Improvise, Adapt, Overcome: A Chat With Florian Gutsmiedl Of IWC Schaffhausen

Florian Gutsmiedl, Managing Director of IWC Schaffhausen for Southeast Asia and Oceania, shares his insight into the brand’s impressive ability to adapt to a new business landscape.

Florian Gutsmiedl

The Swiss watch industry is famously traditional. At the same time, it has also proven itself as incredibly adaptable, especially in the face of a global crisis. This is particularly true for IWC Schaffhausen. To learn more about the brand’s initiatives that allowed it to not only survive but also thrive in these trying times, we chatted with Florian Gutsmiedl, who in June this year assumed the post of Managing Director for IWC’s operations in Southeast Asia and Oceania.

The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41

DAMAN: You have been part of the IWC family for over a decade now. Can you give us a brief recap of your journey with the brand? And what were some of the biggest highlights in that journey?
Florian Gutsmiedl: I have always been a watch enthusiast and intrigued by the intricacies of fine watchmaking. I started in IWC as a business analyst and assistant to the International Sales Director. After three years, I was promoted to Regional Manager for Europe, Middle East and Russia, where I served as a strategic sparring partner for the regional leadership teams, challenging and supporting them on strategic and operational topics. In 2016, I became the Head of Market Business Development and worked with the teams towards unexplored territories. For example, with a pure online player such as Mr. Porter. After which, I was given the trust to head and grow the brand in Australia and now the whole region as Managing Director of SEA and Oceania. It has been a wonderful journey for me to be a part of IWC’s growth over the last decade and to be a member of the IWC family that has been recognized as one of the best employers in Switzerland by Great Place to Work.

DAMAN: Having been in the watch industry for quite a while, what would you say have been some of the biggest and most important milestones or trends that you’ve observed?
Florian Gutsmiedl: This industry is one that always looks back to its traditions in order to go further and to innovate. This past year has taught us that it is essential to always stay curious and creative. We were not able to connect with each other and our clients physically, but technology has been a critical element in the way we have adapted our sales and marketing tactics. As the world moves forward, sustainability becomes another key milestone the industry needs to recognize. A mechanical watch is one of the most sustainable products as it can always be restored, serviced and handed down to the next generation.

Another important lesson is to know how to connect and provide a seamless customer experience and a shift towards customer centricity and really taking in our customers feedback which drives our decisions.

A watchmaker assembling a Big Pilot’s Watch

DAMAN: Speaking about trends, pilot’s watches are once again at the forefront of IWC’s lineup of timepieces for 2021. So far this year, how has this family of watches fared?
Florian Gutsmiedl: The Pilot’s collection is one of the biggest pillars in our market and, in fact, it is our oldest line from 1936. This year’s line in particular has been very well received, especially the Big Pilot’s watch that is for the first time offered in 43mm. Similarly, we have applied customer feedback to the Pilot’s Chronograph and are now offering it in two different sizes, 43mm and 41mm. With the offering of reduced sizes, as well as the Ease-Xchange system, customers seem to really like the watch and the feedback has been positive throughout. Other features such as the new bracelet is also well-liked for its comfort, and the open case backs are also well received. Overall, the entire Pilot’s collection definitely meets today’s demand of sporty casual watches.

DAMAN: Are there any particular models—including from other collections such as the Portugieser, Portofino, etc.—that are doing particularly well in the markets you oversee? And what do you think is the driving force behind their popularity?
Florian Gutsmiedl: Today, nobody really buys a watch just to tell the time. Watches have become an accessory that allows people to express their values and support their identity. For IWC, and just to highlight two things, the Portugieser Chronograph is enjoying a strong momentum in the market and, of course, we cannot forget the Perpetual Calendars, our most iconic complication. Developed by our renowned master watchmaker Kurt Klaus in 1985, the IWC perpetual calendar movement features calendar indications and moonphase that are all controlled via the crown only. The perpetual calendar is also mechanically programmed to automatically recognize the different month lengths and the leap years without requiring any manual adjustment until the year 2100.

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43

DAMAN: E-commerce has, naturally, become a major area of focus for watch brands. Can you tell us about how IWC’s e-commerce ventures are doing so far this year? Especially in the markets you oversee, of course…
Florian Gutsmiedl: Online shopping has become essential to reach customers nowadays. With the pandemic, we had to be quick to adapt to our customers’ needs. We introduced different channels such as the virtual boutique, phone concierge services as well as e-commerce with our retail partners. We are grateful that the infrastructure is ready and that we were able to still reach out to our customers across the globe. In addition, our Sales Associates were also well-trained to handle and to engage our customers via the virtual boutique and phone concierge service. I would also like to highlight our IWC Mobile App, which has an AR function that allows customers to try on watches virtually and get an instant “feel” of the watch on their wrists. With technology, we are able to attract a newer and younger clientele and we have seen strong growth rates in this channel.

DA: How big of an impact have features like the augmented reality app provided for the brand?
Florian Gutsmiedl: These features have positively impacted the brand, as we have found ways to make the releases of novelties exciting, with watch lovers glued to their laptops and phones and staying connected, especially during times when we cannot host physical events at our boutiques.

I would say, IWC was one of the first brands to adapt by reaching out to customers via technology when the pandemic first hit, which makes it easier for us to communicate with them over the past two years.

