Raymond Weil Interview with Elie Bernheim
In one of our regular catch-up sessions, Raymond Weil’s CEO is upbeat about business in general, but much less about Brexit.
What is your response after announcing your decision to Baselworld last summer?
We have had a kind of mini-revolution internally. Our entire planning and product cycle had always been organized around Baselworld. It was the time of year when we presented our new products and partnerships. So all of a sudden we had to adapt quickly to be ready for early January.
Unlike other brands we are not simply taking advantage of the SIHH to welcome retailers and journalists because they are already here for the SIHH. We are organizing our own seminar and inviting all our major distributors and some big retailers to spend 48 hours with us. I decided to do this in January because I always thought that this was the perfect time. It’s at the start of the year and it will give us a great overview of the year ahead and a better idea of our order book. At Baselworld, by the time we had taken all the orders, it was almost impossible to adapt the production cycle. Now, depending on the feedback we get on our products and the launch cycle, I can envisage adapting production in the third and fourth quarters of this year, for example.
Organising this seminar ourselves has also allowed us to bring in speakers to talk about things like digital and e-commerce, which is one of the things I thought was lacking at Baselworld. It also means I will have the customers to myself for a full 48 hours. The difference in quality time is considerable compared with Baselworld. We will also be holding the seminar outside Geneva – far enough outside the city for our customers not to be tempted to go and see anyone else.
One thing that is changing a lot is the importance of “newness”. Years ago we could go by the Pareto law, which told us that 20% of our products would account for 80% of our sales. So we knew that whatever we produced, we would at least have this guarantee. This no longer holds true. We have a constant demand for new products. People see watches on the Internet and want them straight away. If you don’t constantly feed your fan base, they will start to lose interest in the brand. If we were to start communicating in April we would have lost four months of the year. With our new organization we have a plan that covers the whole year.
What did you think when you heard the news that the SIHH and Baselworld will be held back to back next year?
Well, it would be foolish to say that we would never change things, but there are three reasons why I organized this seminar: I wanted better contact with my customers, better digital presence (e-commerce) and I wanted my customers to myself. I want the quality and return on my investment.
If there are genuine major changes and genuine innovation at Baselworld, I might consider going back. But at the moment I haven’t really seen any signs of this. What surprised me about the announcement most, however, is that the two events are being held back to back. I can understand some of the logic behind this, but a customer coming from Australia, for example, needs to block 10 days to do the two shows. It means that everyone has to stay longer and I’m not sure everyone can afford to do that.
New Maestro models 2019 © Raymond Weil
Baselworld and the SIHH allow opportunities for meeting new customers as well as existing ones. Doesn’t this get lost with your seminar?
The most importing thing for me is to be able to share the strategy of the brand with our customers.
We attended WatchTime New York in October last year. It’s a relatively small show but it’s growing. It was held over 48 hours and it’s for professionals and watch fans alike. We can even sell there and I enjoyed the opportunity to get behind the sales counter. The “taken value” we had was exceptional and it’s almost like turning back the clock 50 years to when my grandfather used to do his mini-exhibitions. You have the feeling that something is happening and I think we as a brand will be looking more towards these prestigious local exhibitions. They are very interesting.
If I compare that to Baselworld, in my grandfather’s day it accounted for an important part of the company’s annual revenues. That’s not the case anymore and it has become increasingly expensive to attend the exhibition. We had to ask ourselves whether the money could be invested better elsewhere. The seminar we are organizing is costing us 15 times less that our attendance at Baselworld! So maybe I could do a second or a third, or some local mini-exhibitions. There are plenty of opportunities.
Have all these changes over the past year had an impact on business?
No, zero impact. The consequence of the brands leaving Baselworld has had no effect on business. What is interesting is that I hesitated for a few weeks before taking the decision to leave Baselworld. I talked it over with my team and with our partners because the exhibition is also for them. But they all said that they would prefer me to invest the money elsewhere because the returns were better. I’m proud to be part of an independent family company with solid foundations. I have to think about the consequences of everything I do.
So how was business in 2018 and what is your forecast for this year?
It wasn’t an extraordinary year but it was better than I expected. Our growth was driven by business in the USA, which is our number one market. Sales there were very good, especially towards the end of the year.
I’m relatively relaxed about 2019. Looking at the figures I get the impression that things are picking up. Only slightly – I’m not talking about double-digit growth – but it’s a positive sign nevertheless.
And what about Brexit?
I’m very concerned about it. I’m particularly worried about the fact that it’s dragging on and nobody really knows where things are heading. We didn’t have an exceptional year in the UK, which is our second biggest market and a country where we have a big market share. This was not in terms of sell-out [Editor’s note: sales to final customers] but in terms of sell-in [sales to retailers]. They are not replenishing stocks because they simply have no idea of what is going to happen. It has been like this for 6-9 months, so the quicker we have some clarity on what is going to happen, the better it will be.
At the time of the Brand’s creation in 1976, Raymond Weil wanted to bring luxury Swiss watchmaking within the reach of a wider public. This visionary approach, always dear to the three generations, has enabled the Brand to develop internationally, within the space of only a few decades.Find out more >
All the news >
Contact brand >
All the watches >