Philippe Schaus, CEO, DFS Group

By Doug Newhouse |

DFS Group is presenting 400 Masterpieces of Time from 32 of the world’s top luxury watchmaker brands at its DFS Galleria Macao and CEO Philippe Schaus describes the collections on show as nothing short of ‘spectacular’. Doug Newhouse interviewed him in Macao.

 

DFS Group CEO Philippe Schaus tells Doug Newhouse that collectors, connoisseurs, media specialists and the DFS team are all making its Macao Masterpieces of Time event an unprecedented and ‘spectacular’ success.

 

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PLANNING THIS LAST ROUND OF THE SERIES OF MASTERPIECES EVENTS IN 2012?

Literally the moment you finish one of these events you start working on the next one, so we could really say that we have been working on this for 12 months. It is a long undertaking because you have to define your collection and that is the most critical thing and sometimes the brands have to create something for us. So the earlier we start the better. So as this finishes we will start working on the next one.

 

Philippe Schaus, CEO, DFS GroupHAVE YOU ACHIEVED WHAT YOU SET OUT TO WITH THIS PARTICULAR EXERCISE SO FAR, ALTHOUGH OBVIOUSLY YOU STILL WANT TO SELL EVERY PIECE YOU CAN…?

 

Well first of all the nature of the event is that it should be an annual rendezvous for watch connoisseurs in Asia, bringing them together with some spokespeople in the world of watches, plus some of the brands and us as coordinators and organisers.

 

[Left: DFS Group CEO, Philippe Schaus at the DFS Galleria Macao which is now the retailer’s largest store in the world.]

 

Of course, if you have a repetitive event like that you want, every year, to give it a new touch and to bring it to the next level.

 

This version of this Masterpieces of Time is definitely the most sophisticated and the most spectacular we have ever done in terms of the number of pieces we have; more than 400 watches from 32 manufacturers in terms of the quality of the presentation and value.

 

We were very lucky that we could do it at the same time as we were unveiling an expansion of 5,000 square metres and making our Macao Four Seasons store our largest store worldwide. The fact that we could combine these two things added to the prestige of the event I would say.

 

So from that point of view we are very, very pleased to have done it this way.

 

SO IT IS GOING TO BE A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW NEXT YEAR?

Well as always. As soon as you finish an event like that you have to start scratching your head and say ‘Oh my God, how are we going to do it even better next year?’ But each time it has to be better – you cannot stay where you are.

 

Each time it should be different, more interesting, bringing different angles in and all of that. So for instance, an angle that we brought in this year was this idea of pinnacle moments. This is the idea of saying a timepiece is an object which accompanies you in your entire life and it is also an object which can be linked to a very particular moment in your life like a marriage, your first child, a professional moment, a sporting moment, a cultural experience, or a trip or a voyage somewhere.

 

A watch is part of those objects which have a history for yourself or your family and your friends, so we try to illustrate this with cooperation of a few artists who lend themselves to tell their story to the audience we had yesterday, and also with the movies we did – and also with the presence of the pianist.

 

We tried to document this idea of the timepiece being not just a watch to tell you what time it is, but really being an object which is part of your life, for example, when we inherit a watch from our grandfather, or a father gives a watch away to his children.

 

HOW WOULD YOU TIE IN THE MASTERPIECES EVENT WITH THE PLATINUM PROGRAMME AND IS THIS A FUNDAMENTAL BUILDING BLOCK WHICH REINFORCES THE EXCLUSIVE AND PERSONAL ONE-TO-ONE RELATIONSHIP THAT THIS PROGRAMME PROMOTES BETWEEN DFS AND ITS CLOSEST PERSONAL VIP CUSTOMERS?

The Platinum Services Club is really a club, it is not a promotions programme like we would see in any other organisation. Primarily, it gives you access to things to which you wouldn’t have access otherwise.

 

So, for instance, it gives you access to the Platinum Services Lounges we have in our stores and we have a very important one in this store, which is still under construction.

