Helvesko AG: Sustainable success thanks to the Credit Suisse network
Twenty-five years ago, Robert Amrein was reading a corporate file that his Credit Suisse client advisor had given him. Almost everything spoke against buying the company. The entrepreneur did it anyway. Today, CEO Melanie Wicki-Amrein leads Helvesko AG – the company that her father transformed into a success story – with great dedication.
Know where the problem is
In this video, Melanie Wicki-Amrein recounts the history of Helvesko AG and why the beginning of her company is closely linked with Credit Suisse. As a specialist shop for comfortable shoes, Helvesko always wants to know what makes their clients uncomfortable. Melanie Wicki-Amrein sees the same motivation in her Credit Suisse client advisor, Sandro Kutschera.
"I wouldn't be selling comfortable shoes as the CEO of Helvesko AG if it weren't for the help I received from Credit Suisse," says Melanie Wicki-Amrein. "The origin of our company is closely connected with an attentive client advisor from Credit Suisse," she adds. Twenty-five years ago, her father, Robert Amrein, was looking for a new challenge. A few years prior, he had sold the thriving family firm "Willisauer Ringli" because he didn't see any more room for growth. He was now working in the IT sector. In that field, there were many options for a successful career. However, being a simple employee was not what he truly wanted.
An entrepreneur who won't be deterred
During a conversation with his client advisor at Credit Suisse, he asked about companies looking for a successor. One week later, Robert Amrein had four dossiers in front of him, including one from Integra-Nusshof AG, a small company that sold comfortable shoes. "When my father came home with the prospectus, our family was greatly amused at first," remembers Melanie Wicki-Amrein. She laughs: "My father and comfortable shoes! We had always joked that he would go to bed still wearing his tie and polished shoes." However, Robert Amrein was not deterred. After studying the client list, he was convinced that this business had potential.
OpportunityNet before its time
What the Credit Suisse client advisor did back then on their own initiative – skillfully taking advantage of the bank's network – is now an established and unique service offered by Credit Suisse: The platform is officially called OpportunityNet, and it brings people buying and selling companies together in a simple, yet carefully discreet way.
Continuity and trust as a major advantage
When Robert Amrein died in 2018, his daughter had long since taken the lead in the company. "My father had already built a very trusting relationship with our Credit Suisse client advisor, Sandro Kutschera. Even before my takeover, the two of them had already initiated several measures that still really help me out today. For example, they ensured an orderly shareholding structure with share deposits to the bank for safekeeping," says the current company owner.
Partners on equal footing
Although she otherwise maintains a rather critical stance toward banks, Melanie Wicki-Amrein can put that aside when it comes to her client advisor, Sandro Kutschera: "He is familiar with our business and I can count on the fact that he will call me only if an idea has substance. He doesn't bother with banalities," she explains. Even when discussing investment questions or her dividend strategy, the businesswoman prefers to talk with Sandro Kutschera. "I have nearly blind trust in him – even though I'm the one who makes the decisions in the end," explains Melanie Wicki-Amrein.
Today, Helvesko AG has 15 thriving physical stores and an equally successful online shop. A large portion of their products are manufactured in Thun. All this at a time when shoe production in Switzerland hardly seems lucrative, with many retailers fighting for their survival and closing shops that aren't positioned in central locations. This is not the case for Helvesko. Even just entering one of their shops, you get a feel for a few of the key ingredients to Helvesko's success: "It's been clear to us for many years that shopping should be an experience and that friendliness always pays off," according to Wicki-Amrein. If you're not trying something on, you're sitting comfortably on the couch with coffee, reading a magazine, and the children are having fun in the play area.
Shoes for nuns and lovers of aesthetics
The company has grown in conjunction with shop openings and an expansion of the product range: "Our catalog grew from 20 to 120 pages. Today, our shoes are fashionable and very aesthetically pleasing. I like to wear them myself," says the CEO. She nods when asked whether the shoes that once made her laugh are still in the catalog: "We would have to be crazy to change or remove our longstanding bestsellers from the catalog. I've come to know and appreciate these loyal clients: Probably almost every nun in Switzerland wears a Helvesko shoe."
An advantage that pays off
Helvesko has managed to hold its ground in a market that is considered challenging and difficult – hardly any shoe manufacturers can still produce in Switzerland these days. The Reiden-based company manages this feat with impressive ease. Melanie Wicki-Amrein summarizes: "It's the little things that differentiate us from others, not least of which our values. They are enormously important to us. And it is precisely this attitude that we also find in Credit Suisse and Sandro Kutschera. I can receive more or less the same services at most banks – but not the values."
And by the way, OpportunityNet is only available at Credit Suisse.