Mountain resorts provide a very interesting customer base for watch retailers. French group Frojo recently made the move to Val d’Isère to grab a piece of the action. Interview with CEO Edouard Frojo.
In 2014, the French watch and jewellery retail group Frojo celebrated its 160th anniversary. Its first boutique opened in 1854 in Marseilles, where two shops still exist today. A little over 30 years ago, another boutique opened its doors in Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera. Val d’Isère is the newest addition to the family. For this winter issue, Europa Star wanted to focus on the daily business of a mountain resort watch boutique. CEO Edouard Frojo answered our questions.
- Edouard Frojo
What is different about selling watches in a winter resort, compared with a city?
Edouard Frojo: The customer base is very different between Val d’Isère, where we opened our first boutique only four years ago, and a big city such as Marseilles, where we put down our roots 160 years ago. Whereas in Marseilles we have a local reputation, most of our customers in Val d’Isère are international tourists.
On the other hand, we see a very strong complementarity between our sales outlets in Val d’Isère – which is open only in winter – and Saint-Tropez – which is open only in summer. The customer base is the same. Before, we had trouble managing our stocks out-of-season. Now, it is possible for us to sell luxury watches all year long, on the beach in summer and on the ski slopes in winter.
We also see a difference in customer behaviour between a resort and a city. Most of them are in Val d’Isère for their holidays and they feel relaxed, carefree, unstressed and above all, they have more time to spend in our shop than in a city like Marseilles.
Why Val d’Isère? It’s not a resort that’s immediately associated with high-end tourism.
EF: True. We were pioneers when we opened our shop. In France, you can count the luxury winter resorts on your fingers: Courchevel, Méribel or Megève. The competition in Courchevel was already harsh, the watch retail market was blocked there. So we chose Val d’Isère.
It was a risky bet. But we are happy today, because the resort has developed a lot in recent years. You see more and more 5-star ‘chalets’ being built. The resort is changing.
Where do your customers come from?
EF: Unlike Courchevel, which is very dependent on Russian tourists, we can rely on a very broad variety of national-ities, from Brazilians to Belgians. We also received a warm welcome from the inhabitants of Val d’Isère, who were pleased to find luxury jewellery and watches ‘at home’.
Also, Val d’Isère is very famous all over the world, thanks to its FIS World Cup. This variety is a very strong asset, because we are less affected than other resorts by the geopolitical turmoil in Eastern Europe, the crisis in Ukraine and the wave of Western sanctions against Russia.
How was business during the 2013/2014 winter season?
EF: We had stable results, despite a generally challenging market. There were fewer people in the Alpine ski resorts, due among other things to the Olympic Games in Sochi and the first troubles in Ukraine, which discouraged some Eastern European tourists from coming here.
But as I told you, we are fortunately not really dependent on this customer base. I do not rely on Russians alone, and other customers can replace them if necessary. So it did not impact our turnover.
Which watch items are your bestsellers?
EF: We sell watches from brands such as Rolex, Chanel, Cartier, Hublot, Parmigiani, Zenith, TAG Heuer and also the smaller brand SevenFriday, which is quite popular at the moment. It should be mentioned that there is a special relationship between Rolex and Val d’Isère. French ski champion Jean-Claude Killy partnered with the brand.
Its executives trusted us and allowed us to open this boutique. Hence, our story here started with Rolex and our relationship remains very strong. For this new season, we also welcome a new brand in our shop: Panerai.
I am very proud of it, because this chic and elegant brand will surely attract a strong following in a sports resort like Val d’Isère.
What are your expectations for the 2014/2015 winter season?
EF: Since we opened our shop in 2010, we have seen steady growth in terms of visitors and turnover, so we are quite optimistic. As we are a very young boutique, every new season completed is a victory! I remember when we started our business in Saint-Tropez 30 years ago, turnover was very low in the beginning.
It is really hard work and it takes time. Our customers are mainly “rich” to “very rich”, not in the highest “ultra luxury” segment: many of them are CEOs, they are not impulse buyers. So we have to work hard to create customer loyalty, in the French Alps in winter and on the Riviera in summer.
Apart from that, the most critical element for a successful season remains… the amount of snow. Many mid-altitude resorts have been in trouble because of the lack of snow and cancellations by tourists. And global warming risks making things even worse. So we think high-altitude resorts such as Val d’Isère are the most likely to remain attractive. But we too pray every year for snow!
How do you organise your boutique?
EF: All of our sales points share a similar “Frojo” look. In Val d’Isère, we are lucky to be located right in the middle of the resort, we are even more visible than the tourist office. We created a very bright space, in order to contrast with the night, which falls very early in the mountains. After all, we are all a bit like moths: attracted to the light!
Do you offer after-sales service?
EF: We provide after-sales service for every brand we sell. Here in Val d’Isère, we offer a basic level of services such as strap sizing, simple adjustments and other minor assistance. Our watchmaking and chronometry workshop in Marseilles is certified by Rolex and we can take care of our clients’ watches directly on site.
Location: Val d’Isère (France)
Established: Since December 2010
Size of store: 50 square metres
Price range: From 995 €
Best-selling watch: Rolex
Source: Europa Star December - January 2015 Magazine Issue