Why did you decide to write a book about independent luxury brands?
There are numerous publications about the big luxury groups. There is also an abundance of literature about the history of luxury. But, strangely, there is nothing about independent luxury brands, nor about their different approaches, innovations, difficulties, successes or failures…But can we really think about luxury without talking about these independent companies that take risks and are incubators?
Independent Luxury is the first book in the world that deals exclusively with independent luxury brands.
With my co-author and very close friend, Jonas Hoffmann, we decided to study independent luxury brands from very different fields: gastronomy, automobiles, jewellery, watchmaking, fashion accessories… These brands all possess what we summarize in our book as the BA2RE approach.
Would you please explain to us the BAARE philosophy?
B for BELIEVING – this is the passion inherent in an individual that creates his or her brand.It is a vital force that you can neither buy nor create. Either it is there… or it is not.
This first stage shows the strength of an entrepreneur who has to have enough self-confidence to create what he wants rather than what his customer (or sometimes his investor!) wants. Remember the famous quote from Henry Ford: “If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse!”
A for ANTICIPATING – this is the very clear vision that an independent brand needs to have of how the market, the environment and the competition will evolve. It’s a question of keeping in tune with the times and future developments.
A for ACTING – then it is a question of getting down to action and launching your products on the different target markets, at the same time developing the resources, competence and processes that this requires.
R for REACHING – this is not about reaching the end consumer but the “fan” or future fan of the product, the person who will like the brand, its products and who will be a genuine ambassador for the brand. In this case, it’s the emotional factor that is key.
E for ENDURING – this is a question of ensuring that the brand can develop and gain strength over time.
Do you think that it could apply to luxury groups as well?
The majority of brands which belong to luxury groups were initially independent brands and/or family brands which were subsequently bought out.
For brands belonging to groups though, the most difficult thing, in my view, is being able to give full effect to BELIEVING. Since the founder is rarely still involved after a luxury brand is acquired by a group, it is essential to breathe passion and belief into the brand and the product. How can this be done? Extra special care must be taken in selecting the CEO and the management team. You need people who are passionate and motivated, who are sincere in their desire to stay with the company over the medium and long terms; key people who can identify with the product, and take ownership of it as if they had developed or invented it themselves. They need to “bleed” passion, because this passion will subsequently spread throughout the company’s “arteries”, “contaminating” every team member, every employee. As a result, each one of them will become an ambassador for the brand. It is the concept of BELIEVING which gives meaning and establishes an emotional connection with future buyers of a brand.
In this respect, it is relevant to talk about millennials and generation Z, audiences which are of key concern to luxury brands. These generations are first and foremost seeking an experience, an emotion, a meaning – ahead of the product. BELIEVING therefore becomes critical to understanding this target group, too.
In your view, what are the main qualities that an entrepreneur or CEO needs to possess?
Both entrepreneurs and CEOs must be passionate, and they absolutely must have a presence in their markets!
I’ve seen a lot of luxury brands where the CEOs don’t know their markets and don’t know their business partners, because they travel so little. This is a serious mistake in my opinion.
If you agree with the idea that everything starts with BELIEVING, then it is only logical to share your passion with others. You have to “contaminate” them. A CEO, just like an entrepreneur, is the key person who can do that. Someone like Jean-Claude Biver – who needs no introduction – is a fantastic example. He spends a huge amount of his time traveling and sharing his passion and enthusiasm in a way few people know how to do.
We work in a sector where human relationships are a vital part of developing our businesses. The worst thing that a brand can do is to cut business travel during a period of crisis. This makes utterly no sense: it is precisely in such difficult times that markets have most need of reassurance and support.
I personally devote an average of nearly 60% of my time to professional travel so that I can meet my business partners (retailers, department stores, duty free stores, etc.), journalists, bloggers and private clients. These relationships sometimes become something so special that the contacts you make will stay with you throughout your career and, in some cases, your life.