 

DFS CEO

But it also gives you access to special events which we organise. The connoisseurs and the customers we invited here are almost all members of the Platinum Services Club and its part of the experiences we want to give them. Also, as the number of Platinum Services Club members is growing, we want to grow the diversity of experiences we can provide to them and this is one idea – but we have many others.

 

[Above right: The media forum held in the Venetian Naples Ballroom discussed Haute Horlogerie from the two angles of collector and lifestyle under the guidance and moderation of Harold Brooks, President of Global Merchandising, DFS Group (far left). Those taking part included Matthew Green, Merchandise Manager – Watchmakers, Global Merchandising, DFS Group; Carson Chan, Managing Director and watch specialist of Bonhams Asia; Chang Wei, renowned watch collector; and (not pictured here) Eric Ku, vintage watch expert and founder of 10pastTen.com and Zhou Yinyin, world-class concert pianist.]

 

IT MUST BE QUITE ATTRACTIVE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE GENUINE CONNOISSEURS IN A PARTICULAR PRODUCT SECTOR TO BE ABLE TO COME TO AN EVENT LIKE THIS?

DFS Masters of TimeYes, I think for a connoisseur moments like that are really highlights for them. A connoisseur is constantly on the search for that additional piece they are looking for and to come into a place like this where you have 400 watches of the most unusual and elaborate kind is a feast for the eyes, and for them it is fantastic.

 

[Left: Benjamin Vuchot, DFS Group Managing Director for Asia North addresses the media tour at the DFS Galleria Macao, pointing to the largest and most expensive collection of watches. Charles Langlois guided the media through the collection of Masterpieces of Time watches in the exhibition hall.]

 

Also, what is interesting is we have, for the first time, created a vintage store within one of our stores and for the moment we call it Le Salon. It is a boutique per se, which exposes vintage watches of the main watch brands and that is also something that we do for connoisseurs who are really looking for these kinds of pieces. The first results of that offer have been quite unexpectedly high in terms of the acceptance and the actual pieces which have changed hands over the last few weeks, so it has gone beyond what we expected.

 

I have been pushing for that, thinking that it was a kind of rounding up of watch expertise by offering these and becoming even more of a watch expert, but I wasn’t sure whether we would also be commercially successful, because that is a different story. For instance, you never know whether people who come to Macao would be in the market to buy a vintage watch, but the answer is yes – they are.

 

PRACTICALLY HOW DOES IT WORK… YOU ARE GOING TO SHOW THESE WATCHES FOR A FEW MONTHS NOW, BUT IF SOMEBODY BUYS ONE TODAY DOES THAT MEAN IT COMES OUT OF THE EXHIBITION?

DFS Masterpieces of TimeYes. They will take it home and we will have other pieces to replace it. People are travelling to Macao and they might be coming from Singapore or from Seoul, or Beijing, so they want to go home with their watch.

 

[Right: Le Salon is where some of the most valuable and rare timepieces are being exhibited, with each manufacturer accorded an individual glass display. During the launch, male and female models were also on hand to show off some of the timepieces on their wrists.]

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE ROLE PLAYED BY BLOGGERS AND THE PRESS IN PROMOTING AND REPORTING THE EVENT – DO THEY REALLY HELP TO MAKE THEM SUCCESSFUL?

Yes they do. The bloggers play a very big role and especially if they are experts or connoisseurs themselves, because they tell a story which is very credible to their followers and they will spread it out in a very big way and it is the same for the press.

 

This is very important because the word has to be spread. The whole idea of this exhibition is that it is a moment of discovery, a moment of enjoyment and those people who come here then transmit that through their blogs or press to other people. They help to create the buzz and interest around the event and make more and more people feel that they would like to be part of it.

 

YOU’VE SAID YOU WILL BE DOING WATCHES AGAIN NEXT YEAR, BUT WHAT OTHER MASTERS EVENTS ARE YOU PLANNING?

We are working on a spirits event again and then we are working on a couple of other ideas – in particular fragrances events, which I don’t want to say too much about as this will be a surprise. We are going to do this in an exceptional location and in an exceptional way.

