Today we spoke with Coralie Charriol, CEO Creative Director of Charriol, a Swiss watch and jewellery brand. Listen to hear how she has responded to unique challenges in over two decades at the company such as taking over the family business and adapting the brand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coralie Charriol: [00:00:01] Well, I definitely think it’s very important for the next generation. I think the next generation want to be wearing products that have a message.
Sam: [00:00:10] Welcome to Ideamix radio. I’m Sam Jayanti. And every week I chat with entrepreneurs, solar partners, career changers, experts and enthusiasts for insider tips that you can apply to turn your idea into a business. So sit back and enjoy today’s show.
Sam: [00:00:32] You lose your father a larger than life figure in your life and the personality that created the family business, you must then take over leading that business. In the wake of his death, Coralee showreel moved her life and family from New York to Geneva in twenty nineteen to take over leadership of Suriel, a Swiss brand of jewelry and leather goods created by her father in nineteen eighty three. She’s a working mother of three and has had to evolve in various roles in the business over time. And now finally to CEO and Chairwoman Coralie. Welcome to Ideamix radio.
Coralie Charriol: [00:01:11] Hello!
Sam: [00:01:14] So clearly, in your words, what is Charriol?
Coralie Charriol: [00:01:20] I mean, it’s really an international luxury brand caters to women mainly, but of course, we have men’s products and we sell high end watches that are all Swiss made and jewelry, as well as other products such as leather goods, eyewear, perfume, a real lifestyle brand that was started, like you said, by my father in 1983.
Sam: [00:01:45] So revenue in the luxury jewelry industry was at about five billion dollars in 2020 despite the pandemic. How has your approach to the brand changed since you took over leading the company?
Coralie Charriol: [00:01:59] When I when I arrived in Geneva, it was in the wake of my father’s passing. And I had a lot of years under the belt, 20 years working with him in different departments such as PR, marketing, communications design and things like that. All of a sudden, I find myself as CEO, especially after the pandemic hit last March. And what I’ve been trying to do is kind of restructure my company, restructure my team, restructure how we’re doing things. And it’s really a moment to be flexible, to be dynamic, to concentrate on core collections and also, of course, digital. We are a company that is mainly retail, lots of Charriol boutiques around the world in Middle East and Asia and America and Europe. But now, of course, the digital platform is very important. We’ve been doing it for several years now, but now we have even more an emphasis of how to get new clients, how to retain clients and how to make the sale. So that’s I mean, right now, that’s my approach, obviously also concentrating on creating great new products that are relevant today for either our existing clients or our new clients that we want to approach maybe a younger customer and staying relevant. I mean, for me, I know I’m going to say that word multiple times, but it’s about adapting to the times. You know, my dad launched in the eighties. There was a certain way of life back then and a certain way of showing off. And now today that’s changed in the 90s and the 20s and now 2020. It’s just different people. We’re different. People are going to use products differently. What they’re going to wear, what they’re going to showcase on themselves, all of that is is very important. And I want to get also closer to my end consumer. I want to know what they’re thinking with technology we get a good feedback. We know how to to target them and and hopefully give them what they’re looking for.
Sam: [00:04:21] It’s so much fundamental change over the period you’ve described since your father started the brand, only accelerated now by the pandemic. And it’s a real period of creative destruction in a sense, where a lot is changing so quickly that, as you said, adapting the brand to this new landscape, understanding your consumer better and being more directly close to them is so important. I want to take you back to when you started working in the family business. You’ve talked in the past about how it wasn’t obvious to you to go work at Charriol back in two thousand when you were starting your career. Family businesses come with the intimacy and equally the controversy of family. How did you decide that this was what you wanted to do back then?
Coralie Charriol: [00:05:20] I mean, I can’t believe I’m going to say that I’ve been in this business for 20 years.
Sam: [00:05:27] It’s like two decades has gone by quickly.
