Swiss watch brand Girard-Perregaux is set to increase its presence in the UK with a new distribution partnership formed between Swatch Group’s former UK managing director Giles Rees and The Steerwell Group.
Rees and Steerwell have created a new company called Perrelux Ltd. that will distribute Girard-Perregaux to retailers across the UK and Ireland, with Rees leading Girard-Perregaux’s development as well as its sales and marketing activities.
Rees’ activities will be supported by Steerwell under the leadership of its chief executive Keith Sheppard. The watch distributor – which oversees brands including Raymond Weil, TW Steel and Hugo Boss in the UK – will provide the servicing, invoicing and after-sales service platform for Girard-Perregaux’s retailer customers.
The new partnership was sparked after Girard-Perregaux vice-president of sales Sylvain van Muylders , who had previously worked with Raymond Weil and knew Sheppard, approached Steerwell with the proposition of working together on tackling the UK.
Rees, who had been working as a consultant at the time of the initial discussions with Girard-Perregaux, was later brought on board to the project by Sheppard.
Rees said: “We went to Switzerland and met with the brand. The chief executive of Sowind Group [of which Girard-Perregaux is a subsidiary], Michele Sofisti, recognised me from time that we had spent working together at Omega in 1996, which was rather fortuitous.”
Following the meeting the Swiss brand agreed to a distribution partnership with Rees and Steerwell. Perrelux was subsequently formed as a joint venture between Steerwell and Rees’ company Luxury DeGrees with both companies shareholders in the project.
Before the Perrelux takeover Girard-Perregaux had been distributed in the UK by a subsidiary of the Gucci Group, under PPR, which owns a majority stake in Sowind Group. The decision to set up a dedicated UK distribution company was made to better focus the brand’s relationship with the UK market.
At present Girard-Perregaux timepieces are sold through retailers including Harrods and Selfridges in London, and these are two locations Rees plans to continue to focus on but he also intends to take the brand outside of the capital and is looking to both independent and multiple retail channels to do so.
“There has been an encouraging reaction from retailers around the UK and we’ve had a couple of good leads,” says Rees. “We will certainly look at the independents as we feel the brand fits with such retailers but won’t exclude the UK multiples.”
Girard-Perregaux timepieces are priced upwards of £6,500. The average selling price for the brand in Switzerland is about CHF19,000 (£12,940).
In the UK, Perrelux will begin pushing the brand with watches at the lower end of the brand’s repertoire, and will offer a core range of about 25 timepieces.
It will begin distribution this month, and has a UK event planned for May 31 at London’s Royal Albert Hall, part of an evening to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. “Girard-Perregaux has encouraging development plans for the UK,” explains Rees. Other plans include an interactive marketing campaign, and Rees says that the brand’s HQ has clearly identified the UK as a “priority market” for the coming year along with Germany and China.
Rees has a long and varied background in the luxury goods and watch industry. He worked with Swatch Group between 1995 and 2006 as brand director of Omega and Rado, and later as managing director of Swatch Group UK. In 2006 he joined luxury mobile phone brand Vertu as global sales director, where he oversaw the brand’s global development, particularly in Asia.
More recently Rees has lived and worked in Paris as a brand consultant through his business Luxury DeGrees offering services to companies looking to secure distribution in the luxury goods retail sector.
This article was taken from the May 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine, out this week.