Interview with Jean-Claude Biver: Hublot and the African market

In his office, at the headquarters of Hublot, Monsieur Biver expounded on his Africa business.

Monsieur Jean-Claude Biver became the President of LVMH Watch Division in March 2015, where he is the CEO and minority shareholder of Hublot and also CEO of TAG Heuer.

He is known for successfully rejuvenating Blancpain and Omega which are both owned by the Swatch Group. He is also a cheesemaker and produces 5 tons of cheese, annually at his farm in the Swiss Alps. No, the cheese is not for commercial purposes.

Hublot was founded in 1980 and is headquartered in Nyon, Switzerland. The Swiss timepiece company has grown rapidly and increased its production by opening its second production facility in Nyon.


Do you have an Africa strategy? How do you select the countries you want to enter?

We want to show our customer that we are at their service. We go where we feel our customers are. We feel that we belong to you the customer.

If they feel that we fit into their lifestyles then we don’t need a salesperson. The sales are already complete. The connection and relationship has already been created by the client and Hublot. Our strategy is that basic. We follow the client to their country and set up home there. The clients have various purchase points which we have reviewed for several years hence our entry into those markets with representations.

We don’t use big studies or wide analysts. Our process is pragmatic. Client leads us.

What are your strongest African markets? Is it mostly driven by male buyers?

Nigeria and Angola are very strong markets for us despite the ongoing challenges. They are our lead markets. In Nigeria our distributor is Polo Luxury and in Angola it is Largo Ferreira do Mara.

South Africa is a small market for Hublot, a very dynamic market but small.

The men buyers in Nigeria are 99% and in Angola too. There is an increase in women buyers. But men are the main buyers; by buying for themselves or buying for the women too.

Globally revenues from women timepieces are 35%.


How are your partnerships structured with your distributors?

Our partnerships are very comprehensive. No special requirements. We don’t pretend to understand the local market. There is a crucial need to collaborate and partner with the local people, always. Our human relations are the boost for our partnerships

We have a lot of training sessions which we provide to our local markets to guide them on the Hublot way of life.

We bring our clients here to Switzerland for training on the Hublot language and universe.

Nigeria is in an economic recession and Angola is also challenged due to the oil prices. How has that affected your business?

It has affected us too. We also feel the stress because as a business we ae very interlinked to these markets and other luxury demands. When art sales go up at Christies that boosts us too. So if sales of luxury brands are going down in the African market due to the current challenges we are affected.

Ivory Coast was a very strong market but this has gone down, in the past there was lot of troubles in that market due to politics challenges. Majority of the Ivorians purchase their Hublot timepieces from Paris. Irrespective, we are still in Ivory Coast, through our distributor in Abidjan; Galerie Cap Sud.


Are there key challenges that affect your business besides the oil driven challenges?

Political challenges lead to a lot of market insecurities and currency fluctuations.

All these issues make business planning a challenge for us. When a country has a president and the president changes in 5 years after elections, yet we have done our business planning for more than 5 years it becomes a challenge for us because most new governments change the law. Most new governments make very many changes, from the law to policies and these can have negative effects on business. If the laws could remain fixed it gives investors the courage to invest and the confidence for us to remain in that market for a long time.

How does the Hublot universe work?

In our Hublot universe, king is customer and queen is our product.  How do they meet? That is our job as Hublot. They meet through our communication, our stores and our advertisements.

They meet through the store. King is seduced by the Queen. He wants to marry her, the job is done. Voila! Our job is done.



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