Kästle, the ailing Austrian ski brand, has been taken over by a group of Austrian investors and managers. The brand name was acquired at 74 percent by Cross Industries AG, an Austrian investment company, and at 26 percent by leading managers, two of whom are issued from Fischer. Their business plan calls for Kästle to sell about 30,000 pairs of high-end skis by 2010 in Europe and in North America.
The Kästle brand originates from a ski production facility set up by Anton Kästle in Austria’s Vorarlberg region back in 1924. Boasting several Olympic medals, it once had an estimated global market share of about 8 percent, peaking at annual sales of 440,000 pairs and employing about 500 people in the second half of the ‘eighties. Kästle’s fortunes dwindled fast after it was taken over in 1991 by Benetton SportSystem. By 1999, the Austrian-based production of Kästle skis had come to an end and the brand had disappeared from the market. It only returned in 2006, when Italian investors obtained a European license for the Kästle brand, but this arrangement was short-lived.
To revive the brand, the new owners have set up an entirely new structure, K Sport GmbH, based in Wels and employing 11 people. They have essentially bought the trademark, established a development unit and contracted several Austrian suppliers to make Kästle skis. Head and Marker will be among the suppliers for skis and bindings, while some smaller parts will be made in Germany.
Cross Industries, the listed Austrian investment firm that owns 76 percent of K Sport, is controlled by Stefan Pierer and Rudolf Knünz, two Austrian investors who have specialized in industrial holdings. None of the other companies in which they have shares are related to sports, but in 1991 they bought a majority stake in KTM Power Sports, a motorbike company. Some suppliers used for motorcycling parts have been contracted to produce parts of Kästle’s bindings. Cross had an operating margin of 10 percent before amortization and depreciation on consolidated sales of €521 million in the nine months ended last June 30.
On the management side, K Sport is leaning on Siegfried Rumpfhuber, former product manager for alpine skis at Fischer, who is sharing the general manager’s seat at Kästle with Pierer taking charge of marketing. Alexander Lotschak, a lawyer who occasionally worked for Rossignol, is in charge of international sales. Oliver Binder, formerly at Fischer’s development unit, is taking care of product development.
Future Kästle skis will be positioned at the high end of the market, with recommended retail prices of €1,000 to €1,400 for a set of skis and bindings, competing with brands like Stöckli or even Volant. For the first year the company will focus on Austria, Switzerland (only the German-speaking part for the time being), Germany, the USA and Canada. In will later attempt to crack the French and Scandinavian markets.