Constructing Mountains: Ben Küffer, CEO of Norqain

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Constructing Mountains: Ben Küffer, CEO of Norqain
Ben Kuffer, CEO Norqain
Ben Küffer, CEO of Norqain. Picture: Norqain

In protecting watches, we regularly circle across the similar subjects and the identical folks. Certainly, we now have even written these phrases earlier than — or phrases to that impact. It’s thus a pleasure to find for ourselves the great world of Norqain watches, and meet the strikingly upbeat CEO Ben Küffer. A youthful 34 years of age, Küffer is however a veteran of the watch business, within the sense that he was beforehand at Breitling, earlier than the CVC buyout, and his father is the founder of personal label watchmaking agency Roventa-Henex. The elder Küffer can also be the chairman of the Norqain board, and the agency is blessed by the religion of star shareholders reminiscent of Mark Streit and Ted Schneider. Streit is an ice hockey participant whereas the title Schneider may ring some bells for watchmaking lovers. Certainly, Ted is the son of the previous Breitling proprietor, and labored with Ben Küffer on the Grenchen-based watchmaker.

If nothing else, this tells us that Küffer is aware of that one of the crucial necessary elements in making a standout watchmaking model is getting the fitting folks in your workforce — not as hires however as stakeholders. Admittedly, it’s a little just like the story of Max Busser at MB&F however the parallels are superficial as a result of the watches are worlds aside. The watches are, after all, the opposite key ingredient in making a profitable watchmaking model. On this regard, one other superficial parallel emerges, and that’s with Breitling. EuropaStar cited the Freedom 60 Chrono as Norqain’s greatest promoting mannequin in a 2020 report, but, as chronographs go, it has as a lot in widespread with TAG Heuer chronographs because it does with Breitling fashions. Norqain actually makes a pitch for the sporty and outdoorsy crowd, however so do loads of manufacturers.

Norqain Freedom Chrono Cream
Picture: Norqain

After all, this begs the query of why precisely it’s that Norqain, established simply 4 years in the past, already has international attain. Considerably, this isn’t in regards to the Web as a result of Norqain has greater than 100 factors of sale all over the world (Gnomon watches in Singapore, considered one of 18 nations that promote Norqain watches) at press time in March, and e-commerce is only one a part of its providing. This progress is exceptional, contemplating that Küffer instructed Revolution in November final 12 months that it was in 14 nations with near 100 factors of sale. We suspect this success has one thing to do with Norqain’s intelligent pricing technique, leaning into alternatives beneath CHF5,000, which many Swiss manufacturers have deserted within the premiumisation wave. Küffer confirmed this in our dialog with him just lately, though we now have little doubt that it’s the calibre of the Norqain workforce that makes this work. The homonym of that phrase, calibre, additionally says one thing about high quality at Norqain.

Whereas new manufacturers emerge on a regular basis, and loads of kickstarter manufacturers are nonetheless attempting to point out which ones will go the space, it’s fairly unprecedented for such a model to safe a take care of an unique motion maker. ETA and Selita are one factor, however for Kenissi to agree to provide actions to Norqain is unbelievable. Established to create actions for Tudor, Kenissi at the moment makes the NN20/1 (time-only with three arms) and NN20/2 (GMT) calibres for Norqain. This places Norqain in an unique membership that features simply Tudor, Breitling and Chanel. How is that for good firm…

The x-factor, if you’ll, right here is Küffer’s appeal and unrelenting ardour for unbiased watchmaking. He represents a brand new era in watchmaking who’re extra open and versatile, keen even to incorporate the neighborhood of Norqain watch house owners into the fold. A Norqainer, he explains, is each somebody who works on the firm in addition to somebody who wears a Norqain, and a model ambassador. It appears Küffer has picked up a factor or two from business veterans in regards to the significance of build up a neighborhood of lovers, however he’s additionally eager to hit a sure degree of manufacturing and keep there. Küffer’s purpose is to make and promote 10,000 watches a 12 months, and keep that method.

Ultimately, or maybe simply the center of the start, Küffer has additionally realized what to not do. He needed Norqain to be on the fitting facet of the local weather and sustainability dialog, from the beginning. The corporate’s efforts to face towards animal cruelty and thus get rid of leather-based straps, and its Neverest programme to supply academic assist to the Nepalese kids have been applauded, however Küffer concedes that that is solely a part of the image. He defined all of this to us in a video name earlier this 12 months.

