Interview: Getting Down To Business With Maurice Lacroix’s Stéphane Waser
Watchonista catches up with Stéphane Waser to find out how Maurice Lacroix has been managing confinement, how the company has presented over 70% of its 2020 releases already, and why his garden has become a jungle.
Stéphane Waser, Maurice Lacroix’s Managing Director, joined Watchonista via Zoom for a catch-up on what has been happening at the brand since Switzerland went into lockdown six weeks ago.
How are you finding working from home?
It's interesting. On the one side, you miss the office, and on the other side, it is a very special situation because you spend your whole time on Teams, Skype, and WhatsApp. So, it's interesting to see that business works, but it is very different. I even have more work now because we're preparing a lot for the future; it's a lot of coordination and managing the situation since we have been in confinement for over a month now. We have changed our marketing and business plans two to three times already. We need to be very reactive and agile. When it started, with the postponement of Baselworld, we said okay to the Geneva Watch Days, and then the Geneva Watch Days were pushed to August, and even this week, we received the announcement that many of the big brands were leaving Baselworld. We don't know what's going to happen now, so the marketing plan is constantly evolving.
Are you finding any spare time to do things you wouldn’t normally have time to do?
I was hoping to have a bit of spare time, you know, on my breaks, but this hasn't happened. As for my wife, she's very busy with our two children, so she doesn't have time to tidy up like me! The garden is really overgrown because the weather has been warm and nice. But I do have a nice terrace, so in the afternoons, I sometimes do my conference calls and my work from outside.
The Swiss government recently started lifting the country’s lockdown restrictions. How does this affect Maurice Lacroix?
The factories have been allowed to continue. We didn’t have an imposed closure. It's not like retail or other businesses. But the business slowed down on the retail side. When the crisis first started, the business actually slowed down first on the supplier side, so that was a challenge because we weren’t getting enough components for it to make sense to have a team on-site to produce.
What has your main objective been during the lockdown?
Our objective for this whole crisis has been twofold. Firstly, the health and safety of our employees. And secondly, we are a luxury brand, so we need to continue to offer a service. So we planned and organized ourselves, so that whatever requests we receive from retailers or customers, meaning also customer service requests, we satisfy the demand. The factory remains open the whole time. It's just that we have put people on short term work, especially on the production side. We are open for customer service and also for clients as not all the markets are closed.
How have your partners been coping?
Retail stores and jewelers have been closed, but a lot of them took the time to work in the back office. They have been repairing customers’ watches, so they needed spare parts, which we delivered, or they have sent in their watches. Some small retailers have sent us up to six or seven watches. It's really interesting to see how retailers and distributors have reacted differently. Some of them have asked us to send the novelties through so they are ready when things open again, and others have been saying, “No, listen, it's not going to happen, we are down, we have cash flow problems.” It's not one size fits all. I think the strategy we have, to be very flexible and to be ready and to serve but adapt the organization, has been very beneficial.
Are you presenting your novelties digitally or are you going to wait for things to get back to normal?
You know, the challenge we have is that we already presented our novelties in Paris. We also went to Inhorgenta in Germany and Southeast Asia – Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand – before the lockdown as they were not closed.
So the thing is, our customers have seen about two-thirds of the program, which means they were also in the position to order novelties, so we were ready. And now it is just a logistics challenge because some markets are closed and cannot import goods. As soon as those logistic challenges are gone, then we can resume business.
Will you show everything you planned for 2020?
The last step was Baselworld to show the last bits and pieces of the program, and then we were planning to go to COUTUREtime and hold more local events in Scandinavia and Japan. That was the roadshow plan for this year.
We presented 70% of our novelties in the first quarter, and we were due to present everything else by September. Now we have been in lockdown since March, and things will probably not pick up again until September, so we are missing six months, and it's impossible to shrink nine months of programming into one quarter. So, what we have done is shift the important bits, but we have also taken out some of the novelties for this year because it makes no sense to push our customers.
What’s your immediate plan?
The plan now is to deliver what we have already presented and promote it. This summer will be about the Venturer because we have the bi-color one and the bronze version, and I will also take the opportunity to re-communicate a bit on the Venturer we unveiled last year. So, you know, it's some nice summer communication. We are also continuing with the ladies’ pieces, so we are actually picking up where we left off. And then for the Geneva Watch Days or last quarter of the year will be talking about the Pontos and we have two Masterpieces planned for the end of the year.
Can you tell us about the developments in your AIKON collection?
During Inhorgenta, we presented a number of AIKONS, including the 39mm with beautiful anthracite and PVD indexes. There are also some very beautiful combinations of leather and steel. And then on the quartz with the AIKON Quartz, there's a beautiful anthracite and blue piece, which is a beautiful combination. We also have some greens that are very sporty with the black PVD on the bezel, so there were chronographs and a three hands version.
What are your plans for the ladies this year?
For ladies, we first have the AIKON. We continued with the automatics, and we presented six leather straps. And there is a blue variation with diamonds and PVD. It's actually a two-tone, bi-color, in blue with diamonds which completes this collection of 35mm automatics. And then on ladies specifically, because that's what we wanted to push this year besides the AIKON, is the Masterpiece Embrace, which is an illustration of the Masterpiece concept in a feminine interpretation at the top end. And on the Fiaba, we'll be introducing a moon phase.
We have seen a number of new faces as “Friends of the Brand,” can you tell us about these ambassadors?
Two of our most recent ambassadors are Maurice Goedecke and Jan Armbruster, who founded the Stoff & Schnaps concept store. This retail concept combines cutting-edge fashion brands with the production of their own gin.
In terms of the brand values and brand attitudes, we like mobile modern brands, and it's exactly this kind of association of people we want to work with. We also thought it was interesting to expand the footprint of the brand experience because when you purchase a watch, you have the visual and the physical. But with the gin, you can also experience the smell and the taste of the brand, so it's a five senses experience.
In addition, it is important for us to develop synergies with friends of the brand. This is why we have created the AIKONIC GIN with [Stoff & Schnaps]. A blend of Swiss gentian, local mountain herbs, damson plum from the Jura region, as well as lemon, cardamom, and coriander are all combined with a hint of gold, creating a mouthwatering elixir.
This unique gin can be purchased on the website of our friends of the brand!
What are you most looking forward to when lockdown is completely lifted, either personally or professionally?
Seeing my team again. Thanks to technology, things didn't change much. For Maurice Lacroix employees who are not in production, we do, on average, two days per week of home office already, so this kind of multimedia support is nothing new for us. But I do miss the smell of the office and seeing people face to face.
Which watch are you wearing today, and why do you like it?
The AIKON Chronograph. First of all, it's the association of colors. It's a beautiful silver and black, which is sporty. The look is really masculine, and I think it's also beautifully finished. I like the leather strap with its perforations and M. Logo. I like that it also has a chronograph, the day, and the date. It also exists in blue, but I prefer the black version.
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)