1. There are numerous reasons why professional buyers are getting cold feet: some of these are structural within the industry, others are geopolitical. In recent years the four biggest groups, with their many brands, their financial clout and their corresponding media visibility have saturated the sales outlets and subsequently emptied the dealers’ pockets. Rumour has it, that it will take a minimum of two years to absorb the surplus stock that was forced upon the distribution networks. At the same time, the traditional markets have reduced their purchasing levels: China with its anti-corruption laws, Hong Kong - which in going into open battle with the central powers, managed to dissuade Chinese travellers from choosing it as a destination – these people now preferring Singapore, Russia with a drastic drop in the value of the ruble, South America, where the economies have collapsed, the fall in the oil price and sabre-rattling in the Middle- East. Many traditional markets that have not stopped buying but sales levels have reduced dramatically. To compensate for these reductions, demands a lot of travel, meeting professionals – sometimes new to the luxury market or the industry, supporting luxury watch distributors in creating new promotional programmes, providing leadership, coaching, training and explaining. Today a CEO has to travel constantly, imitating Jean-Claude Biver and Richard Mille, two people who had great successes in the profession and understood this from the beginning.
2. By being constantly mobile, DeWitt has retained its sales levels but also thanks to having opened many new micro-markets virtually all over the world without choosing prominent zones. In reality the world has become one market and those who travel often offer watches as gifts during their travels. During 2016, I envisage a status quo. If we consider the glass as being half-empty, we’d call this stagnation, if we see the glass half-full, we could say that the loss of easy markets and the necessity to be more creative is an opportunity. In any case whatever the problems are at this moment in time, we can observe that the economic cycles are becoming shorter and shorter and if there are areas of the world that are suffering, there are others whose economies are making a recovery, such as USA and Iran.
3. For DeWitt the sole purpose of fine watchmaking is to offer enthusiasts and collectors exceptional mechanical inventions and ongoing innovation, all housed in an impeccable and recognisable aesthetic format. No-one really needs a watch or an additional watch! As my son laughingly says; “the time is the only thing freely given to people when they ask.” Therefore this demands constant innovation and the introduction of new products on a continuous basis. There will always be passionate enthusiasts of these exceptional mechanical innovations and our challenge is to make ourselves known to them. The internet and social networks are more effective to this end than the numerous magazines. DeWitt loves innovation, no matter whether it affects us directly or not and the arrival of smart-watches is an innovation and an additional available offer to a public who like to stay connected and informed at all times. This innovation is totally different from our own research programmes but we welcome its arrival.
4. For those who wish to encounter new customers, Basel is irreplaceable. Today we neither have the desire nor the means to compete with the groups whom, with all their financial might behind them, compete between themselves to have the most beautiful, imaginative and spectacular stands. We’re happy to be in our tent at the Palace and alongside innovative manufacturers who are also content. We had asked the organisers of Baselworld for a larger stand but we have had to keep the same area as last year, even taking account of our numerous meetings – proof that the business is not so bad, since there were none available.
EUROPA STAR’S FOUR QUESTIONS
1. What are your predictions for 2016? Do you think that exports will recover, or will the markets stagnate or continue to decline after the slump we saw in 2015? And what do you think were the reasons for the downturn in 2015?
2. What are your priorities for the coming year: consolidating your existing markets, actively exploring new markets (if so, which), rationalising / consolidating / expanding your distribution network, launching new products, PR initiatives, etc.?
3. Over the longer term, do you believe that mechanical watchmaking will gradually die out, hybridise, or continue to occupy its own exclusive niche? Do you see the advent of smartwatches as a potential threat, or an opportunity for growth and diversification?
4. What exactly do you hope to achieve from your participation in Baselworld 2016? Do you feel your presence at the fair is essential to your business, or are such forums less important now than they were in the past?