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Jun
2015

A tale of two ‘Homes’

The concept of a brand ‘home’ is not new to China, and Shanghai in particular, Dunhill opened their home on HuaiHai Road in 2008 to great acclaim. Others have tried to make their stores in modern shopping malls feel like homes, but to be frank, they will always be seen as, and feel like a store.

The challenge in creating a ‘home’ here is, as elsewhere in the world a combination of the building itself and its location. To create a home from home, one needs a certain level of isolation and an opportunity to create an atmosphere that speaks of the brands heritage and DNA. In China in particular, a suitable building or environment for a brand home is very hard to find, because
so many old buildings have been torn down to make way for glossy new ones, and any that are still standing sit in locations that do not work for either the brand or their clientele.

I have in the past week, been very fortunate to be given personal tours of two new ‘homes’ that have very recently opened in Shanghai, both in the watch sector. The Patek Philippe Maison on the Bund and the Blancpain flagship premises in Xintiandi. Both sell watches of course, but both claim to have been established to deliver a specific luxury experience and engage existing or potential customers with the respective brand values and heritage back in Switzerland. Both are world firsts for each brand and demonstrate a commitment to China and Chinese consumers that will have cost considerable sums of money, and been for many reasons a risk the brand has taken.

My first visit was to the former British Consul Generals residence on the Bund that after almost three years of planning, negotiation and painstaking work is now the Patek Philippe Maison. Built in 1884, the building stood empty for many tens of years.It stands in beautiful gardens set back from the street, yet has great views of the Pudong side of the Huangpu River. Externally the building is in superb condition, and having stepped inside, I was transported into what felt like a European royal palace or exquisite private home of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

I ought not have been surprised, but I was taken aback by the standard of finishing and attention to detail. After all, we are talking Patek Philippe, precision and quality, so the maison should represent all those brand qualities. The finishes of the doors, the floor, the curtains and paintings hanging on the walls could not be faulted, nor could the way the watches were displayed on the ground floor. Technology has been used perfectly to enhance the brand story without being intrusive or tacky.

Upstairs there are dining and meeting rooms, a beautiful lounge bar for customers to use and a quiet terrace which no doubt will be a real home from home for many over the coming years. The ambiance of the building was calm and respectful, and I was told by my host Rosy Gao who heads Patek Philippe operations in China, that even Chinese customers who are known for speaking loudly in public, drop their voices in respect for the place.

Patek as a family owned and run business has put its personal energy and heart into this development that is plain to see. I understand that Mrs Stern, the wife of the President personally oversaw the development, created the interior design herself and then came to set everything up by hand prior to the opening. I could feel that individual touch as I walked around, but I do wonder whether Chinese visitors to the building will also sense that feeling and appreciate it. Only time will tell.

A few kilometres away from the Bund in Xintiandi a collection of Swatch Group companies have or are in the process of setting up shop in between the Langham Hotel and the restaurant area. Again like Dunhill owners Richemont who have brought together their watch brands close to the home on HuaiHai Road, Swatch have decided to cluster a number of their brands on Tai Cang Road, Blancpain being one of them.

The Blancpain flagship property covers 500 sqm and has a 150 sqm terrace overlooking Xintiandi. It’s a unique concept being tried out for the first time that combines a boutique, lounge bar and service centre all under the same roof. The brand likes to emphasis a relaxed luxury lifestyle, and wants its customers and in fact others interested in watches, or anything else for that matter, to use the lounge as a place to relax, see watches being serviced through the glass in the service centre, and to get to know the brand. Their consumers are younger that those of Patek Philippe, and would tend to be second-generation Chinese wealthy individuals, hence the brands on-going relationship with Lamborghini.

The boutique downstairs in well presented, but looks and feels like a watch store. Upstairs other than a meeting room and more boutique space, there is a very large lounge, and bar area that would rival many restaurants or pubs. When it officially opens, tapas style food will be available, as will Swiss wines and cheeses; all creating a link back to the brand origins. Seating at the bar or on leather sofa’s is spread around, and in good weather the terrace would make a great place to sit and literally ‘watch the world go by’.
Having seen both ‘home’ concepts, I can appreciate how they both fit with the respective brand DNA, and provide
a link back to its home, for the consumer. I also acknowledge that Patek customers may well be older than those of Blancpain, and in many cases how one group could in fact be their fathers of the other. It would be unwise to ignore how Patek has built a reputation in China
on investment value, quality and handing down
a watch to the next generation, which rings true with the older generations in the country. But I can clearly see that the younger more relaxed and cool positioning of Blancpain will attract younger wealthy consumers who live in a new international world that China now finds itself at the centre of.

As a European, the Patek Maison got under my skin because it reminds me of home and heritage, all of which are the core of luxury for me, but I can also see that the slightly less polished and relaxed environment Blancpain are trying to deliver will appeal to Chinese consumers much younger than I. The big question for me is how both brands can use their significant investments to drive sales from Chinese consumers in the long term?


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