In terms of managing its luxury brands, LVMH in France likes to adopt a laissez-faire approach. It has always focused on maintaining the autonomy and independence of its brands. So when the group announced in January this year that it was adjusting the top management of its watch and jewelry division, the luxury industry was paying close attention. LVMH is controlled by French billionaire Bernard Arnault.
The group’s managing director, Antonio Belloni (pictured right above), has been in charge of the watch and jewelry division since last month, with a focus on promoting Bulgari, Chaumet, and Fred (Fred) and De Beers.
As part of this adjustment, Hublot’s current CEO Jean-Claude Biver (above left) will be responsible for the watch business, mainly TAG Heuer, but also Including Zenith and Hublot.
LVMH is at a critical moment. LVMH’s acquisition of Bulgari for € 3.7 billion in 2011 greatly boosted the group’s watch and jewelry business. Last year LVMH had revenues of about 2.8 billion euros, of which the watch and jewelry division contributed more than a quarter.
But some analysts say the Paris-based group has still not made the most of the acquisition. They argue that the group’s product portfolio is too narrow and too expensive, and that major changes in retail strategy are necessary.
According to Luca Solca, a luxury goods analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, ‘Bulgari stores are too large and disappointing sales per square foot.’
In terms of brand positioning, John Guy, an analyst at Berenberg Bank, believes that Bulgari has not achieved its goal. ‘In the long run, the brand’s advertising strategy feels like it doesn’t match its traditions,’ he said.
LVMH watch brands also face challenges. In terms of sales, the group’s major brands account for about 10% of the Swiss watch market and have the scale necessary for effective competition.
But competitors such as the Swatch Group are stronger, they can provide a wider range of brand choices, and they have greater impact on independent retailers in Asia, making it harder for LVMH to expand into Asia. The Swatch Group is a leader in the watch market, with brands including Longines, Breguet and Omega. At the same time, after the Swiss competition law was amended, manufacturers invested heavily in building their own movement factories. According to Swiss competition law, the Swatch Group can gradually reduce the supply of movements to competitors.
Jon Cox, head of Swiss equity at Kepler Cheuvreux, says this poses a clear challenge.
‘If you want to build a movement factory, the cost will be very high, which puts pressure on your profit margins,’ he said, adding that making movements is also complicated.
‘The movement has 150 or 200 different parts, all of which are small and difficult to assemble. It’s not the same as Meccano.’
Overall, LVMH’s watch and jewelry division accounted for nearly 10% of the group’s total revenue, but operating profit only accounted for 6%. Most analysts believe that the segment’s operating profit has the potential to account for nearly 15% of the group.
So what are Belloni and Bivey’s ideas? Sorca said their plan is to use Belloni’s organization to boost Bulgari’s retail business. The Italian jewelry maker’s operating margin has increased from about 7% in 2007 to about 12% today.
This is mainly due to the obvious synergy brought by the integration of advertising and marketing, and the strength of LVMH in obtaining the best commercial real estate. But the group said it wants to boost Bulgari’s profit margin to 20%. Bulgari’s renovated and expanded store on Fifth Avenue in New York may indicate the direction of development. Unlike the confusing product portfolio of the past, there is now a sharp distinction between Bvlgari watches and jewellery.
In addition, people familiar with the store’s performance said that the store had achieved its full-year goal of 2013 in mid-November last year-it was not yet the peak season for Christmas. In an interview with the Financial Times, Bevey said that his goal for the LVMH watch division is to exceed the market: ‘If the entire industry is 3, then we are 4 or more. If we exceed the market, then we are successful.’
To achieve this, each department must use LVMH’s experience in real estate development to develop a single store. ‘In multi-brand stores, you can only show products. In our stores, you can show the history, emotions and dreams of the brand,’ he said.
Beaver insists that in view of the rapid changes in the industry, it is very important to invest in the construction of a watch movement factory, which is conducive to being independent of suppliers and competitors, and also ‘to give our brand a deeper industrial foundation-I Believe in the genes of each brand. For example, Hublot now relies only on 35% of its movement suppliers, compared to almost 100% a few years ago. ‘He said:’ This trend will not stop. ‘
He added that having its own manufacturing capabilities is a key part of the creative process. He asked, ‘How can you create new alloys without a metallurgy department? Without a screw department, how can you develop new screws?’
Taking all these changes into account, Citigroup analyst Thomas Chauvet is optimistic about the next few years. ‘The performance of LVMH watch and jewelry brands is not as sustainable as some of its peers, but things are starting to move in the right direction,’ he said.