Comeback on Arlberg
Two globetrotters follow the call and return home
Two brothers who could not be any more different but still share a major passion: their love for their home. Born and raised in Zürs on Arlberg, Philipp and Patrick Brändle’s paths soon went separate ways. While Philipp, who had studied aerodynamics, joined Formula 1 and worked for the Mercedes Team in England for six years, Patrick went into the hotel industry and out into the world where he worked jobs on different continents. Now the two of them have returned to run their parents’ shop, friendly Brändle. In addition to that, motorsports engineer Philipp also works for the TV station ServusTV as a technical expert. A job his fellow Vorarlberger Christian Klien suggested while they were out skiing. And Patrick? Next to his work in the family-run business he is part of the management team of the traditional hotel der klostertalerhof and the à-la-carte restaurant das guat – a place of culinary delights that serves the perfect mixture of Austrian and modern international cuisine.
L.L./ A number of people working in Lech Zürs’ hotels and restaurants used to work in Formula 1. Philipp, you worked as an aerodynamics engineer for the Mercedes Formula 1 team for six years. What, in all those years, inspired you the most and why did you end up returning to Zürs after all?
PH.B./ I’ve always been passionate about the actual technical side of things and, of course, the speed. Everything I did in the area of Formula 1 was about prototypes. It wasn’t so much about “Drive for Performance” where every detail counts, and each member of staff works towards the win and not because they enjoy it. Plus, there’s the team’s history. The factory in Brackley changed hands several times in the past and many members of staff came and went. So, when you did run into someone who had been working there for ten or maybe 20 years and you were able to exchange ideas with that person that was unique and very exciting. I was able to use so much experience from the past for innovations. As someone who is into all things technical and an engineer on top, I was always amazed by the fascination that is Formula 1. It was a really intense time though, especially the times on the racetrack. I don’t believe, however, that my decision to come back stemmed from a desire for a less stressful life. As long as the snow doesn’t abandon us, we know from experience that the winter months will not leave us a lot of downtime. And it was time to support my parents and start taking over from them since they’ve been running the family business for almost 40 years now. Aside from that I always knew, even when I first started working in Formula 1, that I would only be doing this for a limited period of time and that I would certainly come back home at some point.
"I’ve always been passionate about the actual technical side of things and, of course, the speed." Philipp Brändle
L.L./ You started working as a Formula 1 expert for ServusTV this year. What does it feel like to switch sides – from working in the wind tunnel to standing in front of the camera as an analyst?
PH.B./ Different somehow, but still a great feeling. I can’t say I really notice the camera. It feels more like a talk among colleagues to me. It’s really fun and I get to focus on what I do best: explaining technical aspects! If you only have driving experts at hand that means you can explain the challenges and the situation from the driver’s perspective but the entire technical component with the rules and many of the strategies is missing. Which is why it’s good to have someone like me there who can explain the technical side of things. It doesn’t have to be in great detail but just the basics are enough to help people understand the racing team’s decisions during a race a little better.
"Different somehow, but still a great feeling." Philipp Brändle
L.L./ Patrick, you are a globetrotter and ran a hotel for almost ten years. How badly homesick were you for Zürs that you had to come back now? What was it you missed most while living abroad and what experiences would you like to bring to Zürs?
PA.B./ I suppose I can say my luggage really was full of adventures and experiences. Which is why it was about time to come home. Plus – I was always the one missing at birthdays and anniversary celebrations. The challenges you face as hotel manager – running from one meeting to the next, working weekends and holidays – certainly are things one can also experience in one’s own business rather than while working every day for someone else’s corporation. My wife Sabrina, who will run the fashion department, and my children are my anchor. I’m at home in Zürs. I get involved in the village council, I can have coffee with friends, and I can try and leave my mark here. That’s something you simply can’t do abroad. What experiences would I like to import to Zürs? Tough question. There are destinations I have accompanied throughout times of new development. I’m thinking of developing a tourism destination in Africa, for instance; a process I was a part of for four years. Or the booming urban development. Looking at Zürs, we must ask ourselves the question of whether and how new challenges are tackled. We are a destination that had its golden time. And I’m consciously talking about the past here. But who says it can’t be that way again in the future?! At the moment we are rather far away from that goal, though. We have to adapt to the new framework conditions and face the challenge of doing both, tradition and the expectations facing the “new generation”, justice.
