In Tissot, François Thiébaud certainly found a brand that could benefit from his long experience in the world of watchmaking. Having worked in this milieu for some 30 years, Thiébaud has seen and been a part of many transformations in the Swiss watch sector. He experienced the period of the 'Roskopf' movement, traversed the quartz crisis, reinvigorated Breitling with its owner, and flirted with luxury at Juvenia. Tapped by Nicolas Hayek in 1996 to head up Tissot, with the goal of solidifying the mid-range presence of the Swatch Group, Thiébaud's achievements with the brand have been nothing short of spectacular.
Upon his arrival, although the accomplishments of Tissot were many and its international reputation very much intact, the brand was running the risk of a certain 'folklorization'. Some of its models, although quite original and surprising, namely the Rockwatch or its wooden pieces, were too 'anecdotal' to fully convey the real value of Tissot over the long term.
Two courses of action
In the beginning, François Thiébaud concentrated on two vital aspects of the brand: its international distribution and its collections. For a long time now, Tissot has had a good foothold in the international watch marketplace, with one of the world's highest number of sales points (some 12,000 including 500 in Switzerland). “Quantitatively, Tissot enjoyed wide distribution,” explains Thiébaud, “but the actual dissemination was not very well structured. There were a number of regional collections, varying according to a particular country or culture, but there were no veritable international collections.”
François Thiébaud thus decided to bring Tissot firmly back into its own rapidly expanding universe. “Tissot is a unique brand that should not vary in its identity,” he explains. With this contemporary guideline in mind, he proceeded to redevelop the whole collection, considered not only too disparate but, as he says, “It was very classic, even too classic. It was also top heavy with men's models. We needed to reconstruct a real identity for the brand in the full sense of the term, taking into consideration its heritage yet revisiting it.” The new Tissot would be “classic but trendy”. A larger place would be devoted to ladies' models with the creation, by a woman designer, of a truly feminine timepiece, one that would not be merely a reduction of a masculine watch."
T for Tissot
As a starting point, Thiébaud decided to play on the 'T' of Tissot. It would become, under different forms, a key element in the design strategy of the brand. “It was necessary to infuse the spirit and notion of a brand into an essentially industrial culture,” explains the director. In passing, Thiébaud also wants to “thank the people in the fashion sector who have made us evolve significantly. In the preceding industrial culture, it was the technical, and the technical alone, that dictated the conditions for design. The movements determined the diameter and the dial. The retailers themselves greatly participated in this same, basically technical, watch culture. The fashion world sent a needed wake-up call to everyone, giving the industry a strong impetus to change. It showed us the importance of being in tune with current trends, with what consumers want. For us, combining our strong industrial culture and qualitative savoir-faire with a healthy dose of fashion awareness is precisely the best formula for our success over the long term.”
His strategy has obviously worked. When Nicolas Hayek defined the price pyramid of the Swatch Group, he designated Tissot as the leader of the 'B' brands, positioned between CHF 200 and 1,200. Thiébaud decided to not change the basic pricing structure of the brand, but to make real advances in the areas of quality and design. (He admits, in passing, that “if he had been independent, he would undoubtedly have yielded to the temptation to move up in range.” But he could not do this without fear of treading on the terrain occupied by other brands in the Swatch Group, such as Longines.)
In seven years, Thiébaud has been able to increase production by a factor of 2.5 to 3, today reaching a level of nearly two million watches per year. This places Tissot in the pole position of the group as far as quantity goes (with the exception of Swatch). “These numbers pose enormous industrial challenges, whether upstream in production and management of component parts, or downstream in distribution, after-sales service and follow-up. You can imagine the logistical challenges we face also in the product environment, the cases, the packaging, the sales material,” he explains as we quickly move along the immense corridors, passing the stock rooms and workshops of the large factory that Tissot owns in Le Locle, not far from Neuchâtel.
Having visited most of the watch factories in Switzerland, I must admit my surprise when seeing the enormous size of Tissot's industrial facility. You really have to see the warehouse full of component parts to understand what it means in terms of logistics to produce two million watches per year and then distribute them to 150 countries. Every day, more than 40,000 entries are registered for incoming and outgoing watches, movements and component parts! Every day, some 16,000 watches, come from or go to 13 assembly centres involving many manual operations.
Tissot's new culture has also involved rethinking and resizing the services of marketing, communication and sponsoring of the brand. “Our activity in these domains, whether on the level of presentation, packaging, accompanying material for the product or advertising, has increased dramatically. To pass from a well-known industrial culture to a globalized and ultra-competitive environment of the international brands, which are all trying to impose their own universe on the marketplace, requires huge efforts, both in ideas as well as in financial resources and manpower. Imagine for a minute that only in sponsoring, for example, Tissot participates in 56 championships or world cups…”
The number of models has been drastically reduced. It was impossible to know the exact number before 1996 because the numerous regional and national collections multiplied the variations within collections that were based on identical watches. Now there are about 600 individual models.
These different models are divided into three principal families: 'Trendy' (T Round for ladies, T Collection for men, T Square and T Round collection for men), 'Sport' including the lines PR50, PR100, PRS 200 and Titanium, and the 'T-Technic' collections with the famous 'T- Touch' and the innovative 'Silent T' for blind people.
To these main lines, can be added the 'Heritage' collection made up of superb re-editions and new lines carrying the name of the hometown of the brand 'Le Locle', composed entirely of automatic models.
At the beginning of this year 2003, this well structured offer certainly places Tissot amongst the brands capable of developing within the delicate political and economic context we live in.