Guillain Maspetiol is a man who likes a challenge. After a career spanning more than 20 years across multiple continents, companies, and roles, his latest project has meant taking over the helm of Kerbebanz, an independent watchmaking brand nestled in the heart of Switzerland that was seeking a leader to elevate its business and help build the foundations for the next step in its expansion.
The trouble was, Kerbedanz’s plans for expansion came at a time when many watch brands had been hit hard by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Where customers would have previously flown to Switzerland to commission creations or have bespoke watch models made for them, travel restrictions made it almost impossible for customers to enjoy the same experience the brand once offered. Meaning, it needed to adapt to the changes in the market and it needed to rethink its business model for the digital age.
Enter Maspetiol, a luxury veteran who has worked at Cartier, Girard-Perregaux, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, and whose experience proved invaluable when it came to repositioning the company for the new era of growth and expansion.
“The positioning of the brand was extremely exclusive, and also very intimate,” said Maspetiol, on what drew him to the company. “Every single piece was designed in collaboration with the artistic director and its clients, to create specific timepieces and specific designs unique to each customer.”
“But it was also limited,” he added. “Those types of watches are not the first purchase of a watch collector or even the second. They were the purchase of collectors and enthusiasts that perhaps would consider the brand as a fifth or sixth purchase.”
However, during times of crisis, luxury consumers tend to lean towards bigger, well-known names as clearly seen through the successful results of luxury conglomerates like LVMH and Richemont. And selling bespoke watches – particularly at a time when Swiss watch exports were sluggish and where there is no shortage of watch brands on the market aimed at meeting the most discerning customers’ needs – is not an easy task for a brand whose prices ranged from around $37,000 to around $857,000.
The end result was the decision to undergo a full brand overhaul, working from a blank page to come up with new product categories and a new positioning centered around the idea of Crafting Your Singularity to refocus the company’s aims of reaching new customers in new markets.
Focusing on their communication and branding was key, which is why they chose to partner with DLG, a leading independent digital agency for luxury brands and the publisher of Luxury Society, to define their brand territory and develop a new image to broaden out its appeal.
“It was a drastic decision to shift from a very niche and exclusive mono-product offering to a more universal luxury brand. Focusing towards a totally different offer that not only includes timepieces but also accessories and leather goods was a huge undertaking and a big challenge for a company as small as ours,” said Maspetiol, who is also considering adding jewellery, writing instruments, and accessories to its product ranges in the future.
And while Kerbedanz has lowered the points of entry to its brand, starting from $165 for a small leather good, it also plans to introduce three limited-edition timepieces with a price tag of around $3.2 million each.
“Every year, we want to come up with these limited edition pieces that are highly complicated and one of a kind,” said Maspetiol. Marrying the two ends of the luxury market may not be a simple task, but Maspetiol believes that by focusing on the brand’s core values of craftsmanship, authenticity, and transparency, it’s a task that can be managed well.
“We want a genuine relationship with our customers,” he said. “But the idea is also to be very approachable. In today's world, you have to be reachable, you have to be faithful to your values and you have to have un fil rouge that you follow.”
The company also plans to expand its global footprint, focusing on the United States, China and the Middle East as its three key regions of future growth in the coming years.
“We want to explore new territories,” said Maspetiol. “And we are planning to go from three doors to 30 doors. By the end of 2022, we aim to have between six to 10 doors.
Kerbedanz’s latest campaign. Credit: DLG.
But partnering with retailers isn’t the only path forward for Kerbedanz. Maspetiol added that there are also plans in the future to open its own branded stores, to help elevate the customer experience of Kerbedanz.
“We don't want to have a retail concept which is what everybody else does,” noted Maspetiol. “We want to go beyond that. Our slogan is Crafting Your Singularity, which can be a challenge because you have to be singularly innovative with new products, new packaging, in your events and communication.”
“Today, nobody is expecting a new brand,” he continued. “But I think, for me, it’s the utmost luxury when you grant customers the opportunity to sit at the inner circle of the table. We have the freedom to think outside the box, and not have to adhere to historical codes or untouchable iconic products. And we want to give that freedom to our customers, to our retailers.”
Freedom in Maspetiol’s mind means being able to meet the designer, craft their own timepiece, change an existing timepiece and involve his customers in the process of design and certain processes of construction.
“We have to really define something which is singular, in the way we welcome our clients, in the way we host events, the way we provide our services because you can be very creative but it can also be a struggle,” he noted.
“These kinds of experiences where you can be a part of assembling a portion of the movement, or inviting to the testing of the watch, makes the experience of owning that timepiece so much more personable because you have had a hand in it,”he added. “It carries more emotional content.”