Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld

Angus Davies chats to the Managing Director of Baselworld and learns more about the legendary watch and jewellery fair. Moreover, Mr Loris-Melikoff provides a fascinating insight into the future plans for the world-famous exhibition.

Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld outlines some of the changes his team have made, his plans for the future and, similar to Art Basel, taking the Baselworld brand to overseas venues. Thereafter, Angus Davies distills Mr Loris-Melikoff’s comments and provides his thoughts on the way brands engage with retailers, journalists and, more pertinently, consumers.

Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld

When preparing for my annual trip to Baselworld, I always pack my suitcase with several pairs of ‘comfy’ shoes, a few notebooks and numerous bars of chocolate. Navigating the fair’s exhibition halls, running from one appointment to the next, is not for weaklings. Blistered feet are an inevitable consequence of a hectic schedule.

I have sojourned in Basel many times over the years. Initially, I visited the fair and its host city as a collector. However, for the last few years, I have worn a journalistic hat when visiting the fair.

Over the years, I have witnessed the exhibition change. There are fewer exhibitors these days and the number of visitors has also fallen. In 2018, the Swatch Group announced it would be leaving Baselworld, eliciting gasps of astonishment throughout the watch industry.

In 2018, Sylvie Ritter, then Managing Director of Baselworld, stood down from her role and Michel Loris-Melikoff assumed Ms Ritter’s former role.

Despite historical protestations about exhibition and accommodation costs, together with criticisms of the food available coming from some quarters, I have always been a huge fan of the event and I continue to remain so. This year, 2019, the first iteration of the fair under Mr Loris-Melikoff’s control was, in my opinion, the best yet. My diary was packed with appointments and at no stage was there any opportunity for me to twiddle my thumbs.

Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld

The spacious design of the fair felt more luxurious and relaxed. From a selfish perspective, I appreciated the new press facilities. Moreover, with a multitude of interesting brands exhibiting, I felt the cost of my flights and accommodation was justified.

Having witnessed the improvements of Baselworld 2019, I was curious to hear from the man tasked with the renaissance of the annual watch and jewellery fair.

Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld

Interview with Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld (MLM) by Angus Davies (AD)

AD: What do you think makes Baselworld special?

MLM: Only Baselworld brings together and connects the most important global players in the industry: the Baselworld Community. Based on our vision Baselworld 2020+ we are transforming and developing it into the industry’s most relevant B2B/C “live experience and business platform” – the place where brands of all different industry sectors influence, inspire and activate the community. A platform for experiences, interactions, dialogues, services and business. All of this has been designed based on the most recent market insights and intended for all target groups – live, digital and relevant all year round.

AD: I have been visiting Baselworld for a number of years, however, the fair in 2019 was my favourite. From a selfish perspective, the press area was much improved. However, with regards to the event as a whole, it was more spacious and felt more luxurious. Moving forward, as more brands are attracted to the new-look Baselworld, will you be able to maintain the wonderful airy feeling?

MLM: Indeed, many visitors have expressed similar emotions about this year’s show, especially the new ‘atmosphere’. For Baselworld 2020, we intend to continue along similar lines, creating an atmosphere that is conducive to all visitors, airy and open, with constructors given pretty much free rein to be creative within the concept of the whole show. At next year’s event, you can expect to see a good mix of exhibitor booths along with spaces for events, encounters and experiences.

 AD: How do you envisage the event changing? 

MLM: For 2020, we are putting all our energy into transforming Baselworld into an experience platform. This process will not be finished with the show’s 2020 edition, but will take some years to complete. In concrete terms, we will create new event zones, e.g. for augmented and virtual reality. We will establish new event formats such as a Retailer Summit, CEO talks or pop-up events. We will offer new services, such as marketing support or an e-concierge, catering more strongly to retail customers and collectors. We will reopen Hall 2 and locate Innovation Zones on the ground floor. Gemstone exhibitors will likewise find their new home in Hall 2.1. At the same time, we are in the process of developing a digital business platform that networks all the relevant players in the industry – the entire Baselworld Community – 365 days a year.

AD: I have watched one of your promotional videos and noted the mention of regional ‘pop-up’ events. Can you explain the rationale for this and indicate where we may expect to see the pop-ups and when?

MLM: The Baselworld brand is world renowned. The show’s reach extends well beyond the city and country which gives us the confidence to consider regional pop-up events in other cities. Our parent company, The MCH Group, has experience in this regard thanks to Art Basel’s shows in Miami and Hong Kong with regional teams in place. Considering that Asia shows the strongest growth potential for the watch and jewellery industry, we intend to emulate what the brands themselves are doing with their presence on this continent. Baselworld is currently in the process of assessing these markets and our options and you can expect us to make some announcements in this respect in the coming months.

