Nabil Francis, CEO and Managing Director of FELCO
“More than ever, we need to make good tools”
He joined FELCO a year ago as CEO and Managing Director. Nabil Francis had an international career, notably in the cement industry, before discovering the thousand and one facets of the FELCO company, founded by his wife Christelle's grandfather. It's time for him to take stock and to talk about the future.
After a year at the head of FELCO, what has impressed you the most?
No doubt the power of the brand. FELCO is a strong brand, representing an iconic product, that has become a symbol of quality, both in terms of performance and durability. We are the guardians of this brand and our mission is to maintain excellence in the manufacture of cutting tools. More than ever, we must make good tools, which must remain exceptional tools and a positive experience for all users. The diversity of the latter also surprised me.
What is so special about these users?
We have a very diverse customer base and they like our products for different reasons. Some will be looking for performance and robustness, others for ergonomics, durability or an environmentally friendly approach. This is a real asset for FELCO. We owe it to ourselves not to disappoint those who have confidence in us.
After having worked for several decades in Asia, how do you perceive the Swiss industry?
Above all, I discovered the magic of Swiss Made. After one year, I can testify that it is not a myth. Swiss Made is the expression of a culture, the expression of a passion for perfection, for quality. It's not just the work of a few engineers. It is an attitude that is expressed at all levels of the company and by all employees. Whether we are talking about pruning shears or another product. If you do something, you have to do it well. But there is a flip side to this.
What is it?
This “Swiss made” has a price, which can slow down innovation and the development of new tools. Also, the concern for perfection can sometimes create a certain fear of failure and a brake on change. Other countries have more of a "test and learn" approach, which we could sometimes learn from.
Let's take the example of the FELCO 2 launched in 1948. It still represents 40% of our pruning shears sales. Even if this defies all the marketing theories of product life cycles, this should not prevent us from reinventing ourselves. To renew our range and create the pruning shears of tomorrow, while preserving our values and the DNA of our company.
How to innovate a product such as a pruning tool?
FELCO has always evolved with the demands of its customers. This is why, we have developed left-handed pruning shears, electrically assisted pruning shears and other original solutions adapted to certain specific jobs. This is also why we are moving towards the use of new materials or towards digital solutions, such as DIGIVITIS. This connected solution revolutionizes the daily management of the vineyard by offering a complete and precise view of the domain. It was developed to meet the needs of some of our winegrowing customers.
What ambitions do you have for the company?
We have several challenges to face in the immediate future. First of all, we want to expand our product range and geographical footprint. But one of the main challenges will be to achieve operational excellence. Today, producing in Switzerland is a challenge in itself. In order to continue doing so, we must continuously improve our manufacturing processes and invest in the latest technologies. We will also invest massively in the best technologies, automate our processes in order to double our production capacity in the next three years. Our production line must be among the “best-in-class”.
How do you explain this success?
Our customer base has grown even more with the pandemic, during which people moved closer to their gardens. This also illustrates how the FELCO customer segment has changed in recent years. Previously, FELCO customers were mainly professionals. Today, this clientele is being supplemented by experienced amateurs who also want to use these exceptional tools in their leisure time. This means that we have to change our vision.
In what way?
The way we communicate with these customers and the way we sell tools to them is changing. We need to use new channels, especially digital ones and new approaches. In particular, by developing the field of online sales and all this must be done while remaining true to the FELCO DNA.
What are the elements of this DNA?
FELCO is a family business. The founder, Félix Flisch, was my wife Christelle's grandfather. The quest for quality and durability that he instilled in the company continues today. It has been going on for more than 75 years now. We strongly believe in keeping his values of benevolence, respect for people and the environment and above all constant innovation.
So the brand is between tradition and innovation?
Exactly. If FELCO wants to remain number one, the company must be able to reinvent itself constantly while remaining true to itself. We must remain an iconic brand, continuing to manufacture exceptional products. A FELCO pruning shear is not just a tool, it is the symbol of a profession but also of strong values. These values must be the cement that unites the different categories of our users, whether they are experienced professionals, amateur gardeners or simple lovers of good things.