Interview October 2013

Pierre de Villeméjane

Pierre de Villeméjane sees the launch of Waterford in Japan as an exciting new challenge.

Chief executive officer, WWRD

What products does your firm provide?
In Japan, we concentrate on the iconic Wedgwood and Royal Albert brands.

Created in 1759, Wedgwood is a luxury, dynamic and distinctively English brand. It combines heritage and timeless design for today’s discerning aspirational consumer.

Royal Albert is a quintessentially English floral brand. Inspired by English gardens for over 100 years, it offers a wide collection of young, fun and romantic teaware and giftware products.

We are very excited about the recent launch of the Waterford brand here. Founded in Ireland in 1783, Waterford is one of the most prestigious brands of crystal in the world. It is dazzling, opulent and luxurious.

This exciting launch brings to the Japanese market some of our most iconic crystal stemware, barware and giftware collections such as Lismore and Mixology.

We will also introduce the stunning new Contemporary collection. This includes crystal desk accessories, such as iPad/iPod docks, bookends and desktop bars; as well as boudoir products, such as jewellery boxes, hand mirrors, make-up brushes and perfume diffusers.

Who are your competitors here?
We compete with Noritake Co., Limited and Narumi Corporation, as well as international brands such as Lladro S.A. and Baccarat. But, ultimately, we compete with any company that offers luxury products, from firms providing fashion goods and jewellery to companies selling writing instruments and watches.

Why did WWRD invest in Japan?
Waterford Wedgwood Japan Ltd was established in 1983. The Japanese market is a perfect match for Wedgwood’s core values.

Wedgwood’s Snake Handled Vase

In addition to a strong gift-giving tradition, Japanese consumers have a deep knowledge of, and affinity for, ceramics. They also appreciate heritage and craftsmanship. These are the key values upon which Wedgwood has built its world-class reputation over the past 250 years.

What has been your greatest challenge?
Wedgwood has always been very successful in Japan because it represents English elegance and design. However, we also want to expand our business by responding more specifically to Japanese eating and gift-giving habits. The key challenge is always maintaining the right balance between responding to market-specific needs and staying true to our English DNA.

Have your firm’s operations changed much since setting up in Japan?
Not really. Wedgwood in Japan has a very focused positioning that is well understood by consumers.

Our products are sold in premium department stores around the country through Wedgwood shop-in-shops, attended by our qualified staff. This has been a very successful model throughout the years.

What do you believe is the greatest asset British firms can offer the Japanese?
English design and craftsmanship are strongly valued in Japan. In addition, there is a fascination with, and respect for, heritage. These are the key assets of most long-standing British brands.

How might foreign and Japanese firms benefit from each other?
In our industry, Japanese consumers rely on international brands for new trends and new designs.

We know our consumers expect inspiration and innovation from Wedgwood. These expectations drive the organisation to develop exciting new products.

Given the importance of quality and craftsmanship, as well as the attention to detail here, we consider the Japanese market a benchmark for new product introductions. It is a fantastic asset to have a market like Japan, which is solid, responsive and loyal.

What are the chief opportunities for foreign firms in this economy?
Today, taking advantage of the Japanese economy’s rebound is key. A stronger economy fuels consumer spending, which is absolutely critical when you rely, like we do as a luxury brand, on discretionary spending.

Particularly for WWRD, we see the launch of Waterford in Japan as a massive opportunity.

We will bring in a special and exciting product line that features the perfect combination of iconic heritage pieces and innovative luxury crystal gifts. It will be a totally new and modern way to enjoy crystal!

Do you foresee any changes in UK–Japan business relations?
In our sector, UK–Japan relations are extremely solid. I am more concerned about the recent drastic weakening of the yen. This is putting a lot of financial pressure on foreign brands that export their products to Japan.

If the trend continues, you will undoubtedly see price increases to mitigate the impact of this currency fluctuation.