THE TIME OF HIS LIFE. In the Watch business for over 35 years, time international CEO Irwan Danny Mussry still looks forward to work every morning. Charlie Binder finds out why
Irwan Danny Mussry is a man who clearly enjoys his job. As president and CEO of Time International, Indonesia’s leading watch retailer with over 300 employees and an evergrowing array of diversified outlets across Indonesia and Singapore, he is also a rather busy one. Yet during our interview he is very much “in the room,” appearing to genuinely enjoy conversing about two of his foremost passions: business and timepieces. Surabayan-born Mussry has been in the watch business for over 35 years, while this year marks the 15th anniversary of The Time Place, Indonesia’s first luxury multi-brand watch boutique that was established by the company in Plaza Senayan back in 1999. The Time Place now has four firmly established stores that are the undisputed hubs of luxury watch trade in Indonesia.
It is often said that if you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life. Though perhaps an exaggerative quote, Irwan Danny Mussry appears to be having the time of his life.
Charlie Binder: Irwan, how did you get involved in the watch business?
Irwan Danny Mussry: As a kid I grew up around business, watching negotiations and deals being struck. I just found it all very intriguing. Later on, as a young person studying far away from home in the US, I also had a strong urge to become self-sufficient.
The Time Place’s Rolex boutique in Singapore
CB: The first luxury brand Time International became a distributor for was Gucci Timepieces back in 1979. How did the partnership come about?
IDM: I met lots of different people when I was abroad, including the two gentlemen in charge of Gucci Timepieces just when it was starting to grow. I was convinced there was a market for these kinds of luxury pieces in Indonesia. When I came back home to gauge the reception, my suspicions were confirmed however. Everywhere I looked, customers of luxury watches at that time were being subjected to poor quality service with little care being paid to the presentation and maintenance of the timepieces available.
After reporting back to Gucci and presenting my concept, we were on. Although it was a very steep learning curve in getting to know the market, we really focused on educating ourselves about how to present and display the timepieces. The other retailers were a bit all over the place basically, which also helped us look good! [Laughs]
CB: In 1999 you opened your first multi-brand luxury timepiece boutique, The Time Place, shortly after the Asian financial crisis. You must have had a lot of confidence in the market?
IDM: Yes, I always have. And it wasn’t like we hadn’t been building up to launching in 1999, so we didn’t really have much choice! However, we already had a strong platform within the market, and while we knew things might be tough initially, we also understood the vast growth potential of Indonesia, so it wasn’t a difficult decision. Luckily, we were looking for prime retail space just as some of the big brands were upping and leaving, so we just filled in the gaps! Prior to that time, we were mainly wholesaling the watches, but in 1999 we started to sell directly to end users, and it all became very exciting indeed.
“When you’re enjoying your job as much as I do, time really does fly by”
CB: You chose to launch The Time Place’s first Rolex boutique in Singapore in 2011, before subsequently launching one in Indonesia shortly after. Was there a particular rationale for this decision?
IDM: We are, of course, an Indonesian company, so it wasn’t part of our original plan, but you have to be flexible in business. We could see an opportunity opening in Singapore as Marina Bay Sands was being built, while the market was very strong so it just made sense. We also knew that Indonesians were frequently buying in Singapore, so opening a Time Place boutique would be an asset for us. Luxury is about comfort as much as anything else and we want our customers to have access wherever they are, be it Singapore, Jakarta, Surabaya or any other city.
CB: While you now house over 30 luxury watch brands at The Time Place boutiques, are there any other brands you still want to add to your already impressive roster?
IDM: As you say, we already have most of them! But more seriously, it takes a lot of work to successfully and sustainably add a new brand. We’re not just trading them; we’re selling them to customers who we aim to have repeat business with, so the service level has to be of a consistently high standard. We’re trying to grow naturally and will only add a new brand when we feel it is the right time to do so. I can inform you that we are in the process of adding two new brands. The first is design driven—very high tech and a relative new breed—in addition to another brand with a very unique heritage … But I’m keeping my cards close to my chest for now!
Irwan Danny Mussry
CB: How are you going to celebrate the 15th anniversary of The Time Place this year?
IDM: When you’re enjoying your job as much as I do, time really does fly by. For this reason, I honestly haven’t even gotten around to thinking about how to celebrate this landmark for the company. I feel very blessed to have the team I do working for me, as it makes it a genuine pleasure to come into the office every day. There’s always something going on, and it is such a positive learning atmosphere.
CB: You’ve always placed a high emphasis on educating your customers about timepieces. Why is this?
IDM: We don’t really try to “teach” our customers but rather attempt to share information with them. This is why the service aspect of our business is so important. We simply want to show each individual customer the number of choices that are available to them. We try to explain the different characteristics of our timepieces so we can help them find their best match. Luxury retail is all about enjoying the experience, not just about buying the newest or most expensive piece, because if it doesn’t suit you, then you’ve missed the point.
CB: Is there a particularly memorable timepiece sale you’ve made during your career?
IDM: Though I’m busy running the company most of the time, this is my passion—helping people find the right timepiece for them. I can tell you that I remember every single timepiece that I’ve ever personally sold. Every sale has a unique feel to it, which always sticks in my head. I think it’s because you always have to really think and be honest when making a sale because you want the customer to go away with something special. As such, you invest something of yourself to help them make a decision and I try to instill this in all of my staff. You can have great brands and displays, but if there is no trust or care given to the customer, you have nothing.
CB: Though it appears you’re very passionate about luxury timepieces, you’ve also diversified into more affordable fashion brand offerings. What is the strategy for this arm of your business?
IDM: Yes, in order to accommodate the growing middle market in Indonesia, we are also expanding this section of our business. This is an area where, like it was in the 1970s and 1980s, people aren’t getting the service they deserve. Just because they aren’t buying a luxury timepiece does not mean a sales assistant should pay them less attention. For us, we see the consumers buying these more affordable watches as our future luxury timepiece customers, so we treat them with the same respect.
CB: Having been to a number of international watch fairs over the years, do you still enjoy watch shows?
IDM: Yes! Shows such as Baselworld and SIHH are always special and despite their size, they always manage to feel refined. After the quartz movement took over in the 1970s and 1980s, the luxury watch market had to re-educate consumers about what actually goes into the creation and construction of a luxury timepiece. The watchmakers present at today’s shows have so many secrets, so it’s always fascinating so see which ones they are going to let out of the box each year.
CB: Does Indonesia need its own watch fair?
IDM: Honestly, I think that for now Watches and Wonders in Hong Kong is the perfect event for Asia in general. It is a chance for high-end, prestigious brands to really show they mean business, that they want Asian customers to have the same access as those in Europe or North America. While we are definitely going to see more and more small-scaled events in Indonesia, I believe that the Hong Kong event is more than sufficient at present.
“Luxury is about bringing dreams closer. It’s all about the feeling you can give to people, and if you can help them live an experience, then you should”
CB: How do you define luxury?
IDM: Luxury is about bringing dreams closer. It’s all about the feeling you can give to people, and if you can help them live an experience, then you should. I’m proud to say that there are occasions when we’ve helped our customers to live their dreams. Be it meeting Leonardo DiCaprio in New York or Uma Thurman in Paris, we have made it happen. However, luxury is also about simplicity and comfort, making your life suit you and choosing accessories to complement your lifestyle. While obviously this can be easier to achieve if you’re very wealthy, it is possible for anyone to achieve a luxury life.
CB: What is the secret to your success in the business of selling timepieces?
IDM: Three things: passion, integrity and teamwork.
Photographer: Joe Sabarto
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