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A Michel Herelin timepiece
A Michel Herelin timepiece

Seiko surprises with Michel Herbelin deal

In a break with tradition, Seiko Australia has announced a three-year Australasian distribution agreement with French watch brand Michel Herbelin.
In a significant departure from distributing watch brands under the Seiko Watch Corporation banner such as Seiko, Pulsar and Lorus, Seiko Australia has branched out into the European-made watch segment.

While Lorus and Pulsar are targeted at lower-priced segments of the market, Seiko Australia marketing director Stuart Smith said Seiko’s acquisition of Michel Herbelin would add to its portfolio of high-end watches.

“Seiko watches are more high-end and male-focused and similarly, Michel Herbelin is high-end with price points between $700 and $1200 and more female centred. We thought Michel Herbelin would complement what we have as a collection and establish a relationship with a market we’re not in at the moment,” Smith said.

Michel Herbelin had been distributed by Queensland-based RPA since 1977 but the distribution relationship ended in April.

RPA director, Sally Peters explained that her husband, Roger, passed away in 2006 and she met with Michel Herbelin at BaselWorld. “Both parties agreed to amicably go [their] own ways.”  

Seiko Australia will launch the new Michel Herbelin timepieces to a select group of retailers in September. Smith said the distributor is looking for retail partners that understand the brand and have competent retail staff on all store levels.

“Our distribution policy for Michel Herbelin will primarily be through independent stores – stores which have a high level of customer service and trained staff who understand the positioning and quality of the brand,” Smith said.

The selective distribution policy will ensure that retailers are not competing against each other and will help them maintain profitable sales, according to Smith.

Seiko Australia is looking to secure between 20 and 25 stockists in both Australia and New Zealand by the end of the year and hopes to expand this base to between 60 and 80 stockists in the next two years.

Oceania and Asia area manager at Michel Herbelin, Benjamin Theurillat told Jeweller he was happy to “reopen the market” in New Zealand as Michel Herbelin does not currently have any stockists there.

“Australia and New Zealand are two very interesting markets for us. The culture is very close to ours and we hope to build on our reputation there and develop our sales and brand image,” Theurillat said.

“With our former distributor, Australia and New Zealand were ranked 30th in terms of turnover. With out new distributor, we can expect to bring the Oceania area into the top 10 within the next three years,” Theurillat added.

Smith emphasised that each retailer would have to support the brand with minimum stock levels that showcase the range effectively.

“The collection we are introducing is around 60 pieces. We see a range of 30 being a representation of the stock available. Most retailers have committed to more than 30,” Smith said.

The new pieces will be handpicked models with proven sales performance in local and overseas markets.

“The Michel Herbelin watches that we will release in September are models we believe consumers are asking for from elegant ladies dress watches in bangle and cable bracelets to traditional gents dress watches with intricate design features,” Smith said.

Despite having a presence in the Australian market that dates back to the 1980s, Smith said the French watch brand is far from a household name in Australia.

“The brand is not well known by consumers in Oceania but the brand is well respected by retailers and watchmakers as being a quality timepiece,” Smith said.

Smith said Seiko Australia would concentrate on tapping into the women’s market and would market the brand differently to its existing brands – Seiko, Pulsar and Lorus – due to the brand’s individual appeal, style and target market.

“The typical Michel Herbelin customer will be sophisticated, mature and have an appreciation for quality. The French brand, the design and limited distribution will appeal to the consumer audience.”

Aside from acting as the new distributor of Michel Herbelin, Seiko Australia will be the official sales service centre in Oceania.

“We have access to all parts and are able to supply the trade with spare parts. We will also offer a full watch repair service from our head office at North Ryde, Sydney,” Smith said.

More reading:
Tendence watches to relaunch in Australia
New distributor for Spinning Jewelry
Seiko changes distribution policy

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