Though having only taken over the reins at Corum watches slightly over half a year ago, CEO Jérôme Biard already has big plans ahead for the Swiss watchmaker.

 

Now having gathered a better understanding of the brand, what is your strategy for Corum moving forward?

My philosophy is to bring back the spirit of Corum from the time of its founder René Bannwart. At the time, Corum was a very strong brand because of its credibility, originality and uniqueness in terms of product offerings. It was different from what all the other brands were offering at that time. I want to bring this notion back again, and this means coming back to the Golden Bridge, which is the key, iconic collection of the company and the biggest part of its turnover. This will be followed by the Admiral collection – because it is another face of the brand – and then the Bubble. At the same time, we are giving the company a facelift in terms of overall branding: We want to be more high-end, more luxury. You can see this displayed through our new Baselworth booth design, new website, new press corner on the website and etcetera. People expect Corum to be within a much higher price range.

 

Are you referring to the Golden Bridge kind of price range?

Yes, because even with the Bubble collection, I noticed that many of our Bubble customers purchase three, four or five Bubbles at once. Which means that at the end of the day, what they are paying is essentially the price of one Golden Bridge. So these are very high-end customers. They like the credibility of the brand, and they like the fact that the brand is different. Our clients are important. Which is why we changed our concept. So now the focus will be on Golden Bridge first, then Admiral, followed by Heritage (which includes the Coin model) and then the Bubble. I don’t want to take a break from the Bubble – I’m just looking to have more clarity in our collections.

 

One of Corum’s big challenges is to return to profitability. What steps are taken to address this?

We try to be logical and more exclusive. Less is more and that is exactly what we want to implement. We want to have strong partners in every aspect – suppliers, retailers and so on – because I think we have to focus more on the final consumer and to listen to what is expected. Sometimes in the watch business, we focus too much on what to communicate to our distributors and retailers, and we forget the final consumer in the middle. Then suddenly you notice that consumers don’t have any fine watches on their wrists… They are wearing smart watches or Daniel Wellington watches! So you have to be connected with your clients – the ones who purchase. Which, for Corum, is interesting because these people are not followers. You don’t purchase Corum to be like the others. It’s too special.

In terms of collection, I am trying to reduce the scale. Which means simplifying things by creating fewer references. I don’t want to have a thousand dials for one watch. I don’t want more novelties but instead, longer product life cycles. We also are working to grow our Corum e-boutique, which we launched during Baselworld.

 

Tell us more about the e-boutique and Corum’s ecommerce strategy moving forward.

The plan is to go slow with the e-boutique, and start with just a few references and new accessories that we will sell exclusively on the platform. But above all, the e-boutique is really for us to have that first contact with the final customer. I don’t expect a big turnover at the start. In fact, it’s less about turnover than about trying to learn how it works. Concurrently, I would like us to start identifying and deciding on the one good ecommerce platform in each market. I think that’s today’s world. It’s reality. But we have to get the right platform because I don’t want people to be playing with the price. You know how it is with the industry – the biggest margin goes to the retailer. So if someone comes into the picture and starts slashing prices it will kill the offline market and I don’t want that. I want to be fair. I want to be fair to the people who are investing in our stock; investing in renting expensive locales in expensive streets; investing a lot in training their staff. We have to be fair otherwise it’s not going to work.

 

So what is the goal of the e-boutique: A way to reach a new consumer base or a means to drive traffic to offline stores?

Both. I think it’s very complementary… but it’s also mostly to kill the grey market platforms. That is the one thing that kills the brands. Our investors would prefer us to return to profitability but they don’t expect huge profits – Corum is not a brand that generates huge profits. But I have been tasked to bring value to the brand again. In order to bring value back to the brand – which is very connected with profitability – you have to make sure that people respect the brand, and respect the price. So our goal is that we will be able to sell in boutiques, and also the products at the right price. 

How will the e-boutique help to cut out the grey market?