 

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU NEED TO THANK FOR THIS EVENT AND WHO HAS BEEN REALLY PIVOTAL?

The first parties to thank are the watchmakers themselves. Of course, this event would not be what it is if it wasn’t for the incredible timepieces which have been provided by the watchmakers.

 

When you are really aware of what effort is behind that, you don’t see that anywhere else; they are not only being imaginative, but also developing pieces especially for this event. Then, of course, there is the logistics of bringing it all here, so I would say that these are the first ones to thank.

 

Then I would say the second ones are our partners here with Sands who have been extremely helpful in making this event as glamorous as we were able to make it yesterday. That was through all of the space they provided for us and the support and all of the catering side etcetera, etcetera, so I think they have also been very important.

 

Certainly I would also say the press and connoisseurs and specialists who helped to make this event known in other places. Lastly, our customers themselves are the visitors and they are also the actors of the event – our very good watch collectors. With them being here and coming here and sharing with each other it also elevates the whole thing.

 

[He also paid strong tribute to the ‘fantastic’ work done over the course of almost one year by the DFS team for coordinating it all together between the brands, the customers and Sands-Ed].

 

THE CONFIDENCE LEVELS AMONG YOUR PEOPLE MUST GO UP EVERY TIME YOU HOLD ONE OF THESE EVENTS MUSTN’T IT?

Masterpieces of timeYes, I would say so. We are very lucky to have excellent teams, both on the brands merchandising side and on the marketing and operations sides; we have teams who really take up challenges.

 

[Left: Besides watches and timepieces, Masterpieces of Time also showed a wide range of watch accessories, including straps and winders etc.]

 

When they received the challenge to bring this to the next level they took it up and of course we leave them enough autonomy and enough flexibility so that they can act on their own and get things done.

 

There are a lot of very talented individuals who then work collaboratively in making such a complex event become seamless and fluid.

 

HOW OPTIMISTIC ARE YOU THAT DFS’S SEEMINGLY HEALTHY MARKETPLACE WILL CONTINUE IN HONG KONG AND MACAO IN PARTICULAR IN 2013 – WITH THESE SPECIAL EVENTS ALMOST TRANSCENDING THE NORMAL MARKET?

First of all I don’t like to consider these events as markets because they are really almost cultural events. We are not measuring the success of an event like this by the number of watches we have sold. How we measure it is by the excitement we create and by the happiness of all our partners who have taken part, and the buzz we were able to generate.

 

To answer your first question, we are very optimistic and, of course, Hong Kong and Macao are two different stories.

 

In Macao we really believe that we are only in the first third of the adventure. Macao has a lot of potential to grow and its growth today is limited by the number of hotel rooms available and by the infrastructure.

 

As the infrastructure develops there will be more people coming to Macao from broader areas of China as well. Today, most of the Macao visitors come from Guangdong province, not from wider channels, so this is going to grow.

 

We see that there is a lot of potential to further develop Macao. I think Macao really beyond being one gaming centre of China is also becoming an entertainment and shopping centre for China and, for the latter part, we hope to bring our contribution to that.

 

So we are very optimistic for Macao and, as we speak, the Macao business all together is doing very, very well.

 

Hong Kong is a different story in the sense that it has different dynamics. Today, it is already a shopping paradise for many people. I would also say that here there are some infrastructure limitations to massive growth in the future and probably more than in Macao.

 

Having said that, we are quite optimistic that Hong Kong will continue to grow, albeit not at the same tremendous pace as it did in the last 10 years, but still at a reasonable pace.

 

Of course, there can be ups and downs. We are very much dependent in Hong Kong on politics in China, the general mood and the economies in China and, as these don’t follow a straight line but sometimes an undulating line, you have the repercussions in Hong Kong as well. But having said that we are quite optimistic.

 

ARE YOU HOPEFUL THAT THE APPEAL OF MACAO WILL BE BROADENED? THERE HAS BEEN MUCH TALK OF BRINGING FAMILIES IN AND MAKING IT MORE OF A FAMILY RECREATION DESTINATION…

I think Macao is a long way from where Las Vegas is today. Las Vegas has become almost more entertainment and a resort place than a gaming place, so there is a long way to go and there are still many people who have not even experienced gaming in Macao.

