwide roll-outs.
RBN: In which segment is Wissler Mannequins’ main sales market?
Wimmer: Wissler still has a market-leading position in the field of sports figures. We want to continue to consolidate and expand this core competence. In a few weeks we will launch the new IMPULSE series and once again set new trends in the field of sports figures.
RBN: Why has Wissler specialised above all in the field of sports mannequins?
Wimmer: The whole thing was and is a growth process. Wissler launched the first sports mannequins on the market back in the early 1990s. As the range grew, so did the regular clientele, until Wissler was increasingly perceived as the specialist for sports mannequins. With the current range we cover almost every type of sport and our customers know: Sport = Wissler.
RBN: But you also want to gain market share in the fashion sector: You have developed the “Cotton & Wood” series for this purpose. What are the advantages of the new series for staging fashion brands?
Wimmer: In recent years, tailor’s busts have become a trend as fashion presenters. Cotton & Wood is our interpretation of this theme. The movable wooden arms and the variety of different options offer countless possibilities. The customer can create new presentations again and again with little effort.
RBN: Speaking of staging: In your view, are there certain rules and trends in the fitting of merchandise on the mannequins?
Wimmer: That’s where the identification effect comes into play again. The product must be presented in such a way that the target customer finds himself in it. It’s usually the details that make the difference. Each of Wissler’s mannequins is the representation of a frozen scene. Here, for example, the sprinter in a high-quality running outfit and spike shoes has to play the dynamic, while the so-called shoelace-tie is just getting ready for the sport in the changing room. Perhaps open laces and an open zip make the scene authentic.
RBN: Can you give styling tips for your mannequins?
Wimmer: The perfect whole makes the difference. While the swimmer is perfectly styled with swimming trunks and goggles, the skier needs all the accessories from the ski boots to the outfit to the helmet that represent the athlete. Only then does the production look authentic. But you also need the right figures. Especially in the field of sport.
RBN: What goals has Wissler Mannequins set for itself in a hotly contested mannequin market?
Wimmer: Our most important goal is to consolidate and expand the core sports range. We also want to strengthen our competence in the fashion sector. Regardless of the product range, Wissler now has – as part of the Bohnacker Group – a significantly wider range of services. This is how we want to be perceived and we are designing our market presence accordingly.
RBN: Mr Wimmer, thank you very much for the interview.
Interview: Helmut Lippl
Article image: Projektfoto, www.projekt-foto.com