"Women are wearing mens watches"

Updated: Sep 30 2008, 08:31am hrs
Niladri Majumdar is the head of sales and marketing at Seiko Watch India. The twelfth subsidiary of parent Seiko Watch Corporation began operations in June 2007. Despite its late entry, the companys brands are present in 88 stores in 34 cities. Majumdar, who has worked with Titan Industries for 12 years, claims Seiko is among the top three premium brands in the country, the others being Rado and Tissot. He would love to push the Seiko brand into more stores, but finds himself handicapped by the lack of quality retail outlets that can showcase premium and luxury watches. Even then, the company isnt shy of launching new models at regular intervals. Just round the corner is a new collection, Arctura, literally inspired by the shape of the arc. India is the second market after Switzerlandwhere the watch was unveiled in April during the BaselWorld watch exhibitionto see the launch of the collection. Majumdar throws light on this and more in an interview with FEs Viveat Susan Pinto. Excerpts:

When will Arctura be launched in India

By October this year. The price point would be between Rs 25,000 and Rs 55,000.

We understand you would be launching new models going right up to Rs 3 lakh.

Yes, but that would be in the future. At the moment, we have 160 models straddling different price points in the range of Rs 6,700 to Rs 55,000. Our core range is between Rs 15,000 and Rs 35,000.

Are Indian consumers willing to spend that kind of money on watches What is the size of the premium and luxury watch market in the country

There are no official figures to indicate the size. Our assessment of the market is that it is about Rs 500-600 crore. Its growing fast, at about 25-30% per annum.

One reason for this growth is that people are picking up premium watches more often now. People, especially the ones in our target group, want good products. These are self assured, confident people, who want a watch that can compliment their personality, not one that is overpowering or dominating. These people are not constrained by money either. At the same time, they dont feel the need to flaunt the brand they are wearing.

Youd be amazed at the number of queries we get about models we havent launched in the country.

The Indian consumer is very intelligent. He takes the trouble to research the product he is buying, especially if it is an expensive one. It helps us because we are on our toes. Their curiosity and interest give us an idea about what they want.

Though Seiko has been known to Indians for a long time, the company never had a full-fledged operation till June last year. What took you so long to get in

The Japanese are research-oriented. They tend to be cautious when getting into a market. Seiko had been observing the way the market here was shaping up. It is only in the last few years that the growth has been substantial enough for it to make its presence felt fully. This is partly because of the retail boom in India. Too many brands came in at a time when retail was not a happening sector here. It entailed substantial investment on their part to reach out to the consumer.

By coming in a little later weve been able to take advantage of the boom in retail. We can also learn from the mistakes of our rivals.

How did you shake off the tag of being a mid-market product Indians have always perceived Seiko to be a solid, sturdy product, worn by their uncles and fathers, who traveled or worked abroad. How did you get past this image problem

It wasnt easy. But by coming in with full-fledged operations weve been able to appraise people here of the transition weve made on the global front. About seven years ago, Seiko decided to position itself in the premium and luxury end of the market. Seiko, let me tell you, has been around for about 127 years. It has rewritten horology during this period.

In 1930, for instance, it was the first company to manufacture a wrist watch in Japan. In 1969, it was the first company to make a quartz watch in the world. In 1986, it pioneered the kinetic technology, which uses the energy powered by the movement of the body to run a watch. Seiko didnt stop there. In 1995, it came out with what is recognised as the most efficient watch technology to datethe spring drive. It is a mechanical watch, where among other things, the movement of the hands is uniform; there is no break at all. Most other watches stop at every one-eighth of a second. The spring drive doesnt do so.

Having pioneered all that, we realised that there was no point playing at the lower end of the segment. We felt we had everything in us to be a luxury and premium brand, which is what we did. Indians however were not fully aware of the transition we had made on the global front. They now are, as they see the kind of products we are unveiling here.

Are you happy with the kind of presence you have in India

I have nothing to complain. But who wouldnt want more We are clear about one thing: the value perception of a Seiko in a New York store and that in a store in India should be no different. We are clear that we do not want to see different faces of the brand in different parts of the world. It has to be uniform. That was also one of the reasons why we got into India. It was too important a market to be missed.

At the same time, we have to make sure that it is on par with other markets in terms of the manner in which a Seiko product is displayed or sold. Theres no point in getting into a store where the display is compromised or the staff is not adequately trained or there is heavy discounting of products.

I find too many premium and luxury brands suffering on account of this. The equity of the brand takes a beating as a result of this. We will not permit this with our products. If we can make sure that India is not last on the list when it comes to the launch of a new model then it also becomes imperative for us to ensure that its equity is not compromised at the point of sale.

Unfortunately, I dont find very many retailers who understand this too well. Luxury brand retailing, especially that of watches, has a long way to go in India.

The number of luxury retail stores in the country is limited. There are just about 110 such outlets in the country. We are present in about 88 stores in 34 cities as of now. We are not there in any of the lifestyle stores because we know we will not get the kind of display we desire if we go there. The ambience, environment, positioning, all play a part in getting the consumer interested in our products. He has to see value in what he is buying. If that doesnt come across it wont help.

How are you dealing with the grey market for watches Products such as yours are an easy target.

Fortunately, were not facing this problem yet. Its a nuisance, I dont deny it. But we have not suffered much on its account. That is because our technology is difficult to replicate.

Besides, we dont manufacture any products here. It is all imported from Japan. Worldwide, Seiko products are made in-house by the company. The components are not made in one part of the world and assembled in another. Some of the Swiss brands are made that way. The components, for instance, could be manufactured in Hong Kong, and assembled in Switzerland. We dont do that, ensuring full control over the manufacturing process. This also brings down the probability of the products being replicated in the grey market.

How are women and men different in their taste for watches

The lines are actually blurring now. Women these days are wearing mens watches more frequently. I mean the preference for large watches is growing among women. It is not very strong here as it is abroad, but it is there.

As a category, the womens segment is very important to us. We started off with 60 models last year. The composition of womens watches then was 10% of our entire range. Now we are at about 160 models and the composition is about 20%. I expect this to go up given the consumer demand.

Men, of course, continue to be our key consumers because a watch is an important accessory for them. For the man, a watch is not only about style but also a personality statement because he has so few avenues to express it. For a woman, a watch is a bit of a decorative piece. She has many avenues to make a style and personality statement. A man doesnt, which means that the mens segment is also very demanding, much more than the womens segment is.