As the brand gets ready to inaugurate its new, centralized manufacture at the end of August, I took the opportunity to talk with Chris Grainger, the CEO of IWC.
The last time I met with Grainger, I was struggling to keep up with him on a run along the beach in Miami during Watches & Wonders. This time, I talked with him by phone from his Schaffhausen, Switzerland offices, so I wasn’t at all out of breath.
What is the current state of IWC?
Very good. We are very happy with the way the 150th anniversary year is going. The Jubilee collection is being received well. We’ve had a very nice series of events, with a global road show, and we’ve done some great pop up stores, one in Hong Kong and one in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. These have been very successful as well. To see that we can sell all sorts of price points at an airport, it makes me rethink travel retail. It’s image building as well as retail.
We have a boutique here in Zurich with Bucherer, and twice a year we do something in Zurich airport, and when you see the difference between regular retail and this, an open format, something happening, no threshold as you don’t have to go through a door, people are more comfortable discovering the brand. We get a lot of people who are fairly unfamiliar with IWC and even mechanical watches. It’s a completely different clientele.
When you create enough visual impact and interest, the proportion of people who come in and don’t know anything about IWC is much higher. They come in because they love the openness of the store. It’s a much different experience for the salesperson, because there is a lot more education involved.
You haven’t inaugurated the new facility, but it’s up and running, right?
The new factory is up and running now, producing watches. What we have seen since the production start in March is a huge difference, when you get manufacturing together the way it is supposed to work, with teams working together, and you collect them all in an open environment, you get much better problem solving, communication and more. When you have things disassociated, a lot of things are lost. We looked at expansion opportunities here in Schaffhausen, we talked about all the back and forth that was going on before, we realized that it wouldn’t work. Now that we have everything together in an open environment, we have shop floor meetings right next to the work stations, they come together every morning to review any challenges they have, and it is solved right there and then.
What are the biggest challenges facing IWC?
We have some key markets where we have quite a lot less awareness. We are well established in parts of Europe, China, Asia and others. We are not so well known in the USA, and this is going to be our focus for the next few years. There is huge work to be done in awareness building in the US.
A big part of awareness in China was from a boutique only approach, aggressively expanding regionally. That worked very well. In the US, we can’t afford the same approach, we’d need 150 boutiques to cover the main centers. We’ve never really activated the other centers other than NYC, LA, Dallas and a few other cities. We have to focus on the other centers not being served right now.
We announced the campaign with Bradley Cooper and pilot’s watches, which is being very well received. We are working on local partnerships, working from the bottom up, getting IWC watches on the right wrists. The US is the biggest luxury market in the world and we have the right brand and product.
On the movement development side, we have launched some movements and we are going to ramp up production to make sure we can offer the greatest possible value for money. This is a big challenge from an engineering standpoint.
What are the strengths of IWC?
We have a very clear positioning. The instrument watch, engineered for men, with a very clear dial and a timeless design. We have three established, iconic designs, we are not a one trick pony, and we have a broad price range. We are truly global, as we have never relied on a single market.
What are the weaknesses?
Awareness in some countries. We have great potential to grow and develop, however.
What is IWC’s approach to retail and how are you going to handle e-commerce?
Fundamentally, we are focusing on a client-centric proposition. I want to allow our clients to interact with us however they want, which means offering all the digital options. We aren’t pushing one channel over another. We started ecommerce in the US, which is going very well, but we are not saying what will be the one we concentrate on – however our customers want to interact with us, that is completely up to our customers. We have to offer all the options to satisfy the needs of our customers.
Are you having fun?
I am having a lot of fun. That’s my wife doesn’t call it a job, she calls it a “jolly.” To work with a brand like IWC, with our team, it’s just a lot of fun. Since I walked through this door in 2005, I’ve never wanted to work anywhere else.