On the sidelines of the Salon des Grandes Complications, Milvin George, managing director of Officine Panerai, discusses underlying opportunities in the Iranian market, habits of GCC customers and the brand’s digital strategy for the near future.
You have been with Officine Panerai since it entered the GCC market; what were the challenges at the beginning?
I was able to adapt easily to the brand culture and I was also able to set strategies that would ensure that the brand will be visible and strong in each GCC market, while respecting Officine Panerai’s DNA. This was not the difficult part. The difficult part was choosing the right retail outlets as we are bombarded with so many mall openings. We had to identify the relevant projects in terms of offering; we always go with projects where other anchor brands are established. Being a niche brand, we always choose very carefully where we open our stores. We opened the 13 boutiques across the GCC, India and Turkey.
Would you say that the GCC customer knows more about watches than they did five or ten years ago?
Absolutely; a few years ago, it was difficult to explain why we would charge a certain amount for a mechanical watch versus a quartz watch. Today, the customers are highly educated, they know a lot about the industry. They have the knowledge but they are also demanding, if they can’t get what they want at our boutiques in the region, they will go somewhere they can get the pieces they are looking for. If you look at the GCC consumers, there are few things they can accessorise with: a watch, a pen and a car. Their watch is an extension of their persona, so it is very important for them.
What is Officine Panerai’s strategy when it comes to retaining regional customers?
I think it comes down to offering early launches and exclusivity to our customers in the region. We have a boutique in each market in the region, which helps us a lot. We also have customer profiles that we share across our boutiques and we are able to offer the same level of service in all our outlets.
Is Officine Panerai present in the Iranian market?
Our office launched Officine Panerai in Iran five years ago and we knew the brand had a lot of potential there. Our management at that time was very supportive and now, we are happy to have made that move. Officine Panerai is known in Iran and what helps is that a lot of Iranians travel or live abroad and they usually introduce their friends to the brand once they are back home.
Is Officine Panerai embracing digital?
We started working on our digital strategy for 2016. Digital is a very important tool in the region, so we want to have regional pages for our social media and a bilingual website. We want to work more with bloggers and be more active digitally.