"I suppose I can say my luggage really was full of adventures and experiences." Patrick Brändle
L.L./ Today you don’t just work in the family business and your hotel der klostertalerhof in Klösterle, but you’re also in hotel consulting. What does a hotel need to do – today and in the future – to really inspire the guests?
PA.B./ I think it was Jeff Bezos who drew up an empty chair at every meeting and said that this chair was for the guest. Because, first and foremost, we have to ask ourselves: do we create comfort for our guests or for ourselves? It needs to be very clear where the focus is. And at the end of the day, it needs to be all about the customer. A customer who has become a member of staff. Which means that we should look at the person we work for and with. It’s no longer enough for customers or staff to be content. No, there has to be inspiration – all along the customer journey. Which means the staff has to be on board the whole way because at the end of the day it’s more than just two hands that will delight the guest, it’s the hands of all those that work on the product. Behind the scenes or in plain view. Just like any other business a hotel needs a “why”. Its existential question which can never be about optimising its profit – which, at best, can only be the result. With a clear “why” many things – from operative business to booking process – many things can change in a hotel. So, in the end, I’d say a clear “why”, understanding, self-criticism, and the passion to become better every single day are important steps along the path to the future.
"It needs to be very clear where the focus is." Patrick Brändle
L.L./ Lech Zürs and the Arlberg have a special pull. How do many family-run businesses manage to turn a guest into a regular?
PA.B./ In general, there is the challenge of inspiring a cosmopolitan crowd in a way to make them want to come back. Travelling in general and flying in particular has become increasingly simple and cheap – even if Covid has made it all a bit more complicated again. Which meant we had summer guests who usually only come to us in winter. But that’s an exception. Unfortunately, the people don’t always want “just” the same hotel. They want to see new things all the time because travelling is supposed to be an adventure. A demographic challenge that makes it hard to actually turn guests into regulars. Which is where the concept of inspiration from start to finish of the customer journey comes in again.
"They want to see something – because every journey starts in one’s head. " Patrick Brändle
L.L./ Which character traits did you take out into the world with you from Zürs and what did you bring back from out there?
PH.B./ Interesting question. Hard work, punctuality, and all those basic traits like humbleness and honesty are things my parents taught me. And the whole concept of what it means to work in the service industry. What I took away from Formula 1 is the attitude to only call it a day when all the work is done and to focus on the essential.
PA.B./ In Zürs I definitely learned to put the guest at the focus and to work hard. What I brought back from the world is open-minded thinking.
"What we need is inspiration – from start to finish of the customer journey. " Patrick Brändle
L.L./ During the winter season you and your family run a ski rental service, fashion shop, and the bistro friendly Brändle in Zürs. What is it you promise your guests?
PH.B./ We don’t just focus on quality and competence, but we also show our passion for what we do. This way it is our hope that the guest will not only go home feeling inspired but will also become a regular and keep coming back.
PA.B./ We try to do everything so the guest leaves our house completely amazed; both by the friendliness and the professional competence they encountered.
"We don’t just focus on quality and competence, but we also show our passion for what we do. This way it is our hope that the guest will not only go home feeling inspired but will also become a regular and keep coming back." Phillipp Brändle
L.L./ You only just took your places in the family business. What direction will the development of friendly Brändle take in the coming years?
PH.B./ It is our goal to make sure every rental ski is a friendly Brändle ski. And it would be great if friendly Brändle were known outside of Zürs, too. As far as expanding the business goes, we will focus on our core business for now.
