Breitling is already seeing sales bounce back in countries where social distancing measures are being eased.
Asian markets such as China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea started lifting lock down measures several weeks ago, and sales of luxury watches are already ticking up, according to Georges Kern, Breitling’s CEO.
European markets such as Germany and Austria are expected to follow that trend, he says in an Instagram Live conversation with The Watches of Switzerland Group’s chief executive Brian Duffy.
Breitling has tried not to take a backwards step throughout the Covid-19 health crisis. It has launched a number of limited editions, and this month held an online Summit to introduce its main collections this year, which include a full family of Chronomat models, a core collection and a capsule collection of Superocean Heritage 57 models and a ladies Navitimer 35 range.
The watchmaker reopened its production facility on Monday, April 20, and is running at about 50% of capacity, Mr Kern says.
Mr Duffy thanked Breitling for its positivity through the crisis and for sticking with its program of launches, which give the industry a lift.
“The industry has gone dark but you have come through as a ray of positivity in this tough time. Delighted you did the launch when you did,” Mr Duffy said.
Richemont brands will launch their collections on a new Watches & Wonders digital platform that goes live on April 25. We have also had a number of important new collections from the LVMH brands. But with little from Swatch Group and Audemars Piguet and nothing from Rolex, Tudor or Patek Philippe, there has been little for watch lovers to get excited about during weeks of lock downs, during which they might have been devouring news about fresh models. Traffic to WatchPro.com has doubled.
With sales dropping by up to 90% in countries that have the tightest lock downs, the only way is up as they emerge and Mr Kern says he is already seeing some markets bounce back.
“We have seen after previous health crisis that there is a rebound. People want to catch up. They want to enjoy life and luxury goods are part of the quality of life. There will be a phenomenal catch up and we have seen this in the markets where we have reopened,” he reveals.
Breitling arguably has better momentum now than rivals that have shut down manufacturing and postponed launches, but that will be challenged as the biggest brands spring back to life later in the year and dominate media coverage.
But Mr Kern thinks Breitling’s re-positioning going into the current crisis will help it gain market share as the world emerges. The company has been working hard to be more youthful, digitally connected, sustainable and relaxed as a luxury brand.
“Consumers have changed in terms of becoming more casual. Luxury has become more relaxed. Our boutique concept and advertising is less formal than the expression of more conservative brands. That has proved to be super successful before Coronavirus and will be helpful afterwards,” Mr Kern predicts.
2020 will not be the year for conspicuous consumption, even by the super-rich, Mr Kern believes. “Excessive luxury will have to be reconsidered in a context where there will be difficult times for more people out there. We have the right products, right values and right organisation. What we were doing before will help afterwards. I am happy with our positioning,” he says.
“Nobody in the industry will surf on a wave. We will have to fight a lot and try to gain market share from competitors. For Breitling, I am cautiously optimistic,” Mr Kern concludes.