IWC brand manager, Gianfranco D’Attis and famed IWC watch designer Kurt Klaus recently made a stop at Cadrans in downtown Beirut to promote their new Vintage line in commemoration of the International Watch Co.’s 140th anniversary. The Swiss company has a long history in the Middle East. Executive Magazine sat down with D’Attis to discuss customers, sales and strategy.
E What is IWC’s best selling model in the Middle East market?
We have a number of watches in our portfolio. The basic watch range includes the Aquatimer, the Ingenieur, the Pilots and the Portofino. That is the basic entry price, from $3,000 to $10,000. Then we have the manufacture pieces, made with precious materials. These are basically the Da Vinci line, the Portuguese and some complications. The best selling line overall in the Middle East, with about 50 percent of commercial turnover, is the Portuguese. The second best selling line, with 25 percent of the market, is the Pilot. Together they make about 75 percent of the turnover, not only in the Middle East, in fact, but worldwide. These are icon products. These are products that are differentiating themselves from the competition, because they are unique.
E How long has IWC had a presence in the Middle East?
IWC has been in the Middle East for over 30 years. Cadrans has already been working with us for 30 years. Richemont bought IWC seven years ago. Then we started integrating their platforms five years ago. So for the last five years we have been aggressive, expanding in the Middle East, increasing brand awareness, investing in marketing, and investing in boutiques and sales staff. The brand has really been developing quite fast in the last three to five years and it is performing extremely well. We have a team of six people in Dubai and we are constantly expanding. Now we are trying to penetrate the Indian market, which is a very strategic market for IWC in the future. As mature markets will be under pressure over the next two years, we believe that emerging markets will be absorbing the pressure and that they will deliver profits. This will help the brand to balance turnover and performance.
E What are the strongest markets for IWC in this region?
The strongest market is obviously the UAE. We have our largest regional distribution there with two boutiques and about five points of sale. The second strongest market is Turkey, because we also manage Turkey from Dubai. Then immediately after Turkey, you have Lebanon, because the Lebanese like IWC. They like it because it is also a strong brand in Europe, because it is understated, it’s chic, it is more or less what the Lebanese are looking for in a watch.
E How many points of sale do you have in Lebanon?
Right now we have two points of sale. We are working with two partners, Cadrans and Atamian. We are also planning to open a boutique sometime in the next 12 months. When Solidere opens its new addition, we will be present there.
E Does IWC keep the number of its points of sale low in order to maintain brand image?
We are actually reducing the number of points of sale and upgrading existing ones to boutiques. We really want to have a selective distribution network. For instance, five years ago we had 1,200 points of sale around the world and we are reducing that to about 800. The strategy is really to make it exclusive, selective and to upgrade the existing network to boutiques.
E Do you foresee a time when IWC watches will only be available in IWC boutiques?
That would be the ideal scenario. But obviously we need strong partners on our side in these special times. IWC is not a retail brand, IWC is a wholesale brand. That is why we need to find the right balance. Retail is for image, wholesale is to find a new customer that may not necessarily want to come down to a boutique. He likely has a special connection to our partner and we may not be able to reach him.
E What was IWC’s profit for 2008?
We do not publish profits or sales numbers. This is strictly forbidden by the group.
E Is IWC a publically traded company?
Richemont is publically traded. IWC is just one brand within this holding company Richemont. They hold brands like Cartier, Montblanc, Vacheron, IWC and Panerai.
E What percentage of totals sales does the Middle East represent for IWC?
We have aggressively developed the share of turnover in the Middle East. We started from nearly zero percent five years ago and today it is between five and 10 percent. When IWC got its start in the region 30 years ago, it had a small but important turnover. We had very personal relations in the Middle East with certain big families. In Oman, we were producing special quantities for the Sultan; in Dubai we were doing something for the sheikh. IWC was a very niche brand for special families in special quantities. So it was an important market, but the turnover was not very significant.
E What do you see as some of the biggest challenges that IWC will face in the near future in light of the ongoing global financial crisis?
Luxury in general will suffer because people are scared for the future. They don’t know when the economy will turn around. We feel that products in the price range of $7,000 to $20,000 will not be greatly affected and products below $5,000 will be much more affected. So this middle segment will be suffering, but the high-end should remain strong.