FEATURE: An American tale

Zeon Ltd’s managing director Simon Gilham has been a busy man for the past 12 to 18 months.

Top of his agenda has been the task of reviving the fortunes of the Ingersoll brand, which Zeon wholly owns. A brand with so much heritage and a history of success might seem like an easy one to breathe life into, but the task has been far from simple. Its big relaunch at this year’s Baselworld was the result of a lot of late nights in the office.

“I was looking at the future Zeon business and it was really about, ‘What do we invest in going forward and how do we take the company to the next level in the future?’ Ingersoll is a company that we own and it’s a brand that we should be investing in,” reflects Gilham.

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“It’s a brand with a huge amount of heritage that people do remember, know and love, and it really needed us to take a step back and look in real detail as to how we move forwards with it.”

So what did Gilham and the Zeon team decide was the most important element of Ingersoll that they could centre their big relaunch around? The answer lies on the other side of the Atlantic.

“It’s a brand from America,” Gilham states. “There are offices in New York and we wanted to bring back that American heritage.”

Visually, this is something that has indisputably been achieved. Not only did the completely refurbished Ingersoll stand at Baselworld grab the attention like almost no other, but the marketing campaign around the rebrand has also captured imaginations.

“When we did our photoshoot we wanted it to be instantly recognisable that it was American, it was vintage and there was some connection with our campaign of the True Original. There was then a fit with the photography type, which was Tin Type, which dates back to a similar time to when Ingersoll launched (1882). There was a vintage feel to it and from the look you can see it’s clearly American.”

This search for American authenticity is also seen in the product – not just the watch itself but even in the packaging.

“We created a paper bag that, again going back to that American heritage, is almost like one of those traditional grocery bags that you might see in an American grocery store. We wanted to keep that type of feel so every single watch that’s purchased will come in this bag as well. It’s about people not just buying a product these days, they’re buying a complete package.”

Aesthetically then, it appears that Gilham and his team have hit the bullseye. The new Ingersoll marketing campaign is striking, memorable and entirely cohesive. But, as all watch brands can testify, this is just one ingredient of a successful recipe for selling watches.

Arguably the biggest hurdle that needed climbing was the not inconsiderable issue of unreliable Chinese automatic movements that had been used in Ingersoll timepieces previously. Gilham decided to address this issue head on.

“We launched in the UK about three or four years ago in Selfridges and the product did very well. The buyer straight away said, ‘Wow!’ Problem is, it’s a bit like an Alfa Romeo car: it might look beautiful but if it breaks down on you so many times then it starts to becomes a problem. And that’s what we wanted to try and get away from.

“Because of the movements we’d been using in the past, there had unfortunately been some reliability issues but we wanted to re-set that and make sure that going forward people understood we’re standing by the fact that we’re making a quality timepiece.

“The real essence of Ingersoll in the past was affordable luxury and we wanted to make sure that what we did going forward was give a product that was affordable but had a premium feel to it and still stacked up to the quality elements that people expect from a decent timepiece. One of the things that’s taken the longest amount of time is taking the movement and understanding what isn’t working and what is the problem.

“For example, our open heart automatic movement – to get that beautiful look in a Japanese movement is just impossible. So you either go Swiss or you stay with China, but what we’ve actually done is work with a Swiss company, who has taken the movements and re-engineered them adding Swiss parts.”

Gilham elaborates on what exactly this Swiss company will do to a given movement and how this will solve any issues that existed.

“On the open heart movement, which is used on quite a few of the models, we’ve basically looked at where the problems have been in the past that have caused reliability issues, and we’ve changed those parts to Swiss parts and re-engineered it, so now it becomes a reliable movement. And where we’ve had more basic automatic movements, we’ve then moved to a Japanese automatic movement, so we’ve got that reliability factor.”

On top of solving the issues that Ingersoll had experienced with the reliability of its Chinese automatic movements, Gilham has also incorporated quartz movements into the new Ingersoll range, which he believes will also help to enhance the brand’s reputation in terms of reliability.

“We’ve introduced quartz to the range as quartz movements are very reliable. Then, to make sure our customers and the consumer understands that actually we’re standing by [our pledge to be more reliable], we’re offering a lifetime warranty with the product.”

A lifetime warranty is not a phrase that you hear every day in the modern world of disposable goods and fast living. It is concrete evidence that Gilham and Ingersoll are backing up their words with actions, so that both retailers and the end consumer know that they’re buying a product that isn’t just handsome but is also going to work.

Ingersoll might have nailed the American look of its new watches, and it appears to have fully addressed and rectified the reliability issues that it used to have, but what about the D-word: Disney? If there’s one thing that everyone remembers about Ingersoll, it’s its collaboration with the world of Mickey Mouse and friends.

“We want to continue that story, being the world’s first collaboration with Disney, but I don’t think it’s been done particularly well in the past,” suggests Gilham.

How did he plan to make the Disney connection work in the way he wanted?

“I wanted to take our Chronicle model, which was one of the original Ingersoll watches, and then put that into into the Disney range. But I wanted to do it in a much more premium way than it’s been done before. If you’re collaborating with something it should be an enhancement of your own brand first and foremost. A lot of the watches we have in the past have huge Mickey Mouse images all over the watch and the Ingersoll logo is a minute detail.

“We wanted to focus on, first and foremost, an Ingersoll watch with just a nod to Disney, if you like. The new Disney collection is made up of premium watches limited to 500 pieces and each one’s numbered. It’s one of 500, two of 500 and so on, and we’ve put that together with a warranty card as well which mirrors, so if you’re one of 500 you’ve got the warranty card that matches the watch.”

This will be music to the ears of thousands of Ingersoll fans around the globe. Of course the rebrand and relaunch will catch the eye of a huge number of new customers, but it’s nice to know that the Disney connection is not only remaining, but will actually be enhanced in the new range.  

Everything is in place for Ingersoll to have a phenomenal 2016 and beyond. Zeon, under the guidance of Gilham, has put in place all the individual elements that go towards making a brand sell product in large volumes. Indeed, with the overwhelmingly positive reception that Ingersoll received at Basel, and with plans to develop it into a lifestyle brand that sells accessories and leather goods etc. as well as watches, Gilham even envisages Ingersoll stores opening in London in the not-too-distant future.

“From a store point of view, we are hopeful that by early 2017 we’ll be opening a few stores in London, starting with one but I’d like to have two or three eventually. What you see on our stand at Baselworld is what we’d like to try and mirror as a blueprint for a store.”

London retail space does not come cheap, so this is surely the final vindication of the brand’s ambition and plans for growth.

All the planning and strategising that has been going on at Zeon HQ for over a year now looks to have finally come to fruition, and watch retailers and watch lovers around the world are all the better for it.

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