Coralie Charriol: [00:05:31] Yeah, I was a very different person twenty years ago. I mean, I was coming out of Tufts University, studied art history. I wanted to go into the Gallery World Museum World. I also studied graphic design. I was racing cars with my dad. He had a passion for racing cars would take me on these weekends. We would race cars. I was definitely an adventure seeker and always looking for the next new challenge. Nothing scared him. Nothing scared me. And but slowly, I remember going to his office and back then he did his whole business with the fax machine and the telephone and and I remember if I walked into his office, he’d be like, wait, wait, I need you to send these twenty faxes. So we always tried to avoid his office. But as I was sending those faxes, I was looking at what he was sending, the designs, the concepts. He was always asking me. He took his work everywhere. He went on our family trips and everything. And I even remember at fifteen, I had modeled for his Central Bay watch this new launch that he did in Hong Kong. And so he always kind of kept me very much, very close to the brand, the brand was also a reflection of our life and our lifestyle and and he was one of the first to really use himself the way he dressed, the way he what he chose to wear, what he chose to drive, what he chose to to show, like even before Instagram shows everybody their lifestyle. I mean, my dad was doing that in the early 80s from the very beginning. And I did try to do something else, but I remember he said – I got out of college and I couldn’t – I mean, I had a couple of interviews and then he was like, OK, stop wasting your time. I need you to come launch this watch. It was in 2000. It was called the Massive Watch. And he put me in the PR communications department and he was like, just do this for a while. And if you don’t like it, you can leave. You know, you can go back to just finding a job somewhere else. And then and then I got hooked. I got hooked. I started traveling a lot. I love travel. I mean, if I have a three day weekend, I’m I’m asking my husband, where are we going? So for me, getting on a plane was like catching a taxi. And I had studied Japanese in high school and college and it was a very big market for us. It still is today. But he would send me to Japan and I would spend six weeks a year in Japan behind the counter, promoting the brand, talking to consumers, and was a great learning curve. And then because I was on the market, I was listening to what people wanted and what they were looking forward to from Charriol and what was missing. And I would come back and talk to the design team and I’d be like, well, in Japan they really want blue or, you know, in Japan they really want smaller watches or whatever it was. And that’s how I got involved with the design. And so I definitely was trained over the course of 20 years in all these different departments. And that’s how I I learned everything I needed to learn was really on the ground.
Sam: [00:08:57] Every role possible in this lead up to you becoming leader at the company.
Coralie Charriol: [00:09:04] Every role except CEO and I must say CEO is, you know, everybody wants to be CEO. But let me tell you, it comes with a lot of stress. The greatest challenge at the moment, I almost feel like Spider-Man with a lot of what is it what does that saying is like with a lot of power comes a lot of responsibility. And it’s absolutely so true. And every decision you take, you know, you doubt yourself. And then and then you have to just go with your gut or just believe in yourself and just go with it. And you move forward because sometimes deciding is moving forward.
Sam: [00:09:46] One hundred percent. So, Coralie, you decided on a commitment to creating unique pieces centered around the main source of inspiration, the cable or rather your father did to start. Tell us about that decision and how it’s driven the creative direction of the company and and much of your business.
Coralie Charriol: [00:10:12] Absolutely. I mean, it’s the secret sauce. It’s the DNA of Charriol. My father was inspired by this Celtic bangle that he saw many, many years ago in a museum, actually. And and he said, you know, that material, the way that they twisted this this…And he’s like, this would look great on jewelry and watches. And he launched that in, like I said, the 80s, early eighties. And right away, it was so identifiable, it was so unique, it was so recognizable. And his success was pretty immediate. He also realized that at first it was the watches and then he realized, if I remove the watch and I just do during the material also is very unique and recognizable. And then he realized if you put it on a pen or if you put it on the branch of an eyewear or you put it on the hardware of a bag, it was very identifiable and it became a very tight family because the material in and of itself was branded, you know. And so he was very, very lucky and very smart to to find a material like that, a signature that he kept throughout all these years. And sometimes when we design a watch without it, they look at us and they say, well, that’s not Charriol. It’s a bit frustrating because sometimes we would like to make some products without the cable. But it’s so much in the history of your brand now. I mean, people now identify us to cable. We are one of the leaders in cable products around the world and our cable is really it’s stainless steel that’s twisted hypoallergenic surgical grade. It’s exclusively made for us here in Find Switzerland. And and nobody can really make it. It’s artisanal. It’s kind of it has like twenty one steps to make this cable bracelet to be exactly the same, the satiny flexible feeling of cable. And so we’ve really honed in on this this identifiable material that has carried all through these last forty five years.
Sam: [00:12:35] Amazing. 2020 has been a year unlike any other. Every business and every individual has had to pivot in ways large and small. Tell us about key changes and pivots you’ve made, which are all especially coinciding with just before the pandemic, you taking over as the CEO and chairwoman and how you’ve done this?
