The saying 'slow and steady wins the race' may be true. Mr Olivier Bernheim of Raymond Weil, however, slightly increases the speed as he opens boutiques one after the other in India. Quite a new phenomenon in India where watchmakers are happy with multi-brand retailers only. We talk more with this far-seeing, suave gentleman
By: Soumya Jain & Veronique Poles
Posted on: July 21, 2012
What is Mr Olivier Bernheim, the President & CEO of Raymond Weil, like? The fact that he answered our questions in between a much-deserved vacation says volumes. And mind you, they were not one-liners either. They were well-thought of and explained. His vacation came just after launching a stand-alone boutique in Mumbai’s CR2 Mall, and another one in Palladium, making their country count to an impressive five stores. A sixth one is in the anvil which will be opened in August in Borivali, Mumbai.
So while other brands are happy having a store in Palladium or DLF Emporio, Mr Bernheim looks determined to go the interiors of a city and establish a strong presence. India, then, features very high on their priority list as we see it. “The developing market of India contributes 5% to our annual business. Though the main growing market for us is China these days, India does hold a good commercial stature in our global plans. The Indian luxury watch market has evolved a lot in the last five to six years with a well informed and conversant customer base. However, the market is yet to graduate itself to a degree to match up to the global scenario, considering the governmental constraint that it faces with high custom barrier,” Mr Bernheim reiterated our thoughts.
Brick by brick
With only three to four golden gates in this country, creating a luxury retail space becomes a challenge. Having said that, launching a boutique in CR2 Mall is not usually heard of from luxury brands. Mr Bernheim cites an emotional and logical reason to the decision, “I have been visiting Bombay since the late 1970s and have had a deep attachment with the city. Nariman Point being the heart of the city has captured my heart and lured me into launching a Raymond Weil boutique here. The place where we have opened our boutique also houses other luxury watch brands and our dealer is aware of the crème-de-la-crème in that part of Mumbai.” With Raymond Weil having a presence in India for more than 30 years now, Mr Bernheim knows what he is talking about.
The new boutique was launched with the razzmatazz expected of a luxe brand now. Honouring the brand’s motto of ‘independence is the state of mind’, they felicitated designer James Ferreira, novelist Shobhaa De, artist Bose Krishnamachari and director Shoojit Sircar. Mr Bernheim explains, “Raymond Weil has raised a toast to these four individuals who have crowned their individuality and made a mark for themselves in their respective professional spheres independently.”
As has Mr Bernheim himself. It’s quite well-known now that Raymond Weil was the brainchild of his father-in-law. Before Raymond Weil, Mr Bernheim was working in Unilever in Paris. One fine day, his boss offered him a new position in the company, parallel to his father-in-law asking him if he would be interested in working for Raymond Weil. The choice was quite obvious. Geneva, for him, is heaven. And so he moved to the city of watchmakers. Mr Bernheim has now been helming the company for an astonishing 30 years, and has ensured that it reached new heights.
The Indian connection
Like India still reveres the strong family support system, Mr Bernheim too takes pride in the fact that Raymond Weil is one of the few luxury companies which is not a part of a conglomerate yet. Nor does it plan to be in the future. “Regardless of the many brands in the watch industry, we have successfully created our own forte, and therefore we don’t really feel any pressure to consolidate with a conglomerate. For us, ‘independence is the state of mind’, and any kind of fair competition is welcome. RW has always followed a family owned business policy and will continue to do that in future,” he clarified.
Mr Bernheim is quite right when he says that they have created a forte. Indians, however, may not be too aware of the brand. Breaking through the clutter of the various timekeeping brands, that have been setting a foot in India, is not going to be an easy task. But the smart manager is ready for the challenge and has a battle plan ready in his mind. He is all set to communicate to the Indian consumer that the major attributes of Raymond Weil are “quality, reliability and novelty,” and they see themselves as a traditional brand that has woven elegant designs with latest technologies.
The product is prince
The helmsman also counts novelty as one of their strengths. Raymond Weil recently introduced a new feminine range called Jasmine which is a voluptuously round, ultra radiant and feminine collection with curved case. The brilliance of diamonds is dazzling in the set version while the bracelet wraps harmoniously around the wrist. The dial of the watch is embellished with blue-tinted, leaf-shaped hands. “Jasmine collection exudes modernity, classicism and exclusivity,” says Mr Bernheim of the collection which has him spell bound too! The brand also launched the flamboyant masculine collections called Freelancer and Urban Black at BaselWorld Watch & Jewellery Show 2012.
Raymond Weil doesn’t make its own movements as of yet. They, however, don’t see the need to as well. “It is not required by our customer base as demonstrated by detailed market study and research. Our watch connoisseurs are fully aware of the special RWG complicated executions we assemble into our watches. They are keen for the brand to keep its renowned price point,” he said. That being said, we do hope that the company will get into movement manufacturing in the future, as a natural progression in the lifecycle of a luxury watch brand.
Competing with the dragon
In today’s gloomy economic scenario, when luxury brands are hopefully looking towards Asia, a natural priority assessment arising today is between India and China. Both are huge countries with two of the largest populations in the world. These colossal proportions translate to dollars in the dreams of many brand managers. India, however, is shattering many of those dreams today. Comparing the two, China, at the moment, is the obvious winner. Mr Bernheim too reinforces the prevalent sentiment, “China’s growth rate in terms of luxury is far better as compared to the India. More that 12% of our sales comes from China whereas India is just 5%. I sometimes feel it is not accurate to compare the two counties as India has still many miles to go to reach that zone of luxury which China has already attained.”
He, however, lives up to his reputation if being an optimistic and charming soul. He sees much more goodness in India still. “I can clearly distinguish the Indian consumer broadly into two categories. Category A comprises of 40-60-year old customers who are all well informed. The second category is aspirational, falls in the 25-30 age bracket, and are in the infancy stage of understanding luxury. I consider both these categories as a strong customer base for Raymond Weil. While Indians are watch collectors and have always shown interest towards luxury watches, most Chinese only so far have one watch – it’s a matter of use for them – but Indians love to collect watches, especially men,” he says.
This not only shows a larger potential for a watch brand in India, but also a much more evolved mindset when it comes to luxury. Maybe we can credit our history of royal tastes for this understanding. So when Mr Bernheim wants to get into the interiors of India quickly for increased business, he can’t be blamed. The next steps for this tireless man include “looking forward to increase presence by engaging the youth and expanding presence in tier 2 cities like Vishakhapatnam, Bhopal, Indore and more.”
With a stylish and optimistic smile, he signs off, as we wished him an uninterrupted vacation.