Omega answers tricky questions on branching out

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Brand director Frederic Nardin on becoming a lifestyle brand.

Omega now has seven standalone boutiques in yhr UK and is ramping up its lifestyle product offer. Rachael Taylor puts some tough questions to Frederic Nardin about whether the brand still needs or wants retailers. 

When Omega opened its seventh standalone boutique in the UK and Ireland on London’s Regent Street in December, the luxury watch brand’s president Stephen Urquhart told the press he was “delighted to continue expansion into the UK” and that the store opening reflected how important the market was to the Swatch-owned brand.

That the UK market is important is a given, but which spectrum of the market has been up for debate. With a series of standalone store openings – the brand now has four in London, one at Heathrow, one in Dublin and one in Manchester – there have been murmurings in the industry that the brand is shifting its reliance away from independent retailers.

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When Professional Jeweller puts these questions to Omega brand director Frederic Nardin the unease in his voice is clear, but while he remains suitably vague about future strategies – “who knows how it will be in 100 or 10 years?” – he is clear about the message he wants to deliver: that the opening of standalone stores is a marketing tool for the brand that retailers will benefit from.

“[Our retail partners] are quite happy, they understand what we want to achieve,” he says. “[The boutique openings] have helped everyone by raising awareness of the brand.”

Brand awareness is certainly something that the new Regent Street boutique will deliver. Set near to retail attractions such as Topshop’s flagship store within a shopping area that claims to attract 200 million shoppers a year from all over the globe, Omega will no doubt pick up a few extra customers.

While the brand already has other London locations, Nardin believes that the diversity of the city will lead to a fresh shopper demographic. “It is a prime retail location and every time it is a different kind of customer,” he says. “It has a really high footfall so we think it will be a really successful boutique.”

As well as raising awareness of its brand, Omega is deepening the brand. On sale in the Regent Street boutique next to a mixed range of classic and new timepieces will be branded Omega jewellery, leather goods and perfume.

These products have been designed, according to Nardin, to give shoppers “the whole Omega experience”. He adds: “We are not just a luxury brand, we go into lifestyle.”

Nardin says that Omega wants to involve its customers in the lifestyle activities it associates itself with, such as its support of space exploration, sporting activities and celebrity partnerships. It feels that by offering supporting products to its watches it will widen its appeal from a Swiss watch brand into a consumer experience.

Quality remains important to Omega when creating offshoot lines; these lifestyle products are not cheap promotional sales tools but luxury goods. Omega’s perfume has been created in Switzerland by master perfumer Alberto Morillas and prices for the scent start at £70. Its range of leather goods, which include bags, wallets and watch winders, have been crafted in Italy using fine calf leather and have a minimum retail price of £200.

Brand integrity is very important to the Swiss watchmaker and may well affect the relationship it has with retailers as its network of own stores continues to grow.

Nardin says that Omega has no immediate standalone store openings in the diary but he does say that the brand’s store expansion programme will not be taking a break.

While Nardin flatly denies that Omega would cut off retailers because it is expanding its own retail network, he does say that the brand will move away from retailers it feels are not positioning the brand properly.

Nardin says that retailers need to give the brand a “special theatre” in stores. When asked if this means that Omega will be requiring its current retail stockists to take shop-in-shop furniture to continue as stockists he answers no but makes it clear he expects Omega to be on a par with its competitors in a retail environment.

“We will keep working with [stockists] if it is the right location and we are treated on a level basis with our competitors but if the retailer is not ready to give us the same space then we will go,” he says. “We always need to think about the end consumer and give them the right experience. We review our distribution all the time to ensure we have the right location and the right partner.”

Nardin claims that Omega is not trying to protect its brand through this constant review, but instead is “making sure the customer has all the right information”. But surely the best way to ensure quality control of its brand image is to close down relations with its retail stockists and focus purely on its own retail business? Nardin pauses before answering and delivers a balanced answer that neither rules out a heavy focus on its own retail arm or continuing to work with independent retailers.

“Who knows how will it be in 100 years or 10 years – I don’t,” he says sagely. “I know for sure we will never open a boutique in a remote part of the country and nowadays I can only think if 10 luxury brands that people will travel 300 miles to purchase. But will Omega be a brand like this someday? I don’t know.”

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