When 88 Rue de Rhone was created in 2012, it liked to draw attention to its historic link with the family of Raymond Weil. Today the respect for Raymond Weil remains, but 88 Rue Du Rhone has flown the nest and is developing its own story in 35 countries around the world.
The company’s founder Pierre Bernheim told WatchPro in an exclusive interview that finding the very best partners has been vital to the growing strength of the brand. “It has been a long and hard work of selecting the best partners. We had to work with people who believed in the brand and that were not only ready to show it in stores but to push and work it,” he said.
Even more important than partnering with the right retailers has been selecting the best distributors who commit to building a professional channel. “Our success is our distribution. Opening a retailer in a new market is rather simple. What matters to us are replenishment orders. That means sell-through happens,” Bernheim explains.
Managing that channel in this country is UK brand manager Matthew Rowell, who is entering 2016 off the back of 33% growth in 2015. The watch brand already has a number of independent retailers, and aims to sign-up more, but it is the multiples that drive volume sales. “Multiple/national accounts are making up around 70% of our distribution. We have secured some terrific partnerships which include DM London, Selfridges, John Lewis, Chisholm Hunter & Beaverbrooks. Our 2016 strategy is focused on increasing our independent distribution,” he reveals.
Over one-third of sales are made online, reflecting the relatively young target market for the brand.
New partners will need to understand the positioning of 88 Rue Du Rhone and buy into the concept. “We want retailers who are excited by our project and who we can form a long term partnership with. The retailer ideally would be looking for an alternative Swiss brand which can bridge the gap between fashion and higher price category Swiss watches,” Rowell says.
The right product with the correct positioning is vital, Pierre Bernheim stresses. In its first year, 88 Rue Du Rhone was launched as a slightly more affordable alternative to Raymond Weil. “We didn’t apply right away the right thinking for a brand of this price point,” he admits.
Now the proposition is about delivering the highest quality possible for the brand’s target price of around £400. “Our vision is simple. We will keep maximising the ratio quality for value. We will work hard on refining our dials, incorporating new materials and scheme. Also if we can continue to increase our volume, we believe we will be adding more features on our watches for unbeatable prices,” Bernheim suggests.
Olivier Bernheim, who recently came out of semi-retirement to become group chairman for 88 Rue Du Rhone parent company RWG, is aiming to steer the brand out of its youthful start-up phase. He tells WatchPro that the business needs to learn quickly from its early experiments and settle on a model that delivers results. “88 Rue Du Rhone is young and with limited resources. As growing is very consuming, we can’t waste our assets. After some time trying something, if it doesn’t work, it’s pointless to wait for miracles. So learn and move on,” he urges.
88 Rue Du Rhone is a private equity project mainly owned mainly by Olivier Bernheim’s two sons. “It’s their project and beside my support, RWG as a company is service provider but not more than that. At inception of the brand, they have made the decision to raise funds on their own to be independent. I always respected their will as I thought it was a wonderful intellectual enrichment,” he concludes with paternal pride.