Coralie Charriol: [00:13:08] I mean, I had it’s kind of like a double whammy for me, losing my father, losing the founder and the the visionary of the company, losing my mentor, losing my father, losing my boss. And he was a mentor to many people here in the company and and also a mentor to a lot of his clients that he has had for over 30, 40, 50 years that he that he’s worked with. It was a big loss. It was a big loss. And coming into Philly, I was not coming to fill his shoes, that’s for sure. I could never fill his shoes, but I was coming to make sure that a trial was going to be here present and help with the vision, help with the family connection and all of that. And then COVID hit out of nowhere where the entire world came to a full stop, where the entire world and the chain that we are all on, because we’re all interconnected, the manufacturers are connected to us and we’re connected to our clients who are connected to the consumer. We’re all connected. And we all came to a full stop. It was terrible and frightening and nobody had any vision and everybody kept saying, well, in a couple of months, it’ll just bounce back and it hasn’t. So now it’s this pivotal change. It’s how are we going to do business post 2020? How are we going to talk to our consumers? What are we going to tell them? What are we going to show them? And for me, it’s very important. Core business, core products. What are we known for, what do people want and what have been people buying from us for the last forty five years? I’m going to concentrate on that. I’m going to redesign some of our best pieces, like we have a central watch. It’s 80 percent of our sales. I’m redesigning that for 2021. It’s kind of an updated version. And I’m going to also focus on online channels. Like we have a lot of stores, we have a lot of sales, physical ones. I don’t think they’re going to go away, but I think the digital is going to increase. And what I want is for the two to connect. I want the two to connect. I want them to buy online, and then I want them to pick it up in the store. That’s what I really want. And I want to focus on that. And of course, I want to focus on women. I mean, women right now, with all the changes that are happening around the world, women are having a moment. And I want and my father had the vision to sell and concentrate our products for women. About 80 percent of our products are women for women. And now being a woman at the head of it, I really hope to bring my woman strength and power and flexibility and balance to Charriol as well.
Sam: [00:16:11] I’m sure you will. I have no doubt. So tell me what’s been Charriols’ most effective method of selling product and growing the business over time?
Coralie Charriol: [00:16:24] I think it’s connected to, obviously, the cable that’s very recognizable, of course, that was definitely a huge help when you I remember when you when you sit in an airplane and you see somebody’s wrist across the aisle and you just see the bracelet of the watch and you know, and you see that it’s cable, you know, it’s Charriol, that was something that was really, you know, identifiable and really Charriol’s kind of main thing that the cable. But other things. I really am very proud that my father has worked with different people around the world and and he’s created relationships that maybe work in the future. I think a lot of people, a lot of young people don’t work like that anymore. Like Dad works with different family owned companies in different countries around the world and stayed and worked with them and developed the brand in those markets. And their relationships are 30, 40 years old. Now, I’m working with the second generation, the sons of those founders. So I’m supporting those family owned businesses and as well as supporting family owned factories like in the Switzerland and in Germany and in different places around the world. That’s also kind of very important to Charriol, I think. Also in innovating designs, things that are very kind of out there or original kind of pushing design to two different ways, I think it’s it’s very important to be a little bit avant garde with a little bit of classics. So people are not too scared to kind of branch out and and and wear products differently or wear products that are a little bit more unique because cable is pretty unique. And then also, I think connecting with your end consumers is really important.
Sam: [00:18:38] It’s never been more important than now.
Coralie Charriol: [00:18:40] Absolutely. I mean, we have we have three to well, there’s multiple touch points. But the one forever. It’s been the boutique.So the people on the ground in the stores, they’re your face. They’re like the the client comes in, they see that salesperson. It’s very important. They’re they walk into your environment, which is the boutique. They see your colors, they see your displays, they see they see your product. They see all the catalogs and things like that. So they see that right now they can do that as much or they do that less. So where are they seeing you, seeing you on the newsletters that you send them? They’re seeing on your social media, which is Facebook, Instagram, they’re seeing on your Google ads. And so you kind of talking to them, but you’re talking to them in a much more targeted way, meaning and I don’t mean it in a negative way, but like, I know what my client I know the ones that know Charriol. So I target them in a specific way. And then I target people who don’t know Charriol. And I’m trying to bring you to the brand. So that’s that’s also very, very important. And I think, medically speaking, we’re a very visual generation right now. It’s very visual. It’s all about photos and it’s all about videos and it’s about experiencing some kind of emotion. When you see the photo, when you when you see the video, when you hear a music piece of music from the video that also has to touch you and create some kind of emotion and also some kind of connection. So I want to talk to my own consumers in a way that they feel they haven’t wasted their time looking at my stuff where either they’ve either learned something or I entertain them or I have pumped them up and given them something great to feel about today or I don’t know. So that’s kind of very exciting for me to to work on those those aspects. I want to also bridge the history and the and the heritage of Charriol, but I want to bring it and give it my twist on it and look to the future. And I want inspire them in a different way than what my father did.
