CORDER’S COLUMN: Without Baselworld, What?

Rob Corder, managing editor, WatchPro and managing director of Promedia. (Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images)

Swiss watch executives are tired of being taken for granted by Baselworld’s organizer MCH Group.

The 101 year old exhibition is looking decidedly depleted after Swatch Group led a rush for the doors, pulling the likes of Raymond Weil and Corum; both massive Hall 1.0 exhibitors, behind them.

Expect to see further defections before the end of the year.

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But so far the industry has not yet found an obvious replacement for its annual showcase, and is reluctant to cast the killer blow to Baselworld.

LVMH, Breitling and even Swatch Group, have said they are actively working with Baselworld’s team to find a format that will work for them in the future.

A consensus appears to be developing that will re-unite the industry for an event in January. That might look like SIHH winning and Baselworld losing, but this need not be a zero sum game.

If a single event does come together in January, I would not expect it to be on the scale of Baselworld, even if Richemont, LVMH, Swatch Group, Rolex, Patek Philippe et al find themselves in the same city in the same week.

I would expect to see brands scale back significantly on the money they spend at a re-formatted event, turning their backs on the arms race that led to Baselworld’s Hall 1.0 cluster of skyscraper stands.

The focus of these presentations will be more on global marketing and communications for new launches. Buying meetings between brands and retailers will increasingly be handled at local level, away from the razzmatazz of an exhibition, and most likely before the press and public get a look at the novelties for that year. This would be treating authorized retail partners with the respect they deserve.

The money saved from a more modest, but still blockbuster, exhibition in Switzerland every year (Swatch Group is rumored to have spent €50 million at Baselworld) could be put towards more regional events similar to the global roadshow held by Breitling earlier this year. The Manhattan event was a spectacular success.

I see a way through this year’s turmoil in the Swiss exhibition industry, but it is going to take cool heads, collaboration, flexibility and compromise to bring people back together.

It will not be easy but the exhibition business in Switzerland, in consultation with brands, retailers and other stakeholders, can and should find a way to move forward.

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