New UK head of timepieces Philip Woolkind is taking Casio upmarket.
Many original Casio fans have swapped surf boards for board meetings, but new UK head of timepieces Philip Woolkind is leading a strategy that could see them return to the brand. Rachael Taylor asks the new boss how he plans to take our favourite rubber watch brand upmarket.
Casio has been the cheap and cheerful watch of choice for fashion-savvy shoppers since the 1980s, but now the brand is making a move upmarket, with new UK head of timepieces Philip Woolkind at the helm.
Woolkind joined Casio in November from rival watch group Seiko, where he had been a brand manager for four years. While he has enjoyed a good few years in the watch industry, Woolkind’s background is rooted in the DIY trade and in the past he has worked with slightly less glamorous brands such as Black & Decker.
While the two product areas might seem worlds apart, Woolkind says that there are some similarities between the two trades, and one negative trait that unites them. “One of the issues in the watch industry is that it’s very traditional and does not embrace things in a more modern way,” he muses.
Woolkind admits he did not have a burning desire to stay in the watch industry, but the job at Casio proved tempting enough to keep him in the world of Japanese timepieces. “A good job came up and I was looking for FMCG,” he says. But as soon as he arrived at Casio, Woolkind says he knew he had made the right decision.
Once through the doors at Casio’s Brent Cross headquarters in Greater London, Woolkind was charged with carving out a strategy for the future of Casio watches. “It was one of my objectives to devise the action plan for Casio: which way Casio wanted to go and our vision for the future,” he says.
One of the strategies at Casio’s timepieces division is to break into the higher-end of the market with prestige products, such as its analogue Edifice, G-Shock MT-G and G-Shock GIEZ series of analogue and chronograph combinations that feature extra functions such as Wave Ceptor technology and multiple time zones. The ranges retail for between £200 and £500 in comparison with standard Casio lines, most of which sell for less than £100.
G-Shock has enjoyed huge success over the past three-and-a-half years, during which time Casio has poured all of its efforts to bring it back to its 1990s heyday when it was the must-have watch of the youth market. “There has been a non-stop focus on G-Shock to get it back to where it was,” says Woolkind.
This focus has included celebrity product placement, select marketing in niche fashion titles, collaboration with designers during London Fashion Week and a world tour of high-profile parties, festivals and music events.
This strategy has worked and now Casio is starting to repeat the same techniques with its more feminine line Baby-G. The watch line is currently being modelled by pop star of the moment Pixie Lott and a special collection of Baby-G watches created by guest designers went on display in a Baby-G pop-up shop in Selfridges London in April.
The Baby-G line is now starting to mimic the trajectory of G-Shock, and as this strategy is proving popular for a second time, a similar strategy will no doubt be applied to elevate premium Casio lines in the UK marketplace.
“G-Shock is very popular and Baby-G is starting to show similar signs,” says Woolkind. “But we need higher-priced products as a separate market; we are adding another string to the bow.”
While Casio is making its first moves upmarket in the UK, the group has already achieved luxury status in its home market of Japan, according to Woolkind. There, its high-end Mr-G line sits alongside Breitling and TAG Heuer in upmarket watch stores. “Mr-G is seen as an edgy luxury brand,” says Woolkind.
It might seem almost laughable to imagine a shopper debating between what might appear to be a dressed up G-Shock and a Breitling, but Mr-G is in a different league to the G-Shock models the UK’s middle market knows and loves.
Mr-G watches, which command retail prices of between £1,200 and £3,000, feature superior sapphire glass, a robust caseback, a gold-plated five-motor circuit supporter and have been strengthened with a double hardening treatment – including a diamond-like carbon (DLC) treatment – on the titanium parts. All in all, a serious bit of kit.
Mr-G has never been made available to UK retailers and Casio has no immediate plans to introduce the luxe line to the UK but if Casio’s plans to move upmarket prove successful, Woolkind says Mr-G could make its way overseas. “We need to build up the prestige lines and then bring Mr-G to the UK when the market is ready,” says Woolkind. “We have to make £500 easier to swallow before we introduce a £2,000 watch.”
And that £500 price point isn’t quite at a stage to be swallowed easily by UK shoppers. Casio is facing a real challenge to persuade shoppers looking to spend £500 on a watch that its brands can offer the type of prestige the price bracket demands.
“We’ve got to educate the consumer,” says Woolkind. “It wouldn’t be fair to expect retailers to just sell it. We need to make sure we have proper reasons for retailers and consumers to buy it.”
And to make sure that the consumer market is fully up to speed on the selling points of higher-end Casio models, the company is investing heavily in marketing and is running a consumer campaign focusing on the uniqueness and toughness of premium G-Shock lines.
While he admits there is a fair amount of education required, Woolkind is convinced the prestige Casio customer is out there and says they are most likely someone who has grown up with the brand and still desires the toughness and individuality that G-Shock offers but now has more money to spend. For this reason he is determined not to separate premium lines too much from the heritage of the G-Shock brand.
“Lots of people who bought it when they were 18 now want something to wear to the office,” he explains. “They have grown up from G-Shock but have not lost their edginess and now have more disposable income. It’s not flash to own a premium G-Shock; you can keep your individualism.”
While it might be hard to imagine Casio sneaking up the ranks to sit alongside more prestigious brands, it’s not impossible. With Woolkind’s experience at Seiko, which routinely churns out watches in this price bracket, he is used to speaking to customers willing to invest in a decent watch and should be able to translate traditional upper-middle market buying messages to Casio’s trendier clientele with the help of an established Casio marketing team.
Plus, the brand has already achieved this push for posh in its home country, where shoppers think nothing of spending £3,000 on a Casio watch, and if this can be achieved in its developed home market then sitting comfortably in a £500 bracket in the UK should be attainable.
Casio has built its brand on the youth market, but as we all know, youth is fleeting. Growing up with its customers will no doubt prove to be the birth of whole new era for Casio.