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Cartier in control

Cartier in control

Louis Ferla, Cartier’s managing director for the Middle East and India, spoke to Indulge about the brand’s strategy in India, the market’s taste for high-end pieces, and some of the key challenges India has to overcome for the luxury sector to accelerate. Edited excerpts:

How was last year in India for you?

Very good. We closed quite a lot of our distribution network actually, in order to focus only on our best distributors, and to ensure that in terms of service and image, we are at the right level. But the boutique in Delhi is doing very well. The productivity of the points of sale that we have retained has increased dramatically. So, all in all, we are doing what I would call a very qualitative business in India. It is not a big business at the international level for Cartier. But it is a promising business in the future.

Richemont, of which Cartier is a fully owned subsidiary, has now opened an office in India. This will no doubt ramp up the pace of your operations?

Clearly, the aim is to reinforce both the business and support teams—the two work hand in hand. One cannot function without the other.

So, in that sense, it will help us strengthen our position.

Many of the luxury brands that had a presence in India decades ago tell us that while they have a certain recall value in the Indian market, it is a challenge to regain that lost prestige, that the market needs education and reminding.

What has been your experience?

Not really. I think the brand equity for Cartier in India and worldwide is very strong. From our point of view, Cartier is clearly a leading brand both in terms of creativity and craftsmanship, and the brand is recognized for the exact same reasons in India as well. The challenge for us now is to ensure that we build a good distribution network in India. If you are asking me, do we need to educate the client? No, we don’t need to. They travel, they know the brand, the love the brand. So that is not the idea.

The idea is to ensure that we provide the right platform for clients who are really connoisseur collectors. So that whenever they go to a boutique in Delhi or a point of sale in Mumbai or Chennai, they receive the Cartier level of service.

For us, this is the bigger challenge.

We want your experience to be the same whether you are buying Cartier from Delhi or Mumbai or Kuwait or Qatar or Paris and New York. And as you spread your distribution network, it is very easy to lose your focus. We want to keep our focus and values intact even as we grow.

What are these values for Cartier?

To be powerful, for instance, you need big boutiques that make a powerful impression with amazing creations. To be audacious means being creative. For instance, you can see what we have done with he Metier d’Arts pieces this year.

And how much we have invested in making complicated watches. To be a reference, you want people to think of Cartier as the benchmark.

And for that, we need to constantly improve. And Indians have the same expectations from us.

If you fall asleep in India for six months or a year, very quickly you will see that you will get left behind.

What makes the Indian market unique? What sets it apart from the other global markets?

Nothing at all, really. More and more clients are connoisseurs in the sense that they are travelling and moving more and more. Maybe 10 years ago, people confined themselves to a national or regional level. I have not seen any international luxury brand that performs in one market in one way, and then in another way in another market. Good luxury brands perform everywhere… Momentarily, you might see one market doing better or worse because of local factors, or because of a brilliant local manager.

But in the long run, it all evens out.

Otherwise, you stay true to your brand and keep all the DNA intact.

Especially when there is an economic crisis, customers go back to core values. They want to feel secure; they want to buy into iconic collections.

Is the Indian market responding to the high complications and your fine watchmaking collections as well?

Yes. If you look at the maharajas in the past, they always wanted the top of the top. They owned the most beautiful cars and watches and jewellery. And today’s contemporary maharajas are businesspeople. And these businesspeople have private jets, they travel, they are very well educated, they know the difference between what is real luxury and fake luxury. Therefore, they recognize the value of great products.

There are some markets in the world where the “range" works very well, but not the high end. And other markets are vice-versa. India is a case of the latter. In India, we don’t have to do anything to push the high end; there is a lot of demand.

The range, on the other hand, will become more popular as the middle class gets richer and richer.

Really, if you ask me, the challenge in India is to develop at the right pace. Not too fast, not too slow. It is very tempting to open 50 points of sale. But that is not the right thing to do. It is also tempting to think that I have a good business, I am making money, let me not open any more stores. That is also the wrong thing to do. Then the competitors will overtake you.

Today, if you could solve two or three key problems in India that could help you do better business, what would those be?

Clearly, the first one would be the import duties. The duties are still high in India. The second problem is the infrastructure. The shopping environment. In India, we lack high-quality malls and shopping infrastructure. For me, these are the two key points that need to be addressed.

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