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Bulgari’s new head of watches makes forceful case for working with multibrand retail partners

Antoine Pin_Bulgari

Antoine Pin has been working in the upper echelons of the global watch industry for 25 years, much of it with LVMH brands, beginning with TAG Heuer as a junior sales manager in 1994 before moving to Boucheron in 1998 as the jeweler’s marketing director and then five years as Zenith’s marketing director from 2002 to 2007.

His career has taken him around the world including three years as managing director of LVMH Watch & Jewelry in the UK, general manager of TAG Heuer in Japan and managing director of Bulgari for Greater China and Australia.

He was revealed as the new managing director for Bulgari Watches earlier this month, and sat down with WatchPro for his first interview after taking the job.

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Far from taking his time to get his feet under the desk, Mr Pin came out firing and fizzing with ideas on what is needed to keep the world buying luxury watches.

Bulgari’s chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin said in an interview in March with Swiss business title NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung) that he plans to reduce his points-of-sale from 600 to 300 over the coming few years, with a higher proportion of monobrand Bulgari boutiques. The remaining 300 stores now represent 85% of sales, he added.

That strategy appears to apply only to the opulent jewelry, and not to watches, because the newly appointed Mr Pin sees wholesaling to multibrand retailers as vital.

“Bulgari does have a reasonably large wholesale business world-wide for watches. We have slightly more wholesale accounts than owned stores. This is excellent. We have to face our competitors, we have to face the feedback of retailers when they tell us that, for example, a particular watch is too expensive or not expensive enough. That is very important feedback.

“The very important thing is to really value our retail partners and not to be tempted to give priority to our own direct retail network. The temptation is there because the financial structure is different and we may believe we have stronger influence over our own sales staff in stores. That may be true, but that would be like backing away from the challenge,” he says in an interview to be published by WatchPro in October.

“There have been changes over a long period when it comes to our approach to working through wholesale, building our own retail stores, our own website. Some of the groups are moving quite far in that direction. What we see today is that the customer experience remains physical. If we agree that working with retail to deliver a physical experience is key, the next question is does it work only with our own distribution [Bulgari-owned shops]? Having worked in my career with own retail-oriented brands and with brands more focused on wholesale, I fundamentally believe that the exposure of product against its competitors is key. Customers need to be able to compare, and that is what [multi-brand] retailers deliver,” he insists.

In a staunch defense for working with multi-brand retail partners in physical stores, Mr Pin says it is vital for Bulgari watches to succeed in that environment.

“When you compare, you put performance in context. A customer might look at two watches and one may be heavier than the other, it might be less comfortable to wear. You might be able to read that on the web, but you will not be able to feel it unless you compare watches in stores. Customers in directly-owned stores cannot get that experience. They cannot compare,” he says.

And he suggests that major groups have gone too far and fast in opening their own physical and ecommerce stores rather than supporting their retail partners.

“We as an industry may have underestimated the great importance of this transparent approach that I feel is so vital today. I strongly believe in the future of the wholesale industry, probably organized differently, but I think the demand will come from customers because they will want to compare and try on different watches. They will not want to visit a whole street of shops to get that experience. They will miss the exposure to multiple brands,” he concludes.

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Rob Corder

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