Cartier opened its South African boutique in late 2007. What interesting things have you learned about the market here?
For one thing, the South African market is difficult to classify. From a growth and development perspective, it’s an emerging market, but in terms of its knowledge and discernment of luxury goods, its sophistication and expectation of standards, it’s more like Europe and the United States. The other interesting thing we’ve learned is how diverse the South African clientele is. South Africans themselves make up a very diverse group, and when you add to that the tourism market in this country, you find a very interesting mix of people who are interested in purchasing luxury goods.
What challenges did you experience establishing Cartier in South Africa?
Even with a global brand like Cartier that’s been around for more than 150 years, you have to build the image in each new country you go into. South Africans know the Cartier brand, but only through our retail network which focuses exclusively on watches. As a result many South Africans associate the Cartier brand only with watches, and are not aware that we were actually first known for our jewellery. We worked closely with the media to reorientate our image in the market.
How did the recession affect business?
We did face a quieter 2009. However, between 2006 and 2008, many brands tried to position themselves in the luxury goods market, without really having the credibility, knowledge, reputation or quality to do so. In a way every economic crisis is the same – people go back to basics. They want to know that what they are spending money on has a solid reputation and provides quality and value, not just a brand name. For these reasons, the newcomers to the luxury market suffered more than Cartier did during the recession.
What strategy did you employ to weather the economic crisis?
So many new entrants to the market prior to the recession may have caused some brands to re-evaluate how and what they do, and how they position themselves. However, we know what we do and that we do it well, so our strategy has always been to stick to that and not to change or dilute the brand. This proved to be the right move when the recession hit and people started looking for an established brand they could trust. The fact that we had expanded into China – a market not affected in the same way by the recession – also made us more resistant.
What is the key to marketing luxury goods successfully?
No compromise on quality at all, no compromise on techniques, no compromise on finishes, no compromise on communication. All this takes time so you need patience and a commitment to ensuring things are done to a standard of excellence. You also cannot afford to simply change what you stand for just to suit a certain period of time, or a certain market. You have to retain the long-term vision of the brand, focus on what you are, and remain consistent. This has stood Cartier in good stead since its inception.