When Jean-Christophe Babin was named CEO of Bvlgari in 2013, he had a clear mandate to enhance the reputation of the iconic Italian luxury brand as a leader in jewelry, watches, and accessories. He brought with him 13 years of experience at the head of LVMH’s hugely successful TAG Heuer watches and a desire to make Bvlgari into LVMH’s key jewelry brand. Lois Pasternak reports.
Bvlgari’s formal relationship with LVMH took off in 2011 when the company signed a strategic alliance with the luxury group. Through the agreement, the Bvlgari family transferred their 50.4% controlling stake in Bvlgari S.p.A. to LVMH, in exchange for 3% of LVMH, which made them the second-biggest family shareholder behind the Arnaults in LVMH. The takeover doubled the size of LVMH’s watches and jewelry unit.
“The stock swap with LVMH allowed us to look at the Bvlgari brand strategically, inject much more money and develop it in a way so that we could really pursue enhancing its luxury perception. LVMH chose us as ‘The jewelry brand’ to develop,” explains Christian Konrad, President, Latin America & Caribbean for Bvlgari Corporation of America in Miami.
“As a result of the added attention and investment, Bvlgari has been delivering very good results over the last three years,” says Konrad.
“Every time you see an interview from our CEO, he reports that Bvlgari has been gaining market share worldwide. And the same is true for us in Latin America. Jean-Christophe Babin has injected a lot of new ideas and energy into the company that have certainly rejuvenated the brand,” says Konrad.
Changes in 2014
Konrad himself has been with Bvlgari for 23 years. He started in the perfume division in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and in 1999 he joined the Travel Retail division that was then under Paul Cadman, where he handled Travel Retail perfume worldwide until 2007. He has been in Miami in his current role since January of 2014.
“Prior to 2009, Bvlgari’s perfume business, being a different channel than the jewelry and watches, was handled separately. In 2009, the company merged the divisions so that we could look after the Bvlgari brand as a whole. From a marketing point it is all one brand. In 2014, we moved both the two groups into this one building,” says Konrad.
The Miami office oversees Bvlgari for the Caribbean and Latin America in domestic markets and distributors and all of Travel Retail Americas for perfume.
There is a dedicated commercial structure for perfume, managed by Charles Bonnel. He has a team of area sales managers and account coordinators looking after the entire perfume business, with Irmaliz Perez handling Travel Retail for North America. A second commercial division handles Bvlgari’s Jewelry, Watches and Accessories (JWA) business. Marco Di Santo is the Senior Regional Sales Manager, Cruise Ships and Caribbean, which the company regards as the Travel Retail business. Travel Retail for JWA in North America is handled out of New York. With the two divisions merged, and both groups consolidated under one roof, Bvlgari was ready to take off in the Americas, says Konrad.
“When Jean-Christophe came in as the CEO he really accelerated the growth tremendously. From a product point of view, from our marketing, from the way we communicate, we went about rejuvenating the brand. We added brand ambassadors and friends of the brand like Bella Hadid and increased our use of social media significantly.”
Konrad says that this new marketing and communications strategy resulted in Bvlgari connecting with a younger generation, in addition to its more traditional consumer.
“And millennials are buying a lot of luxury, especially perfume and accessories. Accessories have become a very important category for Bvlgari,” he says.
Nowhere has Bvlgari’s efforts at enhancing its image been more visible than in travel retail, where the brand is concentrating on creating an unforgettable luxury experience.
In the cruise channel, Bvlgari worked with Starboard Cruise Services and Costa Cruises to create a spectacular branded boutique onboard the Costa Venezia, the new 5,100-passenger ship dedicated exclusively to Chinese travelers, which set sail in March. Bvlgari further established its luxury credentials and ability to create an exceptional brand experience by collaborating with Starboard and Costa to present the first production of its kind at sea: a glamorous Bvlgari Jewelry Fashion Show that highlighted a dazzling display of Bvlgari jewelry within an evening dedicated to “la dolce vita.”
The biggest “recurring” event for Bvlgari, the production was a full entertainment experience with dancers, choreography, singers, musicians, magician, and burlesque elements to express different elements of the Bvlgari DNA.
“Over the last couple of years the cruise ship business has become huge for us, and we have introduced a range of activations. We have special dinners for VIP customers, photo opportunities in our onboard boutique, and workshops with gemologists.
“We presented a five year strategic plan to our CEO about two years ago, targeting the largest and most modern ships, where we have a Bvlgari boutique. It is all about the experience on the ships,” says Konrad.
“Management is very pleased with our results, which surpassed our expectations. Miami is our headquarters and our competence center for the cruise business. From here we manage the assortment on the ships that are in Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. We make sure that the assortment is based on the passenger mix –the location, the itinerary and who is sailing. This is super important.”
Bvlgari fragrances are also performing very well in the cruise channel, reports Irmaliz Perez, Bvlgari’s Area Sales Manager for North America Travel Retail.
“Bvlgari is very focused on premiumizing and elevating the brand, and cruise is a key element in the North American travel retail business. We are going to continue to partner with the cruise line brands and make them a priority because they are a place for us to generate awareness and engagement for consumers to try our brand, globally.”
Bvlgari is also enhancing its luxury image in the airport and downtown travel retail environment, where perfumes play a key role.
“We are more premium in our travel retail strategy for perfumes, offering more service and quality and are reinforcing control over our distribution more than was done in the past,” says Charles Bonnel, Perfume Sales Director – Latam, Caribbean and Travel Retail. “We are going to rejuvenate the brand and elevate it especially on the perfume side. We have some very exciting new launches to show in Cannes, and will unveil a new perfume line that will enable the consumer to individualize her perfume at the point of sale.”
One very successful activation that took place throughout the region this summer was a Pasticceria-concept that reflected an Italian pastry shop for Bvlgari Omnia that was flexible enough to go from a small execution to a major pop-up animation.
“In Panama and Mexico City we took over the full space and it was a real Bvlgari execution. Ultra Femme is another great partner for us. And at the airport you can do this very nicely,” says Bonnel.
“We also have good presence with Dufry and DFA, and International Shoppes at JFK Terminal 1 was the first outpost for Le Gemme in North America Travel Retail.”
“Something very important to remember for Bvlgari’s fragrances business is that the market may be down but there is still a place for luxury with the right products and the beautiful quality and service that goes with it. There is a customer who is willing to pay more for that. And this is what we do. We invest in training, and beauty advisors and we really see them go out there and sell the way it should be done. With this support, we are doing better than the trend,” he concludes.