If somebody purchases a Corum watch on the grey market, there will be warranty problems. We are not going to repair it free of charge because you didn’t purchase it with us. Then people will be upset with us, and upset with the platform because even if they purchased it at a good discount, they don’t get the service. And then there are those people who love to purchase online because it is very convenient. We won’t be able to match on the price, but we want to still be able to serve these people. And the more qualitative a platform we have the easier it would be to weed out platforms that exist just by cutting prices. For me, this is really important. One of the strategies we are initiating is that we will start to deliver all our watches with electronic warranties. This is the same system used by Rolex, and through this we hope to get much better control of our products. This will also help us to anticipate production; understand when and where are our products are being sold; and control the grey market.

 

In tandem, will there be a change in production numbers?

Today, I am looking more at decreasing than increasing numbers. I want longer product life cycles and that comes from rarity. I would like to produce under demand and I want to allocate products more efficiently. I want to make sure the products go to the right places. Luxury is desirability; luxury is quality; luxury is value. So if we stick to this, we are safe.

 

China continues to be a large market for luxury. Does the fact that Corum is owned by a Chinese company, Citychamp Watch & Jewellery Group Limited, help in its expansion within that market?

Today, we are weak in Mainland China. We only have eight points of sale. With the help of our group, we are starting to do better on that front. We would love to have one more boutique, in Shanghai or Beijing – and this is an exception in terms of strategy – but only if it is in the right location. We don’t think such a boutique will bring us much money but we believe it is the way to reassure people that we are a very, very good brand. It is our strategy to keep very few points of sale. Presently, we sell a lot to Mainland Chinese in Hong Kong and Macau. 

 

The Chinese also shop a lot overseas. How does Corum plan to continue the relationship with these travellers?

First of all, we would like to find a customer wherever they are. But if a Chinese customer goes to Dubai, Paris, Hong Kong or New York we have to help the retailers – our partners – to talk to these clients. So we prepare them and train them, telling them what we are doing in China so they can better understand things. We are lucky enough to have one or two people in our team who speak Chinese, so we try to take advantage of this to be closer to these retailers. Then we have to explain to them the kind of products that are very successful with Chinese customers. You have to understand that the Chinese like to purchase more high-end products. For instance, we made a special musical box case with Reuge for the Golden Bridge Rectangle Joachim Horsley. Everyone in markets like Hong Kong and Macau is excited to have this kind of watch – but not in Europe. This type of product really speaks to the Chinese. They love it.

 

Does this mean Corum plans to have more of such special editions?

You know, globalisation of the world is actually somewhat an issue. When I was a kid, my father used to travel a lot. He was in engineering. I remember once when he came back from Japan, he brought us some nice presents and we were the stars at school showing them off because you couldn’t get them anywhere else except in Tokyo. But now when I travel, what do I bring home for my kids? What I can purchase in Tokyo is the same as what I can purchase in Dubai, in Paris or in Neuchatel. The world is too globalised. So we have to think. We have to start to work again on being different, having exclusives. To create some sort of specificity such that it makes sense for a consumer to discover a watch in different cities. Perhaps work on bespoke products for different cities, so that we will have something rarer to give to our retailers. This will also help them fight against ecommerce.

 

It is clear that Corum is investing heavily in digital, especially in ecommerce. Given the peculiarities of the market, is your ecommerce strategy in China different?

We are still studying the market and will address it with the help of our parent company. Naturally, they would know best. And while we are looking at a different price range, the group’s other brand, Rossini, has a very successful ecommerce strategy. We want to take advantage of their experience and not make hasty decisions.

 

Cover image credit: Corum. Image: Jérôme Biard. 


About the author

Lydianne Yap

Editor, China , Luxury Society

Lydianne Yap is the Editor, China, of Luxury Society. Previously based in Singapore at luxury lifestyle publication Prestige, Lydianne now creates China-related content across a broad range of topics. Experienced in dealing with both brands and consumers in the luxury industry, Lydianne is also Marketing & Communications Director at DLG China.