Monday, 12 December 2011

Mr Winston Goes to China

The latest advertising campaign
Diamond jeweller Harry Winston is definitely setting its sights on China.

In a conference call with analysts last Friday, Frederic de Narp, chief executive of Harry Winston says the company plans to launch three stores on the mainland next year, including its largest boutique worldwide in Shanghai.

"We are different from other brand names, as we don't see China as the El Dorado for mass luxury at all," de Narp said. "We see it as the most exclusive destination."

Other jewellery retailers like Cartier and Tiffany & Co are also chasing the mainland market and are also opening stores in China's first- and second-tier cities in the next few years.

But of course de Narp was keen to differentiate Harry Winston from its competitors.

"Harry Winston's unique diamond jewellery and heritage brand built upon quality, craftsmanship, design has untapped potential in China as consumers become more selective. We treat China as our priority, and we treat Chinese for what they are: extremely sophisticated. So, we don't go with quantity. We go with quality."

Spoken like a true salesman, but honestly we've heard this spiel before many, many times.

Nevertheless, the company is definitely betting on Shanghai as management consultancy McKinsey has forecast the mainland to account for about 20 percent or $27 billion of global luxury sales by 2015.

For Harry Winston, sales in Asia rose 77 percent year on year to $126.2 million, while in the United States it was up 53 percent at $97.9 million. In Europe, sales decreased 4 percent to $74 million.

But de Narp sees Chinese consumers traveling around the world to buy their luxury brands.

"We learn from them. For example the percentage of bridal rings we sell from our London salon is extremely high to Chinese clients, which is unbelievable because we don't have visibility yet in mainland China."

Not completely true -- Harry Winston has a boutique in the Peninsula Beijing on Wangfujing Street.

Nevertheless, the biggest concern for the company now is hiring Chinese-speaking sales staff to cater to the flood of mainland customers.

"Two or three months ago, we had zero Chinese-speaking people in our salons," de Narp said.

Now they have Chinese-speaking staff in Harry Winston stores in Las Vegas, South Coast Plaza and Orange County. And you'll see more in London, Paris and other international cities.

What's happening in Hong Kong is reverberating around the world -- If you can speak Chinese you can get a sales job.

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