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Small company reveals mighty ambitions

Jean-Marc Pontroué does not want the brand to grow so fast as to lose its aura of exclusivity rogerdubuis.com

Roger Dubuis is one of the smaller watch companies in the portfolio of Richemont, the Swiss luxury goods group. But its leader has big ambitions.

This content was published on November 2, 2014 - 11:00
James Shotter, Financial Times

“I always say you can favour another brand,” says Jean-Marc Pontroué, a Frenchman who has been chief executive since 2011, “but if you are after an exceptional timepiece, Roger Dubuis should be one of the top five.”

That would be quite an ascent for a brand that has been in existence only since 1995, when it was founded as an independent company by Roger Dubuis, a watchmaker from Geneva who had previously worked for Patek Philippe, and his business partner and designer, Carlos Dias.

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In 2008, the brand – which makes only mechanical watches, complying with the stringent standards of the poinçon de Genève, the city’s seal of quality for watchmakers – was bought by Richemont. This was a difficult period, as the company battled with the economic downturn and an excessive range of products, say analysts.

 “Along with Baume & Mercier, it was certainly among the brands that needed a lot of investment and that weighed on Richemont’s margins for a while,” says René Weber, at Bank Vontobel in Zurich. “But in the past few years, things have improved.”

Like all Richemont’s brand chiefs, Mr Pontroué declines to provide details of his fiefdom’s revenues – which analysts reckon were about €60m in 2013 – or its profits. But he says that – perhaps unsurprisingly, given its size – Roger Dubuis has been Richemont’s fastest-growing marque for each of the past two years.

Despite his ambitions to raise its profile, however, Mr Pontroué is keen to stress that he does not want the brand – whose watches are known for their extravagant designs and sell on average for €50,000 (CHF60,570) each – to grow so fast as to lose its aura of exclusivity.

Analysts reckon that the marque now produces between 4,000 and 5,000 watches a year, and while Mr Pontroué will not confirm this, he makes clear that the upper limit, at least in the medium term, will not be substantially higher.

“We will not produce in the next five years more than 6,000 timepieces [a year], even though we could, and we have the demand,” he says. “We will not exceed this number.”

Nevertheless, the 50-year-old Breton – who worked for Richemont’s Montblanc for 11 years and oversaw its diversification – says he aims to increase the amount of business Roger Dubuis does with its network of retailers worldwide.

 “If you want to develop your business, either you increase your number of points of sale, or you concentrate on what you have,” he says. “We have made the decision to concentrate on what we have.”

The brand currently sells through about 200 outlets, 20 of which are its own boutiques. Although Mr Pontroué plans to keep the overall number roughly constant, there will be some change in where the stores are located.

“We know that about 25 per cent of our distribution needs to be changed over the next five years, by closing branches in some cities, by closing points of sales that are not relevant any more for our brand strategy,” he says.

He is broadly happy with the geographical spread of the brand, which currently has about half its sales in Asia, 30 per cent in Europe, and 20 per cent in the Americas. However, he plans to make cuts in countries including Spain and Italy, where there is neither sufficient local or tourist demand to justify a presence, and bulk up in others where the watch market is booming.

Countries at the top of the list include South Korea, where Roger Dubuis is opening three boutiques this year, and Saudi Arabia, where it will open its first. The brand is also investing in China, the US, the Middle East and Macau.

Just three years after it arrived there, the Chinese territory is now Roger Dubuis’s largest market.

New stores do not come cheap, particularly in locations, such as London’s Bond Street or Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse, that are favoured by luxury watchmakers.

Mr Pontroué says that the overhaul of the brand’s distribution, as well as the additional staff needed for the new stores, will account for a fair share of investment this year.

But as befits a brand that prides itself on the originality of its collections, Roger Dubuis will devote sizeable resources to research and development.

“We are investing significantly more in R&D, in terms of its share of our expenses, than any other brand in our industry. I would say it is about five times more,” Mr Pontroué says.

 “We came with a world premier at the last SIHH,” he adds, referring to Roger Dubuis’s Excalibur Quatuor, the first silicon watch incorporating four sprung balances, which was launched at the Geneva trade fair in January 2013.

 “And we will come next year again with a world premier. R&D remains one of our priorities.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014

 

CV: Jean-Marc Pontroué

Education Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Nantes

1995 -  Joins LVMH, working at Givenchy

2000 -  Joins Richemont and works at Montblanc, overseeing the brand’s diversification

2011 -  Becomes chief executive of Roger Dubuis

‘You can favour another brand, but ours should be one of the top five’

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