AD: Prior to being a watch journalist, I visited Baselworld as a modest collector. I loved the event but had two frustrations. Firstly, the tickets seemed costly and, secondly, it was difficult to actually touch products. Are there any plans to address this? For example, TAG Heuer displayed timepieces using an innovative system which allowed visitors to closely examine the watches while preventing them from being stolen.

MLM: As mentioned, we have listened to the wishes and needs of all stakeholders and one of the steps we took in 2019 was to reduce the ticket prices for tickets purchased online. That was an interim first step. For Baselworld 2020, we are considering new formats and tickets prices, adjusted according to attendee type. You can expect news on this in good time.

Presentation of products: Of course, it is the exhibitors themselves who primarily determine how products are presented. But we will take the lead here with augmented reality and virtual reality applications, utilising exciting new possibilities for our media and also presenting the brands as offers. In our opinion, innovative digital formats perfectly complement the live experience.

AD: The culture of Baselworld has significantly changed since you assumed the role of Managing Director. In the past, if I am honest, the personnel seemed cold and aloof. This year, I was amazed how keen the staff were to engage with visitors. Each day in the press area, I was served by a wonderfully friendly and cheerful lady. One day I commented that she clearly understood the importance of customer service. She proudly stated that she had formerly worked for Disney. Have the management team at Baselworld sought personnel with a customer service background?

MLM: I am very pleased by your feedback because it is our explicit goal to set a new tone and decisively improve service for customers and visitors. This naturally also played a role in choosing, briefing and instructing our personnel. Everyone who comes to Baselworld should always be treated in a courteous, friendly and attentive manner.

AD: Have the personnel received additional customer service training?

MLM: No, there has been no additional training, but we have pointed out in the briefings that neither I nor the MCH Group pay the service staff wages. In reality, our personnel’s wages are paid only by their customers, i.e. our exhibitors and visitors.

Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld

AD: There are several brands exhibiting in nearby hotels, presumably as a cost saving measure. What plans do you have to bring them into the confines of the main fair? Clearly, this will prove more convenient for visitors and showcase the brands in a more luxurious setting. 

MLM: There are always a few “free riders” in the environs of every trade show. This is not unique to Baselworld. In the past it was mainly small, newly launched brands that hoped to grow by basking in Baselworld’s glow. But now, merchandise is also being shown by some well-established brands that formerly exhibited at Baselworld. Here we must clearly seek dialogue, discuss the reasons and offer alternative options or attractive new formats.

For 2020, we will also reduce our prices for stand space, depending on each stand’s location, by 10 to 30 percent. At the same time, we will also leave more latitude and make fewer specifications as to how stands should be designed. With these measures, I trust that more brands will be convinced of the advantages of resuming participation.

AD: Some brands have voiced a desire to hold ‘roadshow’ type events or invite retailers and press to their own event in one specific location. The problem I envisage with this strategy is that it is very time consuming and costly, particularly for independent journalists, to visit one or two brands alone. Moreover, it does not seem very environmentally friendly to have retailers and press spending more time travelling by plane. The beauty of Baselworld is that visitors can see several brands in just one day. Quite simply, it is more efficient.

MLM: I agree fully and have nothing to add, except perhaps this: ‘Why can’t such a “roadshow” also be part of the Baselworld presence of a brand?’ We are open to discuss the possibilities.

AD: What do you think is the best strategy to entice brands to return to Baselworld?

MLM: Our “Baselworld 2020+” vision is a direct result of consultations with all stakeholders. We have listened attentively to our customers, retailers and visitors and tried within our means, to tailor the show to meet their wishes and desires. We firmly believe in the success of this vision and its associated measures. We are putting all our effort into maximising the reach of this message to all brands in the industry with the goal of convincing them of the benefits of joining us on this exciting journey into the future. Secondly, we want to develop and offer numerous new and different formats. Some participants may feel more comfortable with these formats than with past ones.

AD: Can you explain the rationale for running SIHH and Baselworld back to back in 2020?

MLM: Synchronization of the two most important Swiss watch fairs has, for the past 10 years, been a recurring wish expressed by exhibitors and visitors alike. Instead of obliging customers and journalists to travel to Switzerland twice within a relatively short span of time, we now offer them the opportunity to discover the innovations of the most important brands within a manageable timeframe. This efficiency is in the best interests of the entire Swiss watch industry. After all, dealers want to trade and sell, rather than being obliged to spend half a year travelling from one presentation to another and from one fair to the next. And the media’s travel budgets are no longer as ample as they used to be.

