Les Ambassadeurs, founded 1964, is one of Switzerland’s finest retailers. They bill themselves as “The Leading House of Leading Brands” and have four stores – Geneva, Zurich, Lucerne and St. Moritz. I attended the grand re-opening of their St. Moritz boutique to see first-hand how they do things, and had a chance to sit down with Les Ambassadeurs’ president Joachim Ziegler.
- Joachim Ziegler
Europa Star: How’s business? Joachim Ziegler: Business is very good. We just had the best ever month in our history. We have a great crew, an amazing can-do spirit within the group. We just rebuilt the Lugano store and are starting to profit from that, and one year ago we rebuilt Geneva. We have invested quite heavily in the local customer, a field the others have abandoned, with more advertising, more events, getting closer to the customers, trying to really build a relationship with local customers. We are profiting from the Chinese travellers, certainly, but we don’t focus on the groups. I don’t think you can service groups and individual customers at the same time. We have decided to be the number one destination for the watch collector/lover. We focus on individual customers no matter where they are. What matters is the customer and their love affair with watches.
As an example, we have made trips to China to reach out to the elite customers in China. The programme in our company is to treat the customers 365 days a year no matter where they are. We carry so many limited edition pieces, rare pieces and niche brands, so some customers come to us because we have a selection that no one else has.
ES: How has business changed in recent years? JZ: Business is much more volatile and it is much more international than it used to be. Due to the mono-brand boutiques, there is a totally different type of competition.
I don’t think mono-brand boutiques are bad for retailing. It’s a question of how it’s done and how much it is done. I think it raises awareness for the brand, and for customers exploring the universe of the brand. As far as customer experience, I think multi-brand stores have all the advantages. There is still no better way to shop for a watch than to go to a store that carries 20 or 30 brands and you can compare them side by side. You have a neutral salesperson who knows all the watch brands and the watch universe in general. I truly believe that mature shoppers, true watch lovers, appreciate the advantage of a multi-brand store.
ES: What is the secret of your success? JZ: A multi-brand retailer is kind of like a living thing, where the total is more important than any single piece, but the total can’t exist without the single pieces. It’s the team, it’s the mixture of brands, it’s the amount of brands, and it’s the philosophy of our company. We are not just selling watches, we are living and breathing watches. We are not just exposing brands but it is the way they are exposed, with our door concept.
In the end, it’s all about sales, but when we do an event, we focus on everything but the sale, and the sale comes organically. We try to do something beautifully. Look at the St. Moritz store, we could have done it so much cheaper and quicker, but we went all the way. I can’t sell watches in an environment that is not up to the level of products we are selling. We have to make sure that what we are doing is up to what we are selling.
I believe that whatever I do, I do it with a passion. If you do things you love, and don’t focus on the success, success comes automatically.
ES: What do you like about your job? JZ: It’s not just one particular thing, it’s not just watches or jewellery or customers, or the things I get to do and the people I get to meet, it’s the package of it all.
ES: What don’t you like? JZ: I don’t like the fact that it’s about figures and not about product. Dealing with the big watch groups, the only thing that counts is figures. I’d rather see the products being the star again.
ES: What do you like about watches? JZ: First of all, watches are living things, they have heartbeats, and they interact with you. I like the fact that so many people invest their lives into such a small and essentially useless thing.
I don’t have a favourite watch now. Brands come up with fascinating new things all the time. I am like a boy in a toy store. They don’t belong to me, but I swap watches more often than underwear. However, I am wearing my Breguet Heritage pretty much every day.
ES: What is the biggest challenge facing your stores right now? JZ: We have some sales people who have been with us for 30 or 40 years, and they have an amazing passion and know-how and an amazing relationship with their customers, and I don’t see how we are going to keep today’s younger salespeople long enough to build the same kind of expertise. I have to be careful to have a team with the right mix. I need people who have been with us for a long time, yet at the same time we need fresh blood. We need men, women, young and old.
ES: Who is your customer? JZ: Having our range so broad, there is no one single Les Ambassadeurs customer. The prototype, however, is someone who doesn’t buy watches just for the logo and the brand, but for the product behind it. He has a more profound understanding of the watch world than the average customer would have.
ES: How important is customer service? JZ: In Geneva and Zurich, we have watchmakers in the store doing repairs. We want customers to meet the doctor not the nurse, so we make it possible for customers to go directly to our watchmaker. Sales is all about service. It’s not about the sale, it’s about everything else.
We don’t communicate about after sales service during the sale. When my customer is in the store, they see the watchmakers working, so they know we will take care of it. It’s an unspoken message that we send. We don’t want to talk about problems during the sale.
ES: Are you optimistic about the future? JZ: I am a very optimistic guy in general. I don’t have a crystal ball. The last few months have been very positive, despite the economic backdrop, so why not stay optimistic. Being pessimistic doesn’t help. I can’t change the world, but I can impact what is within my universe.
Many thanks to Joachim Ziegler for taking the time to talk with Europa Star.
Les Ambassadeurs locations: St. Moritz, Geneva, Lucerne, Zurich
How long: 2014 will be the 50th anniversary, 1964
Size of store: Geneva 650m2, St. Moritz 100m2, Lucerne 200m2, Zurich 200m2
Average sale: between CHF 10,000 and 20,000
Range of price: CHF 1,000 to over 1 million
Best-selling watch: Breguet, Cartier, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Ulysse Nardin
Brands: A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, Bell & Ross, Blancpain, Bovet, Breguet, Breitling, Cartier, Chanel, Franck Muller, Girard-Perregaux, Greubel Forsey, Harry Winston, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Jaermann & Stubi, Jaquet Droz, Longines, Panerai, Roger Dubuis, Tiffany, Ulysse Nardin and Vacheron Constantin (brands vary from shop to shop)
Source: Europa Star April - May 2013 magazine issue