PA.B./ We have a very clear mission for our staff – to be the best and fairest place to work; in every respect. And we generally need to make sure that wherever something says friendly Brändle on the outside it also needs to transport all the friendly Brändle values on the inside. What I could envision for the future would be an online shop: somewhere in the world a hotel offers a digital ski rental service which is backed by friendly Brändle and our competence. My focus clearly lies on strengthening the core business, building it up and integrating a digital rental concept to create another pillar. As far as the culinary side goes, we want to offer casual high-quality experiences with our team – no matter where.
L.L./ Philipp, do you, as an aerodynamics expert, have an idea of how to bring your know-how into the ski service business or maybe even how to develop a friendly-Brändle ski?
PH.B./ I do certainly have a lot of Formula 1 know-how. It includes, for instance, the topic of 3D printing. I had the vision of 3D-printed ski boots until I discovered – two months ago – that that already exists. A ski rental service from Tyrol started production and then stopped, for reasons I don’t know. Two years ago, the invention was even awarded a prize at ISPO. I can only surmise that the developers probably have professional know-how in this area but that my expertise from the Formula 1 might make a difference. Who knows? There are ideas for a ski, too, but due to a lack of time they have not been developed further. But we’ve laid the foundation and made some contacts, so the possibility is there. And I also work with a small sports federation in the area of aerodynamics.
L.L./ Patrick, last year, friendly Brändle Bistro saw regular pop-up events and a culinary trip around the world. What culinary highlights can we look forward to this winter?
PA.B./ We want to keep developing our culinary competences. We already have our staff’s skills. Last year we established a take-away menu for the weekends that worked out well. We’ll probably do that again this year. And I would love to turn the old Trittkopf cable car I designed into a fondue parlour or a similar highlight. Which is why another idea of ours would be to do some kind of pop-up restaurant here, with a maximum of eight tables, a couple of times a week, and a bar. But that can only work if every element works out and the quality we are used to offering our guests doesn’t suffer and our team is behind every step.
"In Zürs I definitely learned to put the guest at the focus and to work hard. What I brought back from the world is open-minded thinking." Patrick Brändle
Wordrap: Patrick & Philipp Brändle
Bromance vs. bro-drama?
PA.B. / Definitely bromance! I am very proud of my brother. We simply complement each other.
PH.B. / I agree. Bromance all the way. I profit from my brother’s experience.
Zürs can’t be without…
PA.B. / community.
PH.B. / friendly Brändle.
friendly Brändle is always…
PA.B. / there for its guests.
PH.B. / friendly.
A guest of Zürs needs to know:
PA.B. / they are always in good hands
PH.B. / … and always welcome in Zürs.
Perfect ski service in three words:
PH.B. / Fast. Quality. Affordable.
On social media he is celebrated as an absolute killer feature on ServusTV – already during the first race of the season in Bahrain Philipp Brändle impressed with his technical know-how and his razor-sharp view of the current race cars. The aerodynamics expert from Vorarlberg, who worked on the car of long-standing World Champion Lewis Hamilton for six years before returning to Klösterle at the end of 2019, proves he has the touch. And that’s also what he needs to inspire the guests of tradition-steeped business friendly Brändle in Zürs. The fact that inspiration is the key to success is nothing new to Patrick Brändle – hotel manager and consultant and a true pro in the service industry – and no-one knows his way around the industry better than he does. At home everywhere in the world the globetrotter and his family followed the call back to Vorarlberg to continue running the successful third-generation family business together with his brother. Over time the framework conditions may have changed but the competence and quality provided by friendly Brändle most certainly have not. Which is exactly what guarantees long-term inspiration, an aspect the brothers want above all for their guests.
Talstation Trittkopfbahn (Haus Zürsersee), 6763 Zürs am Arlberg
Zürs 493, 6763 Zürs am Arlberg