The independent Belgian brand Raidillon, which is strongly anchored in the world of motor racing, is hoping to jostle some of the established drivers in this highly contested watchmaking sector. Interview with its director.
- Raidillon, Fabien de Schaetzen: accelerating through the bends
Where does the name Raidillon come from?
It comes from a steeply cambered corner on the Spa-Francorchamps motor racing circuit in Belgium. This section of the track exerts a strong centrifugal force that pins the driver to his seat. The effect is so marked that drivers can no longer see the track. Traditionally, competitors who took the Raidillon at full speed would go on to win the race. But with today’s new technologies, all the F1 drivers now keep their foot to the floor through this section! All our watches are produced in limited editions of 55, which is historically the number of cars allowed on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. A watch is like a vintage car: it piques people’s interest and encourages curiosity, dialogue and human contact. So, whether you drive an old car or wear an original watch...
How many collections do you offer?
We have four style ‘families’: Timeless, the most classical; Design, which is bold and avant-garde; Racing, which is sporty; and Casual Friday, sporty but elegant. Taking all four collections together, we have a total of between 70 and 80 models to choose from. Our watch strap is inspired by the ventilated gloves worn by racing drivers in the 1950s. We produce around 1,000 timepieces per year, Swiss made and assembled in Ticino.
What are your most popular models?
In general, it’s the ones we feature in our advertisements; advertising has a very strong knock-on effect on sales! What I have observed is that 20% of our models represent 80% of our sales. Around 10 to 15 new models sell very well within six months. A further 15 models sell out in one to two years. And then there’s what we might call the ‘soft underbelly’...!
- RACING CHRONOGRAPH BY RAIDILLON
Who are your clients?
Men, mainly, aged between 35 and 45. They often already have a good watch, although we are seeing more and more clients who buy a Raidillon as their first watch. Our watches have an average price of CHF 3,000 and offer good value for money. We are competing with brands such as Hamilton, Tudor and of course TAG Heuer, which also has a strong presence in the motor racing world. The strength of a brand such as ours is that our watches have far less ‘brand markup’ than some others. More established brands offer watches that are equivalent to ours, fitted with Valjoux movements, but CHF 2,000 dearer. Moreover, we offer a five-year guarantee, which is very good for the watch industry.
How are your watches distributed?
We have a shop in Brussels and we are about to open one in London, although the rent there is extremely high! Apart from that, we work with retailers and distributors. They will never be the top watch retailers in town: for example, none of our points of sale stock Rolex. With a Rolex, you just have to wrap it. With a Raidillon, you have to actually sell it! (Laughter) We have worked hard on developing our watchmaking technique, now we need to work on our ‘emotional’ attraction.
What’s working best at the moment is special commissions for institutions and companies. Recently, for example, we were approached by François Hollande’s bodyguards. In Belgium, King Albert wears a Raidillon, and our watches are often given as gifts by the royal family to their guests.
What are your main challenges?
Brand recognition, production capacity and above all relations with our retailers. We are launching onto one or two major new markets each year. This year, for example, it’s Canada’s turn. We are in a building phase. We have two enormous advantages: more and more brands are opening own-brand boutiques, which leaves more openings for independent retailers; and they are placing retailers under great pressure, while what I offer is a friendly, human commercial relationship. But we still haven’t reached our desired critical mass, which is 2,000 watches per year. That would greatly improve our negotiating power with suppliers and retailers. Indeed, we are witnessing an increasingly damaging trend, which is retailers not paying their bills, even in cities like Paris. They are suffering, and when it comes to settling their bills at the end of the month, who do you think they are going to pay? A big brand or us? Loyalty has to work both ways.
Source: Europa Star November 2015 Magazine Issue