The newest M.A.D. Gallery in the world is the one in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Taipei, Taiwan. Opened by Swiss Prestige, which is the distributor for many high-end brands, including MB&F, Frédérique Constant, Fendi, Graham, Greubel Forsey, HYT, Christophe Claret and Laurent Ferrier, this is Swiss Prestige’s first foray into retail.
- Lori Shen
Lori Shen: The market has been extremely slow for the past few years. And I have been in the watch industry for 15 years and have never experienced such a downtrend. The grade A stores are under tremendous pressure from the big groups to maximize the capacity, which means bigger stores and more stock. As a result, the middle and small retailers are struggling with slow traffic. This situation does not make the distributors’ lives easy. We are actually one of the few distributors still existing in Taiwan.
What is your background?
LS: We are very new in the retail business. Our M.A.D. Gallery is only a few months old. I have always functioned as distributor. Swiss Prestige helped to establish some exclusive brands in Taiwan in the past like Ulysse Nardin and Hublot.
“Taiwan has always been one of the top markets for Swiss complicated watches.”
How has business changed in recent years?
LS: A few key retailers are dominating the market. Chinese tourists contribute a major share to the mid-range brands. The domestic buying power is decreasing, especially for the mid-range brands, but Chinese tourists have taken over this sector of business. Another big change in the market is that international retailers have tried to establish here in the region, hoping to increase their market share, but this has proven unsuccessful. They were hoping to benefit from the business from mainland China like Hong Kong did. But the result was not as expected. Over 90% of the Chinese visitors came as groups and the shopping is restricted to the retailers who work with travel agents. Furthermore, the locals still buy from local retailers.
What is unique about the Taiwan market?
LS: Taiwan is a very mature and domestic oriented market. Unlike Hong Kong and Singapore, Taiwan benefits very little from tourism business (except the mainland Chinese which we do, but the share is very small compared to other Asian countries). There are many local watch enthusiasts/collectors with deep knowledge regarding watches and mechanical movements, and complications are very much appreciated, especially at the Haute Horlogerie level. Taiwan has always been one of the top markets for Swiss complicated watches. What is the biggest challenge facing your store right now? LS: Brand awareness! Most Taiwanese consumers are quite brand-oriented. It is quite challenging to introduce them to an independent niche brand like MB&F. It will take some time to let people understand and appreciate its beauty. But we are confident we will succeed.
What is the biggest challenge facing the watch industry right now?
How do you market your store?
LS: As we are not a typical watch store, offering curated products like motorcycles, so we do events combining watches with the arts. We do co-branding with other industries to promote our store as well.
Who is your customer?
LS: It is a very good mixture of age groups, but the majority of our customers are male. Our youngest customer was only six years old and she did not want to leave the store until her Grandpa bought her the applause machine!
How important is customer service?
LS: Significant! You can basically get most products in any store and even over the Internet. I believe good customer service makes the difference whether the consumers will buy from you or not.
Do you do repairs at your store? How do you handle repairs?
LS: No, we don’t do repairs at our store but we do them in our after-sales service centre, which handles basic repairs, such as the exchange of straps, polishing etc. As we are representing very unique products, any repair is mandated by the manufacturer to be sent back to them for repair.
How do you handle training?
LS: We do many in-house trainings either with our senior executives or we will hire watch experts/editors/bloggers to give presentations to our staff on different topics and we also receive training support directly from the brands. There are many ways of doing training. We usually schedule a half-day seminar in the office so the staff will not be disturbed and can be more concentrated on the topics.
What is your relationship like with other retailers?
LS: As mentioned, we have been in the business as distributors and our relationship with other retailers is very amicable. We received many positive suggestions in the preparation of our gallery.
How important is security?
LS: Security cannot be compromised, for our staff and our consumers. We have never been robbed.
What do you like about your job?
LS: It is a mixture of love and hate! I think loving wins, otherwise I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I like mechanical products and the luxury world, and this is what I am doing now.
What don’t you like?
LS: I don’t like listening to lectures from people who have no idea about the market and think they are the experts.
What do you feel you do well?
LS: I can only say that whatever I do, I do with passion, determination and honesty. Our partners and customers will feel this and it will create a healthy atmosphere.
What does time mean to you?
LS: Time is to live in the moments.
Are you optimistic about the future?
LS: I try to be optimistic but the market is really slow now and it has been like this for the past few years. The advantage of our store is we are very unique and new, and hopefully with the uniqueness to give us the opportunity staying competitive. And yes, I am positive.
What is your favourite watch?
LS: The MB&F Legacy No. 2 in Platinum.
Name: M.A.D. GALLERY
Location: Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Taipei, Taiwan
How long: Since May 2014
Size of store: 115 square metres
Range of price: 7,600 to14,000,000 Taiwan Dollars
Best-selling watch: MB&F LM101
Source: Europa Star October - November 2014 Magazine Issue