Olivier Bernheim, CEO Raymond Weil in an exclusive chat with Mitrajit Bhattacharya says that the product has to be consistent with the vision of the owner, the shareholders, the CEO and be in line with the brand image supported by marketing. Excerpts from the interview.
OB: Raymond Weil has been around for 57 years and is known as a legend in the watch industry. And because he was the CEO of Camy watch prior to be the founder of Raymond Weil, he was very knowledgeable about India because Camy watch was very famous here. One of his first markets he looked after was India. It’s not easy when you have been a dominant force in the market and at the same time change the perception. You try to look after the younger lot of customers. You need to go through a sort of healing period that enables you to reorganise the market and restructure it with a much more selective distribution. That’s what we did. What was very important to us was not only to revive the brand but also to reposition it and attract a much younger crowd. That’s what we are doing right now.
MB: The world watch industry is gong through consolidation phase. You have the big groups like Swatch, LVMH, and Richemont, all of who are consolidating. On the other and you are still one of those who has held on to your independence and still managed to remain successful. But does that pose a difficulty when you expand to newer markets like India now?
OB: It’s probably easier to be a family-owned business because the vision of the family is the vision that we can explain to our team, to our dealers and consumers without having the distraction of the stock exchange and how much our shares are worth and so on. Very few companies in the watch industry can offer such security to the dealers and we are expecting the dealers will invest as much as we invest with them with us to support the brand.
MB: Raymond Weil has always been a watchmaker’s brand. For any watch connoisseur Raymond Weil as a product comes first and then marketing. Do you think you have been able to communicate the same to the world effectively?
OB: Raymond Weil was a product while marketing came second. In the world we live in, the brand comes first while marketing supports the brand. In short, the product has to be consistent with the vision of the owner, the shareholders, the CEO and be in line with the brand image supported by the marketing.
MB: Is your decision to focus on the brand a recent phenomenon? What do you think of brands like TAG Heuer and Omega that are part of bigger groups, allocating huge sums of money for promotions? In fact, TAG Heuer has 8-10 global ambassadors today. In this crowded market isn’t it that Raymond Weil is still considered a watchmaker’s brand? If I want a good watch I would want a Raymond Weil, which may not be worn by a brand ambassador necessarily.
OB: In a way I agree and disagree with what you just said. I disagree with what they are doing right now in transforming their brand into fashion business. Fashion business is short-minded for me, it’s short term. You have an icon, and then change the icon. What’s the meaning of the brand? We, at Raymond Weil are not doing the same because we’re working on the longevity, the structure and the vision of the brand. By reinforcing the brand, we’re securing ourselves. We’re carrying an image that will last. We’ve seen golf or tennis player coming up and going down. What will be left? The minute they stop spending on the icons, the brand collapses. The public won’t remember the brand. We want the brand to be remembered forever. Raymond Weil was, and still is, in the mind of the people as the highest quality Swiss watch brand at an affordable price.
MB: Probably one of the best independent Swiss watch makers in the world today…
OB: We’re very proud to be independent and also proud to be maintaining ourselves to be at the highest level among the five or six best watch manufacturers that you can find in Switzerland.
MB: Talking about this year’s launches, we have seen newer products like the rectangular-shaped Parsifal range and now two very new ranges – Tango Sport and Shine. What has been the reaction from the trade and the market to the new products?
OB: The reactions have been positive. The Diwali period, with the gifting and so on, was really a testing time. The number of hits that we have been receiving from India on our website, the direct e-mails and the phone calls the retailers are receiving on the brand and on the Shine collection is encouraging. Considering that we have started advertising heavily, it is a good sign. We want to create a strong market for ladies to wear trendy jewellery pieces. With Shine having a patented interchangeable strap, it’s something that will certainly appeal to the Indian clientele.
MB: When the trend probably is that of 80 per cent of watchmakers reducing the size of a gent’s watch to make it a ladies’ watch.
OB: Yes, we’re not doing this. We’re looking after women like we’re looking after men. Today, men and women are more interested in products specially designed for them.
MB: What’s your overall strategy for India over the next few years?
OB: I think the public and retailers can expect is very high A&P investment in the market. Of course we have already demonstrated it and continue to do this. As far as the distribution is concerned, we have 18 POS. We’re probably looking at two more by the year end at places like Hyderabad. We’re going to have more square feet per shop so we’re going to have corners of boutique within the shops. But first we have to consolidate with every retailer.
MB: We all know that you love India. Have you seen anything this time that you’ve been here or anything new you want to see?
OB: I’ve been out quite often lately, but more for safaris and wild life than for business. And I was going through Mumbai yesterday and am highly impressed with the shopping malls. I was really amazed at the quality, the size and how many people were coming in and out of the malls. And the standard of these malls are comparable to worldwide standards.