Follow The Leader: Nicolas Girotto, CEO, Bally
Infusing innovation into a brand that already has 170 years of history in the luxury market may seem like an impossible task to many, but it's one that Nicolas Girotto has skillfully taken on in his stride in his role as the CEO of the Swiss luxury brand, Bally.
Infusing innovation into a brand that already has 170 years of history in the luxury market may seem like an impossible task to many, but it’s one that Nicolas Girotto has skillfully taken on in his stride in his role as the CEO of the Swiss luxury brand, Bally. Established in 1851, Bally is globally renowned for its craftsmanship and heritage, having grown from being known as the creator of well-made and intricate leather footwear, to what is a thriving business today dealing in everything from bags and accessories, to shoes and ready-to-wear collections.
And leading the company from the front is Girotto, who joined Bally in 2015 as its Chief Operations Officer, and was appointed its Chief Executive Officer in April 2019. Born in Agen, France, Girotto leads a global team of 1,400 employees and a wide network of more than 300 retail stores from offices headquartered in Caslano, Switzerland, and Milan, Italy. With over 20 years of industry experience in fashion and retail, as well as stints in Zurich-based leading travel retailer The Nuance Group and Italian fast fashion retailer Conbipel, Girotto has brought to Bally a distinct set of skills and insights.
“My personal motto is to never give up.” That’s how Girotto describes how he goes about his role at Bally on a day-to-day basis. As part of Bally’s Executive Committee, Girotto is responsible for prioritizing the brand’s repositioning, dedicating resources towards reorganizing supply chain, product and collection developing, buying, and merchandising, as well as planning and optimizing its retail portfolio. Girotto has also been playing an instrumental role in furthering Bally’s sustainability advocacy- indeed, the brand published its first sustainability report under his leadership. Girotto is also the driving force behind committing Bally to the Fashion Pact, a global coalition of fashion and textile companies dedicated to combatting the industry’s impacts on the environment.
In 2019, Girotto also led the launch of the Bally Peak Outlook initiative, built in collaboration with Nepali environmental activist and mountaineer Dawa Steven Sherpa, with the ambitious goal of cleaning up eight 8,000-meter mountains, starting with Mount Everest, from its base camp to the peak. While the following year brought with it a lot of unprecedent challenges, the enterprise made sure not to pause the first phase of activities planned by the Bally Peak Outlook Foundation, further established in 2020, which resulted in the removal of 2.2 tons of waste from the base camps of Cho Oyu, Lhotse, Everest, and Makalu through the course of 2020.
Such efforts offer a glimpse into the mindset that Girotto is making use of as he leads Bally through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. “I was appointed Bally CEO six months prior to the pandemic,” he reveals. “Since then, my days have been characterized by uncertainty and the unexpected. Yet, my team and I have stayed focused, determined and positive, and I am in constant awe of their fortitude and resilience.” To confront the crisis head on, Girotto made sure to inculcate a sense of discipline and solidarity in employees navigating challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, while also ensuring that safety measures were adopted across the board in order to protect the health and well-being of staff.
On the business side, as heightened restrictions forc ed stores to close during various periods (“At one point, 90% of our network was closed,” Girotto says), the team took immediate actions to protect cash flow and reduce costs, slowing down production to avoid excess inventory and reducing capex expenses. Indeed, throughout the pandemic, embracing change has been a key aspect of the company’s approach to work. “Transforming Bally into a more digital company was one of the first priorities upon my appointment, and this priority was further reinforced as a result of the pandemic,” Girotto reveals.
Evolving the enterprise with customer behaviors is thus clearly something that Girotto believes in, especially when it comes to having a mindset that embraces digitalization. “While e-commerce has always played an important role in servicing the customer through a multi-channel experience, the shift towards a digital-first strategy is in place and only further accelerated by the pandemic,” says Girotto. This is evident in his role of leading the acceleration of Bally’s digital strategy in 2020: “We re-allocated resources and investments to maximize opportunities in digital marketing to increase site traffic, improve conversions, drive social media growth and expand our influencer engagements, as well as focused on omni-channel services to ensure a seamless integration between offline/online.” The good news here is that this hands-on approach to accelerating the enterprise’s digital transformation was met with success- wholesale sales campaigns were carried out through virtual showrooms, and seasonal collections were presented digitally through microsites. Other milestones included the redesign of the website, the roll-out of a state-of-the-art clienteling app, as well as a new platform for product development.
“Ensuring a seamless transition from offline to online has been critical to our success,” says Girotto, noting that customer experience is at the core of Bally’s current strategy. “Whether we are talking about the final client shopping in our stores or online, a wholesale buyer considering the assortment in our showroom or virtually, or a journalist reviewing the new collection via personal appointment or accessing our dedicated microsite, ultimately, it comes down to providing a consistent, convenient, and engaging experience regardless of whether digital or physical.”
But it’s not a case of replacing one thing with the other, Girotto points out. “It’s not just about trying to replicate the physical into the digital world, but to enhance the online platform through additional features and functionality that create an immersive experience, such as 360-degree imagery and video content that gives a closer look to the products, in lieu of an in-person visit,” he explains. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Girotto is only too happy to point out that such efforts have led Bally’s global e-commerce figures to rise by 45%.
This seems to be the manifesto in mind as the enterprise further expands its reach in the MENA market as well. With its retail network spanning across UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain, the enterprise already has flagship stores in Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, The 360 Mall, and The Avenues Mall. The next goal is to expand in Saudi Arabia, with the aim being to open five stores there over the next three years. In collaboration with Jashanmal, the enterprise has also launched an e-commerce platform, specifically for the Middle East. “[This will] enable us to reach additional markets where we do not yet have stores, such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman and Pakistan,” he says.
“We also plan to extend e-commerce service to Syria and Yemen in a next phase.” While he acknowledges the presence of a large number of entities in the MENA’s e-commerce luxury market, Girotto points out Bally’s identity as a brand will surely resonate with its target customer, regardless of geography. “We’ve carefully developed a digital strategy to support the new website, which includes dedicated content creation for regional festivities, such as Ramadan, and geo-targeted performance marketing and social media advertising, as well as influencer partnerships to build our local following,” he adds. As Girotto thus prepares to take Bally ahead with its global aspirations, he emphasizes “the power of purpose” that he’s come to learn during his tenure as the company’s CEO. “It’s more apparent than ever before that my role is to ensure Bally will evolve to capture tomorrow’s world,” he concludes. “And this means being better, by doing better, and creating better things.”
THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: NICOLAS GIROTTO’S TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURS
1. RISK COMES BEFORE REWARD “Do not be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. It is through challenging ourselves that we can achieve new things.”
2. AIM HIGH “Be ambitious when setting goals. The biggest risk is to do nothing. Making small steps in the right direction is already an achievement.”
3. CONSIDER THE IMPACT OF YOUR ACTIONS ON THE WORLD AT LARGE “As an industry, we each need to take responsibility in mitigating our impact on the environment. Be part of the solution, not the problem.”
4. TALK LESS, LISTEN MORE “Listen more than talk to your customers and your employees. This is not just your duty, but a fundamental privilege and practice to building long-term success.”
5. SAY IT LIKE IT IS “Be transparent. Honest work ensures accountability.”
Pamella de Leon is the Startup Section Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East. She is keen on the MENA region’s entrepreneurship potential, with a specific interest to support enterprises and individuals creating an impact.