AD TIME is celebrating 30 years, and Mr YY Kwan, founder and Managing Director, has kindly agreed on meeting Retail in Asia to talk about how he turned his passion and love towards the artistry of timepieces into a solid business in South East Asia.
Since 1989, AD TIME has focused on forming long-term partnerships with various licensing partners, distributors, and retailers. Among them, licensing partners are Alain Delon, Bonia, Charles Jourdan, and Valentino Rudy; brands in distribution agreements are Versus by Versace, Cerruti I88I, Invicta, Orient, Timberland, Esprit, Suunto, Rhythm clocks, and ToyWatch in Malaysia.
AD TIME currently operates in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong.
While talking about AD TIME and its lifetime commitment to its partners, the discourse is very much branded into Mr Kwan’s persona, who has been running the business with the same enthusiasm as the beginning.
He started working in the watch industry when he was very young. He learnt the technical aspect of watchmaking at the Japanese watch brand Orient, he stood out for his problem-solving skills, and he ended up launching his own business, and acquiring the distribution of Orient later on in Malaysia.
Among the milestones of his career, there is the partnership with Alain Delon. He remarks “gained because I was not afraid of daring to try”. It was 1989, he remembers, when he launched Alain Delon’s collection with 2 models, 20 SKUs in Malaysia.
RiA : How did it all begin?
Mr Kwan : At the beginning the retail business was not easy. But now we have more than 200 employees spread out across South East Asia. Our biggest market is Indonesia because we have the advantage of having been there for a long time with a local partner.
SEA customers are very loyal to brands, so once they like a brand is very likely they are going to buy it more than once.
I would say now that the key strengths of AD TIME are: people, as some of them have been there from the beginning or for a longtime; and the knowledge of the market and customers.
South East Asia market is a very price-sensitive market, where foreign brands often struggle to succeed because of the conversion rate in local currency.
In 30 years, I have learnt to analyze the market needs, and elaborate new business models when needed to develop the company. We have started from retail, moved into distribution and manufacture. And now we are going digital to address the needs of the new generations.
As our tagline focuses on lifetime partnership, eventually, we need to continuously adapt and evolve to remain the best choice for our partners.
Suunto’s distribution is an example. We have launched Suunto in Indonesia and Malaysia, and the distribution contract was the most suitable as we did not have a R&D department able to develop such a high-tech product. Today, we are happy to be the partner of such an established brand.
RiA : What’s your customer profile?
Mr Kwan : Our customer profile is quite diverse, as we manage different brands with different types of involvement. Definitely, we have our loyal customers who follow the brands that we have launched at the beginning, but we have started recruiting young people to target Millennials and GEN Z through digital marketing.
However, I have to say that in Malaysia, print media is still important. This is because given the multi-cultural soul of the country, local language media consumption is still very strong.
In the past, we used to work with TV channels as well, which were very expensive at that time. Today, we have a combination of print media and same media platform in online version, together with social media. As the customers change their habits, we need to follow as well.
RiA : What are the trends that you have seen pervading the watch industry?
Mr Kwan : Watch industry has changed, it is easy to spot how digital native brands have disrupted the industry, and consumers have developed different taste in terms of design, color, and preferences regarding watches worldwide.
The key trends that I can share regarding SEA are:
1- Desire for luxury manufacturer watch brands with complicated mechanisms and precious stones;
2- Emergence of fashion and digital brands with simple and clean design which are interesting for wholesale business.
3- The new directions of some of the luxury Swiss watch brands that was initially more sports-oriented, now has moved towards a more classic design; trying to enlarge their target market; but remaining faithful to its roots.
If we look at Asia in general, and China, sports watches are definitely on fashion given the rising interest into healthy lifestyle.