For the second part of our focus on Latin America, we moved beyond the confines of the Swiss watchmaking industry to talk to Masahiko Masukawa, general manager of major Japanese manufacturer Seiko, to find out whether he faces the same challenges and opportunities as other brands.
Europa Star: What is the historical and current relationship between Seiko and Latin America?
Masahiko Masukawa: Seiko established its Brazil office in 1974 and Panama office in 1986. The factory in Manaus started assembling watches in 1981. Our Brazilian operation was taken over by the new distributor, Technos, in 2001. We have distributors in all Latin American countries, and Seiko has been widely distributed in the region. Seiko Five automatic watches have always been very popular in the region. As for the quartz range, the Age of Discovery series became popular in the 1990s, this was the collection commemorating Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the Americas. In the first decade of 2000, Seiko began its Innovation and Refinement policy and launched its Elite Collections, among which Sportura has been the most successful collection in the region. In 2011, Seiko became the official watch partner of FC Barcelona, and Sportura has been recognised as the official watch of the team. Most recently, we just launched a new campaign that promotes the Seiko Lord Collection, which offers fashion-oriented designs with authentic Seiko quality to those young consumers of Latin America.
ES: In a general view, what are the main problems and challenges faced by Seiko in Latin America?
MM: The biggest barriers that exist in Latin America are the import regulations. A typical example is the heavy import taxes imposed in Brazil, and we are obliged to assemble Seiko watches in the Manaus factory. Consequently, this results in a longer production lead time, higher production costs and limitations in the variety of products, particularly in the higher-end models.
ES: What is your opinion about the barriers that exist in countries like Brazil and Argentina? Do you think they are responsible for the growth in the market for counterfeit watches in this market?
MM: The trade restriction is a policy of each country, and a watch company cannot really change it. But if the abovementioned barrier disappeared in the case of Brazil for example, it would not only make it much easier and more efficient for us to ship the complete watches but also the Brazilian watch lovers would be able to enjoy a wider assortment of products with international quality.
As you know, we can find so many fake watches everywhere in the world, especially in the Asian region. We consider it is unfair and unlawful and a threat to innocent consumers. We hope those authorities of Latin America pay more attention to these offensive acts.
ES: What is the distribution strategy of Seiko in this region?
MM: We have one sole distributor in each country and a subsidiary office in Panama. These National Offices are conducting marketing efforts under Seiko’s brand vision “Innovation and Refinement”. Our aim is to enhance quality distribution by appointing Elite Dealers which are qualified in distributing Seiko’s Elite Collection products. In addition, we have Seiko Boutiques in different countries in the other regions, and they have been successful in promotion, especially for higher-end products. We are planning to have a Seiko Boutique in Latin America as well so that it can facilitate launching high-end products like Grand Seiko that are not yet known in this region.
ES: Do you intend to participate in regional watch exhibitions such as the SIAR in Mexico with your high-end products (Grand Seiko)?
MM: Seiko has been present in BaselWorld since 1986 and it has been the most important international exhibition for us to present our high-end products like Grand Seiko. As for regional activities, we very much rely on our National Offices. We would like to launch Grand Seiko in Latin America sometime in the near future, and some regional watch meetings can be good opportunities if our National Offices find them useful.
ES: What are your most popular models in the Latin American market and why?
MM: The Seiko Lord Collection is our highlight this year but we will introduce our new Astron GPS Solar, the world’s first GPS Solar watch, in the region by the end of the year. We would like as many Latin American people as possible to know about Seiko’s technological strength by actually seeing Seiko Astron.
Source: Europa Star December - January 2012-13 Magazine Issue
See the articles in Part 1 of our Market Focus on Latin America: