Raphaël Granito is the CEO and Markus Wälchi the Marketing Director of Formex. Longtime friends, they have been working together since late 2016 and their special feature is that one lives in California and the other in Biel. They were ahead of the curve of home office.
While some may see this as an obstacle, they use it as an opportunity. It was this, along with the growing success of the brand, that prompted me to interview them. I wanted to understand their way of working to understand what makes Formex so special.
One in his office in Biel, the other in California and ymyself in our offices in the Vallée de Joux. 2-1 for Switzerland.
The Zoom session starts and the interview begins. During an hour, they explained me how they maintain interest in the brand, their management of the pandemic and what, they believe, contributes to the success of the brand.
Let’s get started !
Our approach is the product. For that, it has to be visually distinct from anything else on the market in terms of design, features and price. Being independent and selling directly allows us to achieve these differentiation goals.
In addition to that, we are trying in creative ways to bring it to the market and make it visible to the watch lovers.
The watch enthusiast is the most obvious customer for us, because you can show him the product and its characteristics and he will be able to recognize its quality and the amount of work we have done.
We build a brand through our product rather than selling our product through our brand.
During our discussion with the designers, they explained to us how they transpose these objectives into a concrete product. I invite you to read it here.
This is the main challenge we face. I totally understand the value of a store, it offers a tactile experience of the product you can’t get online. And even more so for our product that has so many features worth experiencing in person. It would make sense for us to be in stores around the world. But Raphael made the decision when he took over the brand to be an online brand. A brand that works in the business of the future. Moreover, the fact of being present in a boutique would have a direct impact on the price of our watches which means on our product development possibilities also.
We try to compensate for that in several ways. By providing videos, an application allowing you to try the watch in augmented reality. But also, by being present in person at events, watch fairs, etc…
There is a chat room on the site and within 10 minutes I had an answer. This illustrates the importance they attach to this direct link with the customer or potential customer.
We really had some good ideas in terms of marketing. We made ourselves known to opinion leaders. For example, we created an article where we had made our top 10 favorite sites/creators. We used that list to share it with our audience but also with those creators. This alone opened many doors for us.
This visibility allowed us to move forward more serenely in the development of the brand and our next projects. A simple idea that worked.
In every crisis, there are opportunities. With the pandemic, it was my duty to find those opportunities. So, we took advantage of the opportunity to reach out to opinion leaders to increase the brand awareness by reaching a wider audience of enthusiasts.
During this period, we had an advantage over the traditional brands. While they were slowly going digital and paying attention to their distribution network, we were already ready. We had already been 100% digital for 3 years.
I think it’s about creating valuable content. Content that brings value to the audience or the customer. You have to bring something to them. It can be content about the world of watchmaking that is interesting to read.
But you also have to come up with new things that are interesting for people in terms of products. That’s why we’re always looking for ways to improve our products and their use. The deployant clasp patent with fine adjustment or the suspension system on the Essence are part of this.
I would say it’s a mix of design, functionality and community. We are very close to our customers. Almost every watch we sell, we know who buys it…
If you go to a retail store, you’ll have direct contact with the retailer, but with us, you buy directly from the people who created the watch. And we try to be responsive to everyone. We even keep a file in which we note every return and every customer request. If a request comes back in number, we think about how to implement it.
I would say my father. Because he taught me what business is in the watch industry and how to innovate. But most importantly, he taught me how to become and stay independent. It may not be the fastest way to grow a business, but it’s the safest.
For me, it’s going to be a mix between physical and digital, but the digital part is going to take a little more space. The pandemic has been a gas pedal for that. But you can’t lose contact with your customer base and your community.
My experience with Formex is multiple. I had the chance to visit them many times, to handle their products and to be in contact with some of their customers.
What I can tell you is that these words are not disconnected from reality. The customer contact, the design and the innovations are the elements that seduced these customers. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their time and their answers.
Today, brands must focus on their customers. That’s one of the reasons why in recent years many brands have set up their own distribution network.
The customer experience must be balanced with a quality product, all in an atmosphere of transparency.
Do you think Formex has many more great years ahead of them? And should traditional brands take inspiration from them? You tell me in comments…