In conversation with Longines president Walter von Känel

August 4, 2014 11:10 am

Walter von Känel, president of Swatch Group’s Longines brand, reveals his thoughts on the Gulf market, commitment to sports and maintaining awareness.

Looking at the Longines portfolio today, are there more men’s or women’s watches? 

In all of our lines, we always have gents’ and ladies’ watches, but the share of [the former] is very high – more than 50 per cent. It has definitely increased, so it is a wrong impression that we have only gents’ watches.

There were a number of novelty highlights at Baselworld this year, is there one that you’re most proud of? 

Based on the success we have had globally in the past ten years, I did not introduce many different things. We added additional sizes, colours and additional heritage pieces inspired by the past.

Is the trend of smaller watches disappearing? 

Ladies are not buying ladies’ watches [based on our experience]. They want a chronograph in a sports or dial watch, so like a small men’s watch. But small watches are still a big business for Longines; it depends on the region.

It is not a simple business, because we have to respect the culture, size and anatomy of the man and woman. A 36mm watch won’t sell for Europeans and Arabs, but it is a big business for the Chinese, while 40mm is a big business in Europe. If you want to be successful, like we are, you have to give the consumer what he/she wants, so size is very important in our business.

How do you describe the brand’s growth in the Middle East the past five years?

It has improved a lot, thanks to two things – controlling our distribution and the way we attract tourists.

A success story was Rivoli at The Dubai Mall this January during the Dubai Shopping Festival. It was the world record in sales in one month – the biggest in my 45 years in the industry.

What is the connection between sports and Longines like?

It started182 years ago. In 1878, we started to manufacture the first chronograph because, in sports, you need a stop-and-go watch, right?

And then we went through all sports in the world, from the Olympics to Formula One to cycling, and we have always been involved with equestrian sports.

In 1997, I changed a few things in this company and we are now focusing on elegance. We believe that equestrianism is one of the best sports matching our elegance and attitude, and we are in a dominant situation in both racing and horse jumping. What does this give us? Identification. The name of the game is to build the image of the brand with a sport matching our global motto.

Do you feel like there’s enough brand awareness for Longines?

Well, no, you always have to keep spending money in order to keep the awareness. This is important. And it is good that we are now the number-four brand in the industry when it comes to turnover; we have enough money to invest and keep momentum. In this industry, you have to spend a lot on advertising and marketing.

Other companies say it’s hard to track the Arab market, because a lot of Arabs buy from outside of their local markets, from Europe, for example. What do you think about this trend?

It is not that important. Dubai, for example, has very competitive and attractive prices and services. It is a flexible situation and we have to grab the business according to buying habits. Usually, Arabs outside of Dubai buy more expensive watches than Longines.

I can understand India being an important market from BRICS countries, however, how does Brazil factor in?

If we start with the biggest of the BRICS economy, which is China, you have to respect its rules; that is to pay duty and VAT. India has high taxes and not so much duty, and we respect that, even with taxes as high as 25 per cent. In Brazil, someone can decide what he wants and that is the tax and we all accept this too. We pay what we have to pay and this is, so far, not only for the watch business, but all luxury goods and import situations… This tendency for baksheesh is a pain, because the potential of the market is huge, but we are a public company and we have to respect that – we do not do monkey business. We would rather not do business than do monkey business.

In which regions of the world do you see the best performance?

We are lucky to have very good statistics. By export figures in our industry, we represent, in Switzerland, 55 per cent of the total watch business in value. The statistics show very clearly that the Asian continent, especially China, is the biggest market for some brands for ten years now, and we are among them. That is why we do so well. And then, of course, we have Europe and, in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Last year, you brought the Longines Global Champions Tour to Qatar for the first time. What was the experience like?

The co-operation that we had with them is definitely in one of the best. You cannot find a stadium like Al Shaqab elsewhere in the world. What still excites you about Longines? It’s my life. I’ve worked here for nearly 45 years.

First published on Aficionado, a sister publication of AMEinfo