 

But yes, you will have that movement of Macao and that is driven by all of the operators here who want to make Macao a wider place in terms of what it has to offer. Today, Macao is still predominantly a gaming destination and we are not yet at the point where it has become an all-round travel, leisure, shopping destination, but it will eventually get there.

 

IT WOULD BE RUDE OF ME NOT TO ASK YOU TO COMMENT ON YOUR GAINS WITH THE HONG KONG AIRPORT BUSINESS. IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THERE IS A SEAMLESS STREAM OF CHANNELS THAT YOU’VE GOT IN HONG KONG NOW?

DFS MOT Gala DinnerThe taking over of the Hong Kong airport business has been a tour de force because of the sheer management of it. We are taking over the three big concessions of beauty, liquor and general merchandise and it is happening in the course of a few weeks, but hands over essentially overnight.

 

[Right: The gala dinner was well attended by watch collectors, the DFS team, plus all forms of media, including influential bloggers and watch experts.]

 

So we have almost had an army-like organisation to do these takeovers and the transitions of these concessions and changing people, changing merchandise, changing systems, changing the supply chain, changing the back office and doing all of this in a completely unnoticeable way for customers travelling through the airport.

 

That first phase is almost achieved. As we speak now, two of the three concessions have moved over to DFS. We have not yet changed any of the layout of the stores, so we basically took over the whole fixtures and layouts as was in situ. Now the next phase; we have to take over the next concession which is beauty next week [speaking on Saturday 8 December-Ed].

 

Over the next four or five months we are going to progressively transform each one of them entirely. We are redesigning the whole shopping area in the entire airport and that is going to happen in phases because we cannot close the whole thing down and then have works going on for two months and then reopen.

 

We have to do it with as little disruption as possible for the passengers and customers, so that’s why it takes a few months. There is a strong plan behind it with splitting each one of the concessions in bits and pieces; they are going to be redesigned over a period of time.

 

So I invite everybody to come back to Hong Kong towards the end of the first half of the year to discover a completely revamped airport and hopefully more transparent, much more shoppable and more visible and at the same time exciting and luxurious – so as to make it a really strong experience and really elevate the end product through the shopping offer.

 

DID YOU HAVE HELPFUL HANDOVERS FROM THE PREVIOUS CONCESSIONAIRES?

Yes, absolutely. There was very good cooperation from our colleagues who were handling the concessions before us and they were facilitating this in a smooth way, as we would do if it had been the other way round.

 

IF THERE WERE THREE MAJOR AIMS IN THE NEXT YEAR, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

DFS MOT Gala DinnerThe number one main aim is that we hope that 2013 will be as good as 2012, for our teams, for our industry as a whole and that we will be sitting equally happy in a year from now looking back to 2013 and saying it was a great year.

 

Secondly, the projects we’re doing, be it in Hong Kong Airport or Los Angeles Airport. I hope that we will have succeeded next year to make the partners in the travel retail industry see, through these examples, that DFS has much more to bring to them than great brands and great shopping experiences and that we can really contribute to making travelling through a particular airport a much more enjoyable experience.

 

I hope we will be able to achieve this through our projects which we are going to develop in the course of the year.

 

The third [aim] which I would have for all of our staff and their families is that everything goes fine next year and everybody remains healthy and in good shape and that they continue to enjoy a great life, both on their personal and professional sides.

 

The venue for this year’s Masterpieces of Time annual fine watch exhibition was the new Luxury & Watchmaker Boutique Halls within the Watch Jewelery World of the DFS Galleria Macao.


The halls now include the new aforementioned concept store, Le Salon by DFS Group, which not only features vintage timepieces from the houses of Rolex and Patek Philippe, but also focuses on independent houses such as Christophe Claret, H. Moser & Cie, Laurent Ferrier and Richard Mille. Le Salon also has a unique collection of the world’s most prestigious watch accessories, such as watch trunks, winders and straps.

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