Julien Tornare on Zenith: “E-commerce and Customisation are a Certainty”


Dino Auciello | October 23, 2017

In an exclusive interview with Luxury Society, Zenith's CEO Julien Tornare explains how the brand is moving forward with retailers, customisation and China.

Since taking the reins at LVMH-owned Zenith last May, Julien Tornare has been focusing his efforts on one key objective: awakening the “sleeping beauty” that is Zenith, and taking it to the next level. He speaks more about the road ahead for the 152-year old manufacture in an interview with Luxury Society.

Over your 17 years at Vacheron Constantin, the brand saw significant growth in terms of profit, as well as its number of employees in Asia and in Switzerland. What key learning points are you bringing to Zenith from your past experience?

I am bringing many key learnings based on my experience at the headquarters, on the Swiss market, but especially from the US and Asian markets. If I had to mention some of these learnings, I would start with market knowledge. Since I joined Zenith, we have been trying to remain very close to the market. Unless you go there, there is no way you can know about it. Now, being back at the headquarters, and in the Swiss mountains, we make sure that we travel every week to meet the retailers for example. This is the only way to react quickly and drive the business properly.

Jean-Claude Biver mentioned profitability problems and a lack of confidence in Zenith’s previous management. What are the steps you are taking now in this new challenge?

We have taken some good measures. We have already recruited new and skilled team members for key positions at our headquarters and in priority markets. It is extremely important.

We have already worked on our operations and improved our top and bottom line results dramatically.

Then, we went to the markets and did a listening exercise to find out what is going well; what is not; and what we should do to turn it into a success. We received tons of feedback. Many retailers that we have known for 20 years shared their thoughts openly with us.

At the same time, we did some considerable work on the product portfolio.

Now, we have defined four products lines. Two are classic lines that are already well known, like the Elite and Chronomaster. We will also focus our development on the Pilot, an iconic collection with wonderful history and great potential. We are still talking about our bestsellers! And last but not least, there is the Defy collection, which we launched last September. For us, the Defy line is a symbol of our capacity and innovation and represents the future in its tradition.

Image credit: Zenith Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Extra Special 

How do you benefit from the synergies between the three LVMH watch companies?

Without a doubt, it is pool of skills and expertise among three different brands that are constantly working on research and development.

People often ask us: “So you are going to create connected watches?

We always answer no. At Zenith, we talk about Chronometry and the Defy El Primero 21 is an excellent example. The new oscillator embodies precision in all its purity. Zenith territory traditionally stands for chronometry and precision; therefore, we are perfectly in line with the DNA of our brand, but we do it in a contemporary way!

Buyers from (but not limited to) China are typically very keen on online shopping, even for luxury products. Are you heading in that direction?

Many brands have said, “No, nobody is going to buy on the internet. It is not for luxury, etcetera.” But we all know today – given the array of different examples around us – that this is not true. It is working. And step by step, everybody is heading towards it. Today, Zenith is working on a solution to meet the future behaviour evolution of our customers.

We strongly believe that this is a channel that is part of our world. What is the point of denying the reality? Our dealers are already going for it. For example: customisation. We officialised the partnership with Bamford in the UK. Some people asked: “Why did you do that?” Because customisation is part of our world! Everybody wants to customise. We recently visited the SVO – Special Vehicle Operation – customisation centre for Range Rover, in Birmingham. The way they do it is unbelievable. They are far ahead of the watch industry. So, I want to make it official. It is obviously the reality of our time. E-commerce is a certainty, it is already here, customisation too. There is no way to deny it. If you deny it, it means you are not moving forward!

Image credit: Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Ceramic 

How do you address the second generation of Chinese buyers?

With this specific clientele, what we will do is the following: We communicate our history and its foundation; where Zenith comes from; its 152 years of history; and the legitimacy of the brand. But when we present products, we need to speak to today’s world and therefore, we are introducing contemporary watches and designs. Watches that these consumers would be proud to wear. We will still have the Elite for those who like the classical type. Again, we will showcase the traditional aspects, but we will also project it in the future. For us, today, it is authenticity and tradition through innovation. To be a leading brand, you need to move forward, innovate and build the future.

How is the distribution network going to evolve in terms of Zenith boutiques and retailers?

These last few decades, while everybody was riding on the Chinese boom, many brands started thinking: “Ok, I’m great, I can open my own store, I can engage in e-commerce. So, goodbye dealers.” This is completely wrong. I strongly believe in retailers. Everytime I visit a retailer, I tell them: “We need you, you have a special job.” I can decide to open a boutique on Madison Avenue and put salespeople there, but that doesn’t mean I am going to achieve great numbers. Retailers have been there for decades and they know their clientele. This goes without mentioning that clients enjoy multi-brand environments with neutral advice.

We will keep strategical internal boutiques in key cities. Today we have 10, but we might open a few more to reach an optimum market coverage. We will reinforce our retail in China, where we need to build up brand awareness and develop a strong channel sales approach.

Cover image credit: Luxury Society