DAMAN: Back in 2019, we had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Hannes Pantli. At one point in our conversation, Mr. Pantli observed that the biggest change in the watch business has been in the marketing side of it. The mechanical aspect of watchmaking haven’t changed much, but marketing and sales have to contend with the rise of the Internet, social media, changes in retail regulations and so on. What are your thoughts on this observation?
Florian Gutsmiedl: As I mentioned earlier, the ecosystem of luxury watchmaking has had to move with the times, rapidly, especially with the pandemic. With store closures and lockdowns across the globe in 2020, remote sales channels, such as online selling, phone concierge services and virtual boutiques had to be kicked into a much higher gear than before. We can no longer rely on purely brick and mortar stores. With marketing communications, we keep the messaging focused and consistent, to be easily remembered and to make an impact, especially with so much information out there on the Internet. Also, the acceleration of digital advertising was further boosted by the pandemic. Traditionally, brands would advertise at airports and major travel hubs using Out-of-Home displays. Since there was pretty much no more air travel, these funds were shifted towards digital channels with heavier investments than before.

One of the many rigorous tests that a Pilot’s Watch will undergo as part of its manufacturing process

DAMAN: At the moment, more and more regions around the world are opening up their borders. People are traveling again and there is this general sense that a return to normalcy might actually happen. That being said, do you think that there are certain changes or innovations in terms of watchmaking or watch retailing developed during the pandemic that could work well in the post-pandemic world?
Florian Gutsmiedl: Yes. E-commerce for luxury products gained quite a lot of traction during the last two years and was very much normalized during the pandemic. And I believe that this purchasing behavior will continue. Also, the virtual boutiques will continue to work well as it also enhances the entire shopping and customer brand experience.
Because most of the world could not travel as normally as before, IWC also created the e-manufacture visit as well as the Cyberloupe to connect our watchmakers
with the rest of the world. For the latter, a watchmaker’s magnifying glass is equipped with a camera and a network connection. It streams the image that the watchmaker sees in real-time, allowing watch enthusiasts to experience the inner workings of a mechanical movement in a never-before-seen way. These are all innovations that can still work in a post pandemic world.

DAMAN: On a more general note, what kind of major changes do you think will the watch industry— and particularly IWC—undergo as the world changes once again? Or to put in another way: What kind of new challenges do you think will the watchmaking industry have to deal with in the foreseeable future?
Florian Gutsmiedl: With more people getting vaccinated and borders opening up, we hope some of the ways the watch community had to adapt to be able to stay in contact don’t go away entirely—such as Zoom meetings, Live on Instagram—as these are very convenient channels to communicate with a large group of people at a time. Without physical events for a while, we hope that watch lovers can still stay connected; but we do also look forward to finally connecting with them in person in the times to come.

In addition, we know that sustainability is becoming a more important topic. For IWC, we have been carbon neutral since 2007 and in 2018 we were the first luxury watch brand to publish a sustainability report to the standards of the global reporting initiative. We openly communicate about our targets and how we work towards them. Our manufacturing in Schaffhausen runs on 100-percent renewable energy—we get our electricity from a hydropower plant just up the river, complemented by solar power generated with solar panels on the roof.

Close-up of the clasp of the Big Pilot’s Watch 43

We launched textile straps this year and also attained Chain-of-Custody (CoC) certification from the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). This voluntary standard, which complements the RJC’s Code of Practices (COP) that IWC already adheres to, certifies that the gold and platinum used in the company’s supply chain are fully traceable and responsibly-sourced. However, with all that said, life is unpredictable, so I cannot really predict what kind of new challenges we will face. But I can confidently say that IWC is a brand that steps up to challenges pretty quickly and innovatively.

DAMAN: Can you tell us a bit about your all-time favorite IWC watch?
Florian Gutsmiedl: It is the Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar Rodeo Drive. I love it because it is a quintessential IWC timepiece. It’s the iconic Big Pilot’s watch housing another iconic complication—the perpetual calendar—and it showcases our innovation in materials—namely ceramic—topped off with a beautiful blue dial. The combination is just stunning and I wear it every day.

DAMAN: And on that note, what are some of the qualities that—in your opinion—makes an IWC watch an IWC watch? Or, in other words, how would you define IWC’s brand DNA?
Florian Gutsmiedl: An IWC timepiece is one that is beautifully engineered, where form follows function. It is a piece of art that showcases precision engineering with extraordinary and timeless design and ethically sourced materials, bringing pure aesthetics to your wrist.

Close-up of the caseback of the Big Pilot’s Watch 43

DAMAN: A couple of months ago, IWC was named one of the best employers in Switzerland by Great Place to Work. In your own experience, was there a particular occasion—a Eureka moment, if you will—that convinced you to stay with the company for as long as you have?
Florian Gutsmiedl: I don’t really have one moment to defines it for me; it is a continuous process. It is the people of the company that makes me stay for as long as I have. The ones who are at the core of the brand are what makes me love the brand and my job. Also, the management is very open minded; and CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr has an open- door policy and he welcomes anyone with ideas and discussions. I have been with IWC for 12 years and in five different roles; this shows how much the brand is willing to hone and support their staff in career development. Finally, and in these times, one trait that is very much appreciated is flexibility. During the COVID-19 pandemic, IWC showed flexibility as an employer and successfully switched to working from home in a matter of days.

IWC also developed and implemented viable protection concepts for employees. Maintaining communication with the global teams and motivating employees in this difficult time proved to be another challenge that we overcame.