In the fairly saturated watch market, it is always difficult to stand out from the crow, especially if your competitors have been out there for decades and are backed-up by big conglomerates. However, from time to time, design and lifestyle-oriented brands emerge and set new trends.
Retail in Asia has recently come across MARCH LA.B, a watch brand coming from the chill surfing lifestyle culture, and interviewed its CEO and Founder Alain Marhic to know more about the concept behind the brand and the difficulties encountered in the creative process.
RiA : Was it a challenge to launch a business in a fairly saturated market dominated by larger players?
Alain : It was definitely a challenge, which I did not expect. Initially we were positioning our watches at the medium price and the market is already saturated with very well established brands, and in that segment customers behave as they were buying high-end watches.
They want to know about the brand, its history, its country of origins, its values. Consumers do not do much research if they have to spend a watch whose price is below $300, but for our products above this price, they do have questions.
The market is small and the distribution as well. Our competitors are actually high-end watches because the choice is between buying a lifestyle watch or spending similar amount of money for a watch from some of the existing actors with along history of over 20 years, strong and famous fellows, most of them belonging to groups.
My initial mistake was to think that being familiar with wholesale for accessories, mainly glasses and watches, it would have been easy to start my own brand. However, my deep knowledge of surfing culture and accessories for this specific market was not enough to create a watch brand, as I only knew about customer experience, and I had to start learning about watchmaking and watch history.
I started going to Basel World, the famous watch fair, to meet competitor and potential clients. At Basel World I have got a sense of the watch market, and I noticed that the watch industry is mainly dominated by big players, but at the same time they only serve the classic taste. Lifestyle brands provide more interesting collections, and the low-end products seem to be more fashionable.
However, I observed a gap in the medium-range price and a lack of elegance in the design. I did not see any vintage watch in this segment and big players reserve vintage style to collectors without revamping them for a wider market.
I aimed for a long-term plan and here I am with my own brand trying to fill that gap. Then I started working on European and Japanese market, and now I am exploring other opportunities.
RiA : How does the design reflect the hybrid soul behind MARCH LA.B which blends French heritage, surfing culture, and streetwear?
Alain : We are three people behind MARCH LAB. A friend of mine, who is the investor, a designer Jerome Mage I met 10 years ago, and I.
The designer is a French guy, who has been living in Los Angeles for 25 years. The peculiarity of his work lies in the fact that he works directly on 3D products so that accessories are prototyped with curves and angles. His high technique and sense of aesthetics combined with my surfer’s identity have generated a classic and modern watch, which blends the cool style of LA. and the French heritage.
MARCH LA.B is a mix of classic and modernity, French style and Californian easygoing lifestyle, when you wear a MARCH LA.B you enter in the chilling and relaxed mood of LA. Indeed, MARCH LA.B is thought to be a whole world, not only a watch.
RiA : MARCH LA.B takes inspiration from the 60s or 70s, do you see it as an emerging trend in the watch market?
Alain : The vintage trend is nothing new in the market, it has been there for more than ten years, being a small company just allows us to be more agile in redefining design.
The major changes happen in the size of the watches. Our products are 36mm compared to the average 40 to 44mm. Now the average is 40 or 41mm while ours are 38mm.
Another trend mainly for big brands is to revamp old collections.
RiA : What’s your customer profile and what’s appealing to them?
Alain : 7 customers out of 10 are men between 25 and 30 years old, who want to buy their first cool refined watch.
Surprisingly, the other customers are aged between 40 and 45, who already have some watches but want another.
Other customers are aged between 35 and 55 and buy our productsbecause they are elegant, cool, affordable, and French.
The first segment was carefully planned, the second two happened unexpectedly.
RiA : What is your key market today?
Alain : Our market is France, and I think this is key for our expansion in other countries. If your country believes in you, you feel empowered to go abroad.
RiA : What is your plan for Asian expansion?
Alain : My plan is to build some strong partnerships with people who believe in our brand.
We have opened our shops in Europe and we use them to promote and develop our products. Today we have two shops in Paris and will open a new shop in London in March 2018. Our global expansion aims to open shops in the major cities and use them to develop a capillary distribution network in the whole country.
I think Hong Kong is a high potential market, and the fact that French brands are very well positioned in Hong Kong makes it a fertile terrain for MARCH LA.B as well.
Other markets of our interest are Korea, Japan and Singapore.
RiA : Do you think the products are ready or you need to adjust to Asian consumers?
Alain : I think our products are ready for Asian customers, of course, once entered the market, we will be able to collect information and see if we need further adjustments.
RiA : Do you see any major differences between distributors in Asia and Europe?
Alain : Watch market is very conservative. In Europe, distributors mix different brands and place lifestyle brands close to luxury brands.
In Asia, for what I have noticed, this does not happen, but at the same time all distributors want the brands which are sold by its competitors.
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RiA : As in Asia digital marketing is key in the brand management, are you planning a specific digital strategy with KOLs and influencers?
Alain : In France, printed media is still our focus. We have been using digital tools mainly to drive traffic to the offline stores.
In Asia, we currently work with distributors in Japan, Indonesia and Singapore. They take care of our strategy. Surprisingly, we were not planning printed media strategy, but it seems that in countries like in Indonesia it is still relevant.
Retail in Asia is looking forward to updates on MARCH LA.B’s Asian expansion.