Raynald Aeschlimann, 48, took over the management of Omega in 2016. Aeschlimann started with the brand in 1996 as a sales and marketing project manager. In 2001, he became Vice President of International Sales. During his 15 years in this position, he restructured distribution channels and rebuilt customer confidence in the Bienne brand. In 2001 he opened Omega’s first flagship store in Zurich, the first of a long series.
In an interaction with business todayAeschlimann spoke about the importance of India as a market for Omega, brand heritage, e-commerce and the way forward. Edited excerpts:
How has the pandemic affected Omega? Have you bounced back in 2021?
Like most industries, the pandemic has presented Omega with real challenges. Restrictions on tourism have been one of the biggest problems for sales. But we’re a company that’s been around since 1848, so naturally we’ve had a lot of global challenges in our lifetime. We have learned to adapt to these situations. I would say that 2021 has been very positive in terms of sales and so we have good confidence for the near future. It seems to be going in the right direction.
How important is India as a market for you?
We have always considered India to be an important market, in particular because customers in this country have a keen sense of quality and a real respect for heritage. We consider it a valuable country to build long-term customer relationships, and it’s something we work hard to continue.
What are your growth/expansion plans in India? Will we see online sales?
Growing online sales is a big part of Omega’s current strategy, and we’ve already seen how successful e-commerce can be in places like the US and Europe. Of course, starting online sales in any country requires a lot of logistical planning, so we take our time to evaluate all the possibilities. Our hope is always to reach as many customers as possible in a market, so I can definitely see the benefits of online sales in a big country like India. As I said, we are open to all opportunities as we move forward.
Omega has a lot of heritage attached to it, from space exploration to the Olympics. What aspect of the brand do you think attracts Indian buyers the most?
Space exploration, as you mention, is a great human story. So, I think this legacy would definitely appeal to everyone, including customers in India. These values of pioneering spirit, quality and adventure can connect to the emotions of all of us. I also know how passionate India is about sports and entertainment, so there are stories like the Olympics and James Bond, which I think could be appealing. With 007, there’s so much sophistication and glamour, which are really special qualities.
You launched e-commerce in the United States in 2017, before many other major watch brands. How did this affect the watch landscape and the company’s sales? Is e-commerce the way forward and will retail channels slowly shrink?
As I said, e-commerce is a major growth area for Omega. The US online store has always been one of our most successful sales channels, so it’s been a big hit. It is clear that modern customers like to have this option online, and I think it is important that the luxury industry recognizes this and adapts its strategy. However, I would like to say that our Omega boutiques remain an important part of sales. It’s more efficient to have that balance between e-commerce and retail. With boutiques, you get personalized service and the ability to experience the brand in person, while trying on watches on your wrist. We still think it has great value.
James Bond has worn an Omega for twenty-five years now. In the long run, what has this done for Omega’s sales and reputation in general?
The James Bond connection is a really special part of our DNA. It connects us to values of precision, sophistication, strength and adventure. Plus, it’s a really fun pairing. We smile a lot with this partnership. Certainly, we see a positive increase in sales when a new James Bond movie arrives, and our 007 watches attract enormous interest and popularity. It’s also a great way to reach a wider audience. Even if you don’t know much about watches, you know that Omega is the “Bond watch”.
Omega has released many historic, vintage-inspired watches over the past few years. What is the reasoning behind this? Will this continue?
Omega has a totally unique heritage with some truly incredible milestones and iconic designs. For us, it is important to celebrate this history and to allow our customers to be part of it as well. Vintage styles are hugely popular, but they also convey a lot of emotion and storytelling. We will continue to honor our past, but we are also committed to our evolution. Omega is at the forefront of watchmaking today, so along with vintage-inspired pieces, you’ll also find state-of-the-art timepieces that are very modern and pioneering.
The average price of an Omega watch tripled during your tenure. What does this mean for Omega as a whole and how does it change your relationship with young buyers?
Rather than talking about price, I prefer to talk about value. Omega invests a lot of resources and time in research, development and innovation. The result is that we have some of the highest standards in the industry. Not only in terms of quality, but also in terms of materials and precision, such as our modern Co-Axial Master Chronometer movements. This brings a lot of value to the watch you are buying. For young buyers, in particular, an Omega watch is something to aspire to. You can see it as a worthwhile investment and something you can treasure forever.
You have worked at Omega for nearly twenty-five years. How would you describe the lasting appeal of the brand? What makes a buyer walk into your store instead of the one next door?
Omega’s story is still moving forward. When I started at Omega in 1996, we had just signed Cindy Crawford as our first brand ambassador. We had just started our partnership with James Bond, and we were just starting our relationship with Team New Zealand in the world of sailing. It was such an exciting time. But it’s always been like that. We always develop our passions and create exciting stories that the customer can believe. There is an authenticity that I think makes us attractive.
What will the next five years look like for Omega?
It’s a time of great innovation and I think the next few years will see the continued development of new materials and other pioneering features in terms of our watchmaking. We have a network of experts within the Swatch Group, which helps Omega push forward with powerful new designs. I can’t wait to see what we can do, and of course to continue to cultivate our passions such as sports, exploration, social causes and entertainment.
Are there any strategies you have adapted during the pandemic that you would like to keep?
I wouldn’t say there were any new strategies, but we certainly recognized the value of our online communication. Staying connected to customers and finding new ways to reach them and tell our stories has become so important during the pandemic. This is something we will try to maximize even more in the future.