Norqain helps an schooling programme for the youngsters of sherpas in Nepal by the Butterfly Assist Challenge. Picture: Norqain

Congratulations on the opening of the Zermatt boutique! Norqain may be new to our readers so inform us a bit in regards to the model.

We’re tremendous blissful! You recognize the primary boutique could be very particular. The (clientele) could be very worldwide and this has been very attention-grabbing for us, as a younger model… that we’re in a position to promote to clients who know us right here in Switzerland, and to worldwide clients who don’t know us. In reality, we bought a few watches to a Singaporean group.

Actually? In Zermatt? Did they already know the model?

This specific group didn’t know our model. I used to be there after they got here in. They actually felt our mountaineering spirit, the outside spirit…(the sense of) journey of our model. We defined that we’re an unbiased Swiss family-owned model, and ultimately (the Singaporean group of shoppers) left as followers. They contacted us in Singapore after they returned (which the native representatives, sitting in on this name, confirmed).

I assume that’s the elevator pitch for the model! Inform us a bit extra about how Norqain got here to be.

We’re the youthful era in watchmaking and we observed that many unbiased manufacturers had been bought to massive teams. For us, it was necessary to maintain the unbiased spirit (going) and the large ardour for mechanical watchmaking (alive) in a small firm. We needed to point out that we nonetheless have ardour and know-how within the younger era of Swiss watchmaking. That was our purpose in 2018, and we by no means anticipated to have this a lot assist.

We knew we needed the model to be in regards to the issues we preferred — being open air within the Swiss mountains, having adventures. Some folks have been shopping for sleeping manufacturers and reviving them however we knew we didn’t need to do this. So the ‘Nor’ a part of Norqain sounds Nordic, the ‘q’ stands for high quality, ‘a’ is journey and ‘i’ is independence (we presume the ‘n’ is solely derived from independence too – Ed). In the present day we’re blissful that many individuals love the model and the title, particularly the brand which is within the type of a double N (denoting) two Swiss mountains.

It’s a nice emblem, and I’m certain we’ll see extra of this motif! You’ve already instructed us a bit about your founding workforce however inform us in regards to the alternative you recognised for Norqain watches.

It was necessary to have a robust workforce from the beginning. It was Ted (Schneider) who noticed the chance in accessible unbiased watchmaking. As you realize, there are a selection of (sturdy) independents in Swiss watchmaking however none who supply one thing for beneath CHF5,000. We needed to convey this high quality, and this spirit of independence beneath CHF5,000.

Did you recognise this value phase as a key area of interest?

Spot on! There are various challenges however it’s important to take heed to the alternatives, in any other case you gained’t do something. We recognised that many manufacturers that have been very sturdy on this (extra modest) value phase had left it. We believed that we needed to be on this value vary, contemplating that regardless that we (can be new in 2018) we’d be attempting to succeed in these clients, particularly as a result of we have been going to be speaking with youthful folks (who’re the folks almost definitely to have an interest within the beneath CHF5,000 class – Ed). It proved to be an incredible technique for us and we managed to get folks to purchase our watches as a result of they realised that the standard was good — regardless that Norqain is completely new. That is the toughest half — to get the client to resolve that they’ve sufficient belief to be a part of the Norqain neighborhood.

That is additionally spectacular as a result of the sports activities watch phase is crowded, but there may be overwhelming demand. How is Norqain coping?

Norqain Journey Neverest GMT with bracelet. Picture: Norqain

What’s actually wonderful is that this case has been strengthened throughout the pandemic! To start with, everybody (all manufacturers, not solely Norqain) was very apprehensive. We see now that issues have grow to be way more digital, when it comes to reaching the client, and our valued retail companions have additionally had a number of digital learnings. So I feel the entire watch business has grown stronger throughout the pandemic, and we are actually in a interval the place curiosity within the sports activities watch is actually exploding! After all, these items go in a cycle (sports activities to decorate to sports activities and so on) so one must be able to adapt. When everyone goes in a single path, it’s usually when there’s something creating in the wrong way.