AD: One area of the show which I liked this year was the ‘Incubator’, where small brands were able to present their models effectively at a desk. This clearly provides a low-cost means of participating in Baselworld. I like the concept, albeit I am not sure whether it is consistent with the luxury image of the fair. Do you envisage developing the concept further?

MLM: The “Watch Incubator” concept developed relatively late in response to strong demand from many small watch manufacturers and inventors, to whom we were unable to make attractive offers in the existing formats. Of course, one can justifiably ask: Is this Baselworld? Our answer is: Absolutely! Baselworld brings together the entire diversity of the industry, including microbrands and newcomers like those in the “Watch Incubator”. What would the alternative be? For them to show their merchandise in hotel rooms or restaurants throughout the city? We believe that they will profit enormously from everything being located within the same area. It is more convenient for customers and they can benefit from numerous services. After all, who knows, maybe next year one or the other of those microbrands or newcomers will participate in “Les Ateliers” or exhibit in Hall 1.1? Every brand started small – with an idea, a model or a special feature – and it had to publicise itself and its USPs. Quite a few such start-ups grew to maturity with and through Baselworld. We have the intention of introducing the “Incubator” concept into jewellery too. The underlying motivation: we want to, and we must, lower the thresholds by creating offers that enable more brands to exhibit at Baselworld. We will certainly still have to talk about the specific details in terms of size, stand construction, placement and design, and we are actively working on this.

AD: While the media have regrettably focussed on the negative stories, highlighting those brands which have left, there is much to be positive about. For example, the decision by Rolex and Tudor to announce they are returning in 2020 and increasing their exhibition space. This is clearly a ringing endorsement for the new management team at Baselworld. What do you think the future holds for the fair and what are your goals for next year and beyond?

MLM: Our goal is simple: we want to build a modern platform that promotes good business deals, offers incomparable experiences and interconnects the industry and the community. Baselworld should be a “must-attend” event because it uniquely interlinks the players in the industry. If we can achieve this goal together with the exhibitors, visitors, journalists, collectors, enthusiasts and fans, then Baselworld will surely have an exciting and successful future.

Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld

Closing remarks

I found Mr Loris-Melikoff’s comments interesting. His willingness to embrace new ideas and formulate new concepts demonstrates that the Managing Director does not intend to stand still.

During our exchange, there were several comments which piqued my interest, including regional Baselworld events. The idea of bringing a piece of Basel to an overseas location and inviting retailers, journalists and consumers alike, makes much sense, both financially and environmentally. Indeed, the fewer airmiles we accumulate, the brighter the planet’s future will shine.

While some watch brands have talked of running their own ‘roadshows’, it does not seem the most efficient means of communication for any of the parties involved. Personally, I have attended the odd ‘roadshow’ and enjoyed the experience, however, if I had to attend similar roadshows for all of the brands I admire, I would have to spend a fortune on travel. Moreover, I would waste more time in airport lounges than writing editorial features. Mono-brand roadshows, in my opinion, are not viable in the longer term. I believe that regional events will only work when there are several brands exhibiting in one place, hence I see merit in Baselworld’s idea.

Prior to my interview with Mr Loris-Melikoff, I showed my hand. I am a fan of Baselworld. While SIHH is an excellent event, it is far smaller. This does not mean that Baselworld is better than SIHH, merely that it is different. However, the point I wish to make is that the watch and jewellery industry need Baselworld and likewise Baselworld needs the watch and jewellery industry. Given the fair is large enough to accommodate all the exhibiting brands, retailers, journalists and consumers in one location, it remains the most efficient means of each party interacting with each other.

While some ESCAPEMENT readers work within the watch industry, many of our visitors are consumers. This latter group may wonder what the future success of Baselworld means to them, allow me to elaborate. Baselworld facilitates trade and it heightens the public’s interest in watches. Without Baselworld and competing brands sitting side by side, there will be a reticence for watch companies to innovate new technologies and design new products. I genuinely believe Baselworld is important to both the watch industry and consumers alike.

I accept that Baselworld and Basel itself may have weaknesses, however, in 2019, there were tangible improvements to the fair. Moreover, I believe that Baselworld’s strategy for 2020 and beyond, will confer further advancement. We, the collective watch universe, need Baselworld to prosper.

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