< CEO SPEAK >
Timex Group CEO Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard shares with Mitrajit Bhattacharya the brand’s strategy to combat recession
What does the brand Timex stand for?
Brand Timex is the epitome of an affordable, reliable, good quality, precise watch.This is the history of durability, quality and reliability. That is really where the whole thing had started. It has developed a second leg, which I would call a lifestyle section, which is very much into sports and outdoors. It is absolutely affordable lifestyle, but in a very specific sense that it actively supports a lifestyle and sport or outdoor activity. That is really what makes the lifestyle piece of the Timex brand very special. That has been where the business has been taking off for quite sometime now, and is still growing.
How has the experience with Georg Jensen and Lancaster Group Worldwide helped you in managing so many brands in a diversified group like Timex?
Well, the experience I am bringing is obviously very relevant to a group which has, at its core, a diversity of brands. One of the things that attracted me to the Timex Group was the fact that it has everything from mass to luxury, which I think we have particularly proven in these difficult times. It’s not so difficult in India and China, but the rest of the world is clearly going through a recession. A group like ours is very unique in the watch industry, because the other groups are very heavily focussed either on the high-end or on the low-end. The fact that we have this diversity is incredibly strong. And what I bring is from a different industry, though the mechanics are the same. The Lancaster Group really tried to cover various price segments and lifestyle categories. Georg Jensen is obviously the luxury piece of it. But at the time when I entered the Timex Group, it decided to get serious about luxury. So, although all the work was done by everybody else around the table, I was here when we launched Salvatore Ferragamo and Valentino, which were at Basel last year. The group markets Timex, Versace, Guess, Gc, Valentino, Ferragamo.
How do you manage a diversified portfolio like this?
The strategy is very, very simple. We have brands that come from very strong mother brands. Our role is to really interpret that in a watch and then sometimes from a jewellery perspective as well, to make sure that it is loyal to the brand equity of the mother brand and give it a new dimension. Our challenge and our intent is to mature it so that it becomes a serious watch. And the way we manage it is by having dedicated resources to every single brand because they are all very different. They need to be treated with 100 per cent focus.
You have a close working relationship with the mother brand.
Very close, because part of the nature of having a license is that you have to really make sure that you support the integrity of the mother brands. So everything is worked out in very close collaboration. Obviously, we are expert in timepieces, but it has to still go through an approval process from the perspective of the existing line, of what we think and want the brand to be overall, because we have to remember that these watches are sold in their own stores. So if you walk into a Versace, Ferragamo or a Valentino store, the concept of the watches have to blend with the bigger context of what the brand is.
America is going through its toughest times since probably the 1920s and Timex has a very strong American value along with strong markets in America too. What are your strategies to combat the negative impact of recession?
Our strategy is very simple and is based on history. When times are tough the Timex brand normally goes up. And to be quite honest, we actually expect a very good year for the Timex brand in America and around the world, because it is at times like these that we come back to the core value proposition of the Timex brand: great value and great performance. We had a good start to the year, and we are getting a lot more interest from retailers around America about the brand.
You are the Chairman of Timex India and you bring in substantial experience of working in Asia as well. What does it need to succeed in the Asian markets and particularly in large economies like India?
First and foremost, as a Western company, it requires approaching the market with a great deal of humility. The biggest failures are Western companies who move in and simply don’t know where they are going. So, it is incredibly important that you really take time to listen and understand. Timex, in India, has over 20 years of history. I think the Indian consumer, like any other consumer around the world, is aspiring for that global lifestyle. So you have to strike that very important balance between local customs and global aspiration. There is a Chinese proverb saying that friendship comes first and business, second. You really have to make sure that you connect and be on the same page with your partners and your team.
Timex has products ranging from the mass segment to luxury. However it suffers a lot from its past image which goes back to about 20 years. How do you plan to address this?
You are right; there is some residue. On the other hand, after 20 years, there is a group of younger consumers who come to the brand without the baggage of its history vis-à-vis the consumers of my age or older who remember these times. The only way you can redeem yourself is to show the market that in terms of products, retail and innovation, you are back, and that your story is coherent and consistent. So it takes time.
Sometimes, is correcting your image more difficult than setting it on a fresh footing?
Absolutely, but that is a challenge. There are a lot of brands that have been going through this. I think the direction for the Timex brand now is with a very global perspective and we need the brand to look and feel the same around the world.