Finally, knowing the Japanese and Russian markets as well as you know the Indian market, for example, gives an enormous advantage in terms of both product development and anticipating trends. But also and above all – and this is a point which is frequently forgotten – if you know the sales teams in your markets (including those of your local partners) and if you treat them with respect and consideration, this can be an incredible driver of success.
This takes time, but nothing sustainable has ever been built in the blink of an eye.
The last point I want to make is this: if there is an investor behind the CEO or entrepreneur, it is essential that he or she has a long-term vision for building the business, and gives the person establishing and developing the brand time to do so. Here too, there is no room for haste in the world of luxury brands.
We heard that you are also a lecturer. Is that correct?
Absolutely. In particular, I teach on master’s degrees focused on luxury brands and other specialist training courses (new trends, intercultural differences, etc.) in Switzerland, France, the UK and China. In recent months, I have had the opportunity to give lectures at EDHEC Business Schools, SKEMA Business School and CREA in Geneva. In 2016, Jonas Hoffmann and I spoke at the LONDON COLLEGE OF FASHION. And I’m currently pursuing discussions about a new project for the end of this year.
Through teaching in several languages in a variety of countries, I’m able to stay constantly active in the various sectors of the luxury industry: watches, of course, but also accessories, jewellery, wines and spirits, and even cosmetics. It allows me to conduct ongoing research into both current and future trends.
Which functions do you have now?
Having been the co-founder and CEO of Cyrus, I was able to join Carl F. Bucherer, and I am now the company’s Executive Vice President for Sales, CEO Japan and a Board Member.
Tell us more about your philosophy of life? Is it based on the BAARE philosophy as well?
Naturally! Those who know me know that I am a hugely passionate person.
Without passion, man does not amount to much.
Everything starts with BELIEVING. If you get up in the morning and you don’t feel this force within you, then you are not on the right path.
What we get out of life is directly proportionate to what we ourselves put in it.
You have sold and developed luxury products in more than 70 countries… Do you have any particular anecdotes you can share with us, something special for our readers?
At a watch fair (there were about 40 brands exhibiting), a small boy aged about seven or eight went around the stands asking questions. None of the brands took the time to give him any answers. This little boy came over to my stand and asked me to explain to him one of the products I was exhibiting. He asked so many questions that I ended up spending more than 40 minutes with him! Well, there is no need to tell you that the other brands thought I was being ridiculous spending so much time with a little boy. Why bother?
This same little boy came back to my stand a few hours later, accompanied by his father. His father told me that he had been surprised by the extremely detailed explanations his son had given him and asked me if he could see a specific model, the one that had most impressed his son… It cost EUR 68,000. And he bought it from me!
That is a story worth reflecting on 😉
What should we be most afraid of in business?
Allow me to answer this one with another story.
There is a temple in Kyoto, Ryōan-ji, where there is a rock garden measuring 25 meters by 10 meters.
Whichever angle you view the garden from, you can only see 14 rocks, although there are actually 15. Business is a reflection of this garden. It is important to always be vigilant and not have too much confidence. There is always a rock missing, preventing us from seeing a clearer, more accurate picture. It follows that we must work constantly, be curious and humble, and know how to listen and observe. This applies not only to your own field – it is also important to take an interest in everything going on around you. You have to keep looking for that fifteenth rock.
Where does your incredible energy come from?
I have always been like this, I think, but I became even more energetic when someone close to me got sick.
I have no time to lose, so I embrace life to the fullest, with enthusiasm and passion. And I try to keep educating myself as much as possible. Learning provides sufficient satisfaction. I also think that energy levels maintain themselves when you expand the scope of what is possible and give yourself the time to do it. I learned Russian all by myself in eight years. I began to run short distances and now I am taking part in marathons and even trail and ultra-trail events. And tomorrow… let’s see what life brings.
Where will you be in ten years’ time?
I will be answering Ccercle’s question: tell us what you’ve been doing for the last ten years 😉