zai, Finding the Line on and Off the Slopes

Luxury ski leader zai is capturing fans both on the slopes and in business markets.


zai, a small Swiss company of just 12 full-time employees, sells a niche product to the most demanding clientele in the world, in an economic climate where many of its competitors are running for cover. From its humble beginnings in 2003 when the product line consisted of a single ski, zai has grown to a point where it is now regarded as a leader in the field.


Much of this small company’s success boils down to the unique nature of its product. zai operates in a select market niche that demands game-changing design, quality and performance. zai meets, and frequently exceeds, its customers’ expectations thanks to a highly specialised production process, which no other ski maker comes close to emulating. It is a company whose workshop shares Herm.s’s or other fashion houses’ serious, very meticulous and workmanship-oriented attention.


In the beginning

was the mountain

summits and steepness

pinnacles and peaks

stony, rocky ranges

zai finds the line

reading the mountain

plays in the snow

like jackdaws in the sky

zai, the tougher ski

a titan

going his own way

not willing to compromise

not willing to die

Poem by: Leo Tuor


zai has achieved breakthrough after breakthrough, including rockered piste ski design, solid granite cores, and surface materials made from natural rubber, felt and cellulose acetate. zai’s understanding of how to apply advanced carbon fibres in various forms is also unmatched. So when it comes to quality and innovation, zai is in a different league to mass production ski brands, a fact reflected in the higher retail price of its product.


But is product excellence alone enough to make a company successful? The short answer is: No. If that were true, then zai would be able to just sit back and watch as the elite skis sell themselves. To find the real reasons for zai's success, you need to go deeper. Here are a few key factors that have helped zai get to where it is today. We don’t think zai would be ‘zai’ without them.



A STRONG SENSE OF MISSION

The question of what drives zai in daily life and work is critical to everyone. At zai, it’s an easy one to answer. zai is here to build the very best skis possible. Often this means taking a path that might not be seen as logical or in line with market trends, or that others say is impossible. The simplicity and clarity of zai’s goal is reflected in the quality and functionality of all zai products. Having a clear mission, and the resilience to stick to it, is an important key to success.


SETTING VALUES IN STONE

zai believes that every human is an important source of innovation. With not a single day without challenges, innovation demands a great deal of creative problem-solving. How can one be sure to make the correct decisions under pressure? Look no further than the zai poem, written for zai by the well-known local writer Leo Tuor*.


STAYING AGILE

The world is changing more rapidly than ever and you need to be prepared to adapt. This doesn’t mean abandoning core values but rather having the freedom and agility to manoeuvre around whatever challenges and obstacles are thrown in your path. At zai, innovation and adaptability is in its DNA. zai is constantly reviewing not just how it can improve products, but how it can improve as a business. zai’s clients, many of whom are business leaders themselves, see how the company reacts to change, and take inspiration from it. zai invites them to the factory in Disentis to see innovation and agility at work, and takes them skiing so they can experience it as a physical expression of joy.


KEEPING IT HUMAN

Being in tune with the latest technological developments means nothing if you lose touch with what it is to be human. The zai factory might be equipped with the most advanced machinery available, but the bulk of the work is done by hand, using tools and techniques that go back centuries and longer. Good ski-making requires technical expertise and artistry or craftsmanship, especially when working natural materials used at zai. Building in this pure, unadulterated way keeps zai grounded and keeps the product honest. There is no quality control better than the human eye. Working by hand also makes the result much more fulfilling, for zai and for the eventual owner. Visitors to the factory never fail to be moved by seeing the production team at work.


DOING IT MORE, DOING IT BETTER

Being good at what you do doesn’t mean you can afford to rest on your laurels. When a business stops developing and moving forward, it eventually stagnates as competitors catch up, customers lose interest and technology moves on. Intensifying can also mean diversifying. In recent years zai has worked hard to apply its values not just to its product, but to the way it lives, works and does business. What began as an exercise in self-improvement quickly evolved into something more. Today zai is proud to share its story and ideas across many platforms and by intensifying its strategy zai is not only developing its own business, it is also inspiring others to do the same.


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