In the no-travel COVID-19 era of social distancing, Audemars Piguet’s local presence has become tremendously important. The brand has a practice of decentralising power and responsibility across its different regions so Southeast Asia CEO Stefanie Ng has found herself in a challenging situation. During the Circuit Breaker, Ng and her team had to figure out how to engage with collectors personally, something she says is key for the business in the region. Just like the rest of us, this involved the team picking up new skills in digital connectivity. Nevertheless, this is a fine watchmaking brand so the lack of a physical touch was keenly felt. “It is still important to engage with each other in real life as soon as conditions allow it. Building true relationships goes beyond the digital world,” said Ng.
Appointed to her current position in 2019, Ng has been with the brand since 2012, and in the trade since 2004. Currently, she not only leads the business for the countries in this region, but also India and Australia. We caught up with her digitally.
How is Audemars Piguet coping with COVID-19 in Southeast Asia?
Southeast Asia is still doing well because of the steady demand for the brand. We are lucky to be in this position and our clients are still indulging in fine timepieces. When tourism took a huge hit, we saw a significant rise in local sales, in every market. The pandemic has just highlighted how important relationships with local clients are. We are glad we did the move (from wholesale to retail) years ago.
On the supply side, the manufacture has also been hit. What’s the situation now?
Although we had to close production for two months during confinement in spring last year, we are doing well. Even if we have produced fewer watches in 2020 than in 2019, they are still in very high demand. Our main objective is not to catch up on the months that we have lost, but to focus on 2021, 2022 and 2023 instead, while using our agility and our ability to change our ways of working in order to get even closer to our clients.
On that note, how important is Southeast Asia to Audemars Piguet?
Our commercial strategy benefits from a very healthy and well- balanced repartition. In 2020 Asia accounted for approximately 40%, Europe 33%, Americas 16% and Middle East 11%.
It seems the luxury sports watch has become the new normal, relegating the dress watch to the sidelines. The watch that started this all is the Royal Oak (almost 50 years ago), and it seems perfectly reasonable to consider it a contemporary dress watch. What’s the brand’s position on this phenomenon?
The Royal Oak did start a new trend in 1972. Today almost every watch brand has a luxury sports watch in their portfolio. Not all clients own several watches, which is the reason why the one they choose has to fill several purposes. Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet does exactly this. We believe Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet embodies the contemporary wristwatch. In the end, the market decides what sells.
Indeed, many know the Royal Oak before they know Audemars Piguet. When they visit us, they ask for what they have heard of. We then have the opportunity to introduce what we do, how we do it and why. The Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet collection is a tremendous platform to do exactly this.
How is the collection doing now that the shock of its debut is a few years in the past?
It takes time for people to accept a new collection. With the launch of the 2020 new colour references, we’ve seen a growing demand for the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet. We believe that the new Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet is here to stay, as a member of the Audemars Piguet family.
Please tell us about the retail strategy for Audemars Piguet in this region.
Our retail strategy is to focus on our personal relationships, and increase the proximity between our teams and the Audemars Piguet family members and this has been consistent the past few years. We evolve it slightly since 2020 but we still remain focused to enhance our client’s experience and better respond to their evolving needs and expectations. We don’t necessarily need four walls to sell watches. We can sell a watch anywhere: on a golf course or at restaurants with our nomad ambassadors. The critical question that we ask ourselves is how we can offer an unforgettable experience to a client outside of the boutique.
You are one of the few women holding senior management roles in the watch trade. Is this challenging? And if so, how do you cope with it?
The challenge is the same for anyone holding senior management roles, in the watch trade or not. Being resilient, adaptable and choosing to see challenges as learning opportunities rather than disruptions is important.
And finally, a selfish question: 2021 is the 20th anniversary of WOW. What’s something about the magazine that stands out in your memory? A story perhaps? Or maybe something about the founder, Eddy Koh.
I remember the 1st time meeting WOW founder Eddy when I just joined the trade in 2004 as a junior marketer. His friendly personality and passion about watches left a deep impression with me. Being one of the pioneers in watch publications, I congratulate Eddy and the team at WOW on their 20th anniversary.
For more information about Code 11.59, head over to Audemars Piguet’s official website here.