I feel the recognition of the sports activities watch has to do with how we gown. Already earlier than the pandemic, folks have been carrying swimsuit jackets with sneakers. With the pandemic, issues grew to become much more informal, and we see sports activities watches turning into much more engaging — you’ll be able to put on this kind of watch with a t-shirt or a shirt. There are additionally all types of value level choices for the sports activities watch. The success of manufacturers with this kind of watch pulls all the opposite manufacturers with such watches together with them.

Norqain operates in a crowded phase so far as Swiss watchmaking goes. How do you make it stand out?

We have now a transparent technique on this level. We’re constructing the Norqain model like a mountain. We have now our base watches, powered by ETA and Selita actions. Subsequent, we launched in 2020 the Kenissi actions, the following summit for our model. These are unique actions. We additionally tried with these watches to be a bit bit extra daring, a bit extra totally different. This 12 months we’re attacking a brand new summit, which is new supplies. We’re going into designs which might be fairly distinctive. It’s about constructing totally different segments — we have to discover methods to face out, and we did that already with the Kenissi actions, which noticed us develop by 50 per cent.

We have been notably impressed with the Kenissi information, and the brand new actions final 12 months. You’ve referred to as this a partnership so please inform us extra about it.

The Kenissi actions for Norqain.

We knew we needed to have a motion technique. In an effort to be unbiased in the long run, we needed to have a manufacture calibre, that means a motion that’s not accessible to everybody. That we are able to hyperlink with our model. We went to go to Kenissi and it was a tremendous assembly — you will need to think about that we weren’t even available in the market then. They instructed us that they imagine in younger entrepreneurs like us, and in (unbiased) Swiss watchmaking, and that they comply with provide actions to us ranging from 2020!

I’ll most likely look again in 30 years and keep in mind the assembly in Geneva. It was actually an indication of people that believed in us, and within the youthful era doing their very own factor.

Having a motion technique helps with coping with the present provide issues. Inform us how you might be dealing with this subject generally.

The provision drawback is a giant subject in our business, as you say. I don’t suppose issues will get higher within the brief time period… the provision chain is my largest present concern. For instance, proper now, I’ve three watchmakers down with Covid and for an organization of our dimension, being down three watchmakers is a giant drawback. The entire US cargo will likely be delayed consequently, and that is only a restricted instance.

I feel exclusivity is nice, it’s part of luxurious, nevertheless it shouldn’t grow to be irritating. I don’t suppose we must always refuse folks. I feel we needs to be modern to supply exclusivity, like NFTs and different (digital) issues which might all be attention-grabbing for patrons. However I feel we now have to attempt to have issues to promote on the boutiques. Such as you stated, folks purchase a watch as a result of possibly they noticed it in an commercial (however now they steadily can’t purchase no matter is marketed). It’s our job to make the usual merchandise — those that aren’t dropped — simply as engaging. To clarify what goes into making the watches which might be displayed, as a result of these are simply as (painstaking) to provide because the restricted fashions. I feel our problem, throughout the business, is to make the usual manufacturing fashions engaging, not just some fashions.

Some business observers say that is the period of the unbiased watch model, small and enormous. Being unbiased is clearly necessary to Norqain. Inform us why, and inform us if you happen to suppose the Norqain buyer additionally appreciates this side of the model.

Independents are actually having a second! You actually see it with Max Busser (MB&F) and Eduoard Meylan (H. Moser & Cie) and others (in getting in entrance of collectors with their personalities). I’ve been doing talks with our collectors and the neighborhood, and collectors are actually entering into it. After which they go to our shops and see the watches for actual — you realize that you will need to expertise a watch within the steel to actually get it — after which they perceive the standard. (Total) individuals are actually enthusiastic about unbiased, family-owned companies.

You possibly can really feel it — the sympathy for unbiased companies in a world that feels prefer it (is filled with giants). It’s good to work together with smaller organisations. The neighborhood half is a large a part of the model. We actually pushed it in 2019 and in the present day what’s nice is that we don’t need to push it anymore as a result of everybody is actually utilizing the Norqainer hashtag on social media now. It’s grow to be an incredible factor for us. We even have some wonderful neighborhood oriented tasks, the place we provide particular entry to some particular experiences and that’s going to be a giant step for us.

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