Antoine Pin, Japan General Manager of TAG Heuer—a worldwide leader in the luxury watchmaking industry—defines the values that have led the Swiss company to the forefront of the Japanese market, and the innovations that will continue to lead them into the future.
Launched in 1860 by Edouard Heuer in Switzerland, the brand expanded into the Japanese market in the 1960s. The company’s first popular products in Japan were a line of stopwatches that looked like helmets; and were sold by an agent who dealt in motorcycle accessories. Beginning with these automotive roots, TAG Heuer has flourished in Japan, negotiating the Swiss watchmaking industry’s many ups and downs and thriving in a competitive market.
Pin explains that TAG Heuer truly hit its stride in Japan during the 80s and 90s, thanks to a new design of watches, a loyal and dedicated sales agent, and the pioneering use of brand ambassadors, particularly F1 driver Ayrton Senna. But as Pin explained, even after TAG established itself as a luxury brand name in Japan, it still faced strong domestic competition: “Among the most innovative brands, the Japanese brands are exceptional. Seiko is one of the biggest in the watch industry today. From an innovation point of view, this is where our biggest competitors are.”
A Pedigree of Innovation
And they were ready for the competition. Precision, design, and cutting-edge technology have always been at the heart of TAG Heuer’s philosophy. This precision has its roots in the brand’s long history of timekeeping for motor racing and the Olympic games. “The more competitive the sport is, the closer the gaps are, and therefore the more precise you need to be,” Pin explains. In 1916, the company developed stopwatches that could measure hundredths of a second—the highest degree of accuracy available at the time. This proven reliability led to Heuer becoming the official timekeepers for the Olympic games in 1920, 1924, and 1928.
“The watch doesn’t only stand for telling the time. It is the memories, the memories of emotion. That is what we are here for.”
Of course, Pin says, the Olympics were not the only event where Heuer’s split-second accuracy would come to the fore. Heuer provided a revolutionary timing system for the Formula One racing circuit, beginning at Le Mans. As watchmaking progress continued, Heuer developed chronograph movements that could measure intervals as small as 1/1,000 or 5/10,000 of a second; the brand also owns the Guinness book of world records for the shortest interval measured in a race from 2005.
With cutting-edge technology at the highest level of innovation, the same design and precision engineering makes its way into TAG Heuer’s consumer products. For customers, this translates into a reassurance that comes with purchasing a product from a brand that is a proven master of precision, as Pin explains.
The brand always stayed aligned with its values, and continued to improve. “Interestingly enough, I think even the recession times are very good … Recessions are a time when you can really develop your brand.” During the last economic crisis, TAG Heuer invested heavily on the quality of services, communication, training, and manufacturing. “It comes back to value for money as people don’t stop buying; consumers just become cautious and pay more attention to what they are buying.”
Pin says that this is very important in the Japanese market, where consumers have a high level of education about luxury goods. “In the Japanese market, people will buy something they are willing to spend their time and their money on. They understand where value for money is—products, services, and experience.” Pin explains that TAG Heuer offers more than just a product: “The luxury goods industry not only provides functionality, but also a smile to the face of clients, positive feelings, and positive impressions.”
Beyond its products, TAG Heuer delivers emotional and intellectual satisfaction to its clients, and insight into what makes a quality product. “You want to know why this watch is better than that one, you want to understand the differences between hand-stitching and machine-stitching in the leather, you want to know where it’s built, and you want to know the history,” Pin says of TAG Heuer’s consumers.
The Customer Experience
TAG Heuer offers opportunities to connect with the brand at 180 points of sale in Japan and two specialty stores in Tokyo. Ginza hosts TAG Heuer’s flagship store, and a recently renovated store reopened in Omotesando. (Both stores offer service in English.) As the first store directly run by TAG Heuer in Japan, the Espace Omotesando is a landmark in this trendsetting, luxury district.
This state-of-the-art store concept is a multi-story space that welcomes guests into the world of watchmaking, with gently sloping steps that lead to the main floor of the Espace. The second floor contains a collection of TAG’s latest models and limited editions, as well as a selection of TAG Heuer’s eyewear and lifestyle collections, including leather jackets and travel bags.
A comfortable space for customers to view and learn about the watches is available in-store as well. “The excellence in the experience we give to any of our customers, or any one who comes into contact with our brand is the essence of what we do,” Pin emphasizes.
To extend their points of contact with customers and to continue relationships past the purchase, TAG Heuer in Japan launched the Edouard Membership Club in 2012. Edouard Club members receive exclusive benefits, including invitations to special events associated with the brand.
“When you ask people about their favorite luxury item, they will tell you less about the item itself and more about the story behind it.” Pin often hears people describe their favorite piece of jewelry or clothing based on a significant life event or a special memory it represents.
“So what do we actually stand for?” he asks. “The watch doesn’t only stand for telling the time. It is the memories, the memories of emotion. Personal, intellectual, emotional enrichment is what we provide. That is what we are here for.”
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For other TAG Heuer shops around Tokyo, please visit TAG Heuer Japan’s site.