Audemars Piguet’s manufacturing and operational headquarters in Le Brassus was operating with a skeleton staff of just 30 out of the usual 800 in late April, but none of its employees had been made redundant and the business was also supporting its key suppliers through the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic bringing Switzerland to a standstill.
The decision had been made at board level that nobody in the team would lose their job as the management made the strategic decision to focus on maintaining long term brand value over short term cost-cutting.
CEO François-Henry Bennahmias sat down for an interview with Europa Star on April 22, two weeks after the daily death rate from the virus peaked in Switzerland, and suggested that for things to stay the same at Audemars Piguet, everything was going to change.
“To maintain this desire and keep people interested, we’re all going to have to reinvent ourselves. For all the brands, large and small, that’s going to be unavoidable. But to do that, we have to be able to accept the hard facts, and the hard facts are that turnover will be down for everybody,” Mr Bennahmias said.
Brands like Breitling are now talking about a rapid bounce-back, but the future was less certain back in April, and Audemars Piguet was preparing to dig in for a lengthy downturn.
“We know very well that our turnover will be lower this year, and who knows, even next year? We have to accept that and concentrate on maintaining the perceived value of the brand in the long term instead,” Mr Bennahmias described. “We already know we will incur business losses for 2020. Now we’re working on 2021, 2022,” he added.
Ecommerce sales have surged during lock down, but Audemars Piguet remains wedded to pulling customers into stores. ” Online sales will never represent more than 5%-10% for us. The physical experience will never be replaced, at least not for products like ours. On the other hand, the internet is ideal for starting a conversation. But that conversation continues offline and is concluded differently, physically,” insists Mr Bennahmias.
Watch lovers (and flippers) hoping that it might become a little easier to score an SS Royal Oak if sales drop this year will be disappointed. Mr Bennahmias has no expectation that supply will catch up with demand.
“As far as we’re concerned, we didn’t have enough stock before the crisis. Now we have closed down for two months and we’re going to start up again little by little. Our objective is not to catch up on our production loss. Just the opposite, we want to preserve this notion of rarity of our products,” he concludes.