INTERVIEW: Sylvian Dolla, Hamilton

Hamilton brand president Sylvian Dolla.

The Hamilton brand president on what’s next for the company.

Taken from WatchPro’s March issue, editor Rachael Taylor speaks with the newly appointed Hamilton brand president Sylvian Dolla,  who reveals why he is happy to sail the course already set while bolstering the UK market and, most importantly, conquering online.

For a man who has just secured a top job at a leading watch brand, Sylvian Dolla is remarkably unambitious. In fact, he’s positively comfortable.

“This is the first time in my life that I don’t think, ‘what will I do in the future?’,” says the new brand president for Hamilton, as he relaxes back into a sofa in a central London hotel during an exclusive interview with WatchPro.

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The reason for this calm, according to Dolla, is that he has been working with the brand for the past six years and is enjoying the direction it is heading in. While some new presidents might steam into the role and want to rip up the rule book and start again, as an internal candidate – he has been with the brand for six years – Dolla is quietly satisfied with building on what he has been involved in creating since joining the company.

“The brand has been put in a direction that is very successful and I don’t want to revolutionise it,” says Dolla, who has risen through the ranks at Hamilton. Before securing his position as brand president, Dolla was head of sales at Hamilton, and before this he worked elsewhere within Hamilton’s parent company Swatch Group.

His strategy it would seem is to build on what the brand has already achieved and make it stronger, rather than branching out in completely new directions. “I would like to double turnover in the next few years and strengthen our markets,” says Dolla. “We have no plans to expand, we want to focus on what we are doing.”

One area that he hopes to improve on is Hamilton’s retail distribution in the UK. The brand currently has 88 points of sale in the UK and Dolla says that the plan is to achieve “qualitative growth”.

“We want to build slowly but surely in the UK,” he says. “Today, the UK is a relatively small part of the business but has a very high potential for growth.”

As part of its marketing strategy for the UK the watch brand is getting involved with local events, most notably through link ups with rugby. The brand is the official watch supplier to Harlequins Rugby Club.

“The rugby player and the rugby fan is the perfect customer for us,” enthuses Dolla. While other watch brands have made moves to align themselves with the world of rugby, such as TAG Heuer’s sponsorship of the England Rugby, Hamilton believes that it is one of the first watch brands to get involved at local club level.

“Rugby is not something that we will develop on the worldwide stage but something that is local to the UK,” explains Dolla.
Looking at the worldwide stage there are a couple of markets outside of the UK that Hamilton is interested in strengthening, in particular northern Europe and China. “There is huge potential in the UK, northern Europe and China in the next four to five years,” reveals Dolla.

But the real push for Hamilton on the world stage is not in one particular geographical country, but the planet as a whole through its online division.

Hamilton is breaking new ground online and is dedicated to using the web to push its business forward. “There are brands that see the internet as a risk but we see it as an opportunity,” states Dolla.

The online team at Hamilton is an important part of the business, with dedicated webmasters located in every major city it operates in, including Shanghai and New York. It also has an in-house team of web designers from all over the world including Spain, England, Switzerland and Croatia. “Everything is done internally so we can be very reactive,” says Dolla.
The website look slick, but Hamilton is interested in creating a functional site, not just a good-looking web presence. Its site is now optimised for use on all types of smart phones, iPads and traditional laptops and desktop computers.

And the site offers more than an About Us page, a bit of brand history and a couple of watches; it hosts an education tool for watch enthusiasts. Dubbed Hamilton Watch University, the tool launched in September 2010 and is an online resource for people who want to learn more about watches. Visitors to the site can read up on topics such as movements, functionality and quality control, as well as finding out more about the history behind Hamilton, its watches and its links with Hollywood.

The Hamilton Watch University is open to the public, but the watch brand initially considered keeping it protected with a password to use as a training tool for retail staff only. “At first we wondered if it should have a log in but at the end of the day we have put the resources into it and we should make it public,” says Dolla. “Maybe the university will be copied but we were the first to do it and that is important; we want to keep leadership in terms of new ideas.”

The heavy investment in its website has paid off. The site has phenomenal traffic with 7,000 unique users visiting the site each day and 5 million unique visits a year.

The online interaction works both ways at Hamilton, with the brand regularly visiting the social networking pages of its customers and potential customers. “We pull all the Facebook comments [made about the brand] every morning,” reveals Dolla. “Before, we needed to call retailers to get feedback but now we have direct feedback on our novelties. It’s not always positive but we don’t see that as a threat.”

The next step for the brand is to set up an e-commerce site in the US, which it will do in April. Dolla says that the online shopping function will be more about marketing the brand than generating sales, but it will be a new departure for the brand, which has never sold direct to consumers online before. Dolla says that there are no plans as yet to do the same in Europe.

While e-commerce is a new direction for the brand, the overriding strategy being employed by Dolla is to play to Hamilton’s strengths. The brand will celebrate 120 years in business next year and Dolla says that as it has aged, the brand has become more secure about what it is all about.

The brand is famous for its tie-ups with Hollywood and Dolla says this tradition will continue. The brand recently had one of its best bits of movie placement to date, with its Khaki Field Officer Auto being worn by lead actor Ryan Reynolds in the film Buried, a film about a man who buried alive with just a torch and his trusty Hamilton watch.

It will also continue to create its extra special limited-edition novelties under the Hamilton Lab umbrella. This year the brand has created a watch that looks like a silver-coloured lipstick and has dual time zone analogue faces that can be screwed up and out of the case just like a lipstick. The watch, which can be worn on a string round the neck or a band round the wrist is still in the prototype stage, but Dolla promises that fans of the brand will see it in a film sometime soon, although which film is yet to be decided. “Hollywood likes us because we do crazy things,” he laughs.

A lipstick-style watch certainly is a crazy idea and after seeing the prototype, WatchPro is unconvinced, but this is the beauty of the brand; it is willing to innovate, to try new things. Whether it is sponsoring local rugby clubs, designing watches that don’t fit on wrists or establishing an online watch university, it is pushing boundaries.

So while Dolla says he wants to play it safe in his new position of power, what this actually means is he is innovatively forging forward; it just so happens that breaking new ground is old ground for Hamilton.
 

 

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