Sam: [00:21:04] I think. Put your own stamp on the brand as you absolutely should.
Coralie Charriol: [00:21:08] Yes. I’m going to try my hardest to do that. Absolutely.
Sam: [00:21:17] So let’s shift gears a little bit and let’s talk about some of the practical day to day. How do you allocate responsibilities among you and some of the top members of your team? Who do you rely on the most in your immediate team to help you run the company now?
Coralie Charriol: [00:21:36] Well, I must say, we are a very small team now. There’s been a big restructure, so we are a tight team. A lot of people do a lot of different things. I rely very much on my CFO was a woman as well who has been with us for for many years. She has been our backbone getting through this pandemic. And it’s really been a pretty strong team work. We have a great designer, multiple actually designers in-house for jewelry and for watch. And then, of course, our digital manager who has had a lot on his shoulders to get our website to speed and things like that. And of course, my brother, who is in the licencing business, we do have perfume, we have handbags and we have eyewear and we also have ready to wear. So he’s taking care a lot of the branding and the image for the licensing business. And I don’t know, we talk every day. I rely on everybody. I’m doing a lot of it myself. I got my hand in many different areas. And I don’t know, it’s not it’s not one particular person. It’s really just it’s a team effort. It’s a tight team.
Sam: [00:23:02] I want to talk a little bit about licensing, which you just mentioned, which your brother works on. Tell us a little bit about how you think about licensing as a company, lots of brands do it. Obviously, you’re always trying to strike a balance between having licensed products be representative of and true to the brand and controlling the look and feel and marketing and distribution of those products. And yet you’re working with third parties to do that. Tell us a little bit about your thinking around that.
Coralie Charriol: [00:23:35] I actually like licensing businesses. I think it’s very additive. It’s definitely it adds to the whole lifestyle aspect of Charriol for me. We know how to do watches and jewelry, it’s a whole different business. If I were to say I’m going to do eyewear, I would have to learn all over again from scratch what it takes to design eyewear, what it takes to manufacture eyewear and so on and so forth. Plus it’s also a very different distribution network. Same goes for perfume. So when you’re working with different third parties, usually they see something in your brand that they can put in their category, meaning Charriol has a great name and has a great logo, which is the sea. It has the cable. It has a color that we’ve used for over 20 years. It has history that they can use and and kind of incorporate into this new product category. So for for them, we come very much. How do I say it? Like, we bring it on a platter. Everything, all the aspects that they can use and they can adapt. So I’m kind of giving them a gift. But then what they give in return is that they’re distributing in a different way. So people will maybe be introduced to Charriol through the eyewear or maybe introduced to Shahryar through the handbags or through the perfume and then come and then maybe buy a watch and a piece of jewelry. So it kind of opens the doors to getting more brand fans, brand lovers, you know, and and I do think, yes, it is very hard to sometimes work with them in the sense that we have to be very much on top of them to make sure that the brand image, the brand messaging and the brand values are followed. And the product definitely lives in our ecosystem and lives in the real story in the Chicago lifestyle story. So, yes, we have to work very closely with them. And sometimes you have great partners and sometimes you don’t. So far, it’s been great. The China one is like the biggest one, which is a ready to wear in China. We have about one hundred and sixty stores there. It’s all ready to wear men’s products, including shoes and handbags as well. So it’s a very big business in China.
Sam: [00:26:22] Totally interesting. Thanks for that. What’s keeping you up at night right now?
Coralie Charriol: [00:26:28] Oh, my gosh. The future, my dear. The future.
Sam: [00:26:32] Everything about the future these days.
Coralie Charriol: [00:26:34] I mean, I crash so early because I am absolutely exhausted, but around 4:30 or 5, my wheels start turning and I am awake and it drives me nuts. And what am I thinking about? I’m thinking about, yeah, two months down the road, three months down the road, six months down the road. I’m thinking about are the markets going to stay open? Are we going to go into new logged out is my product that I’m launching next year. Is that a good thing to do or not? Should I hold off? No, I shouldn’t. I should move forward and, you know, inspire people that we’re still designing. We’re still creating. We’re still moving forward. I feel if we do that, then we feel alive and we feel like we’re not stagnant, you know? So for me, the future is what I’m thinking about. My goal is to is to sail through this storm and get to the other side, wherever that other side may be, could be two thousand twenty three, two thousand twenty four, who knows, maybe sooner, I hope, and and make sure that Charriol is still alive and kicking and I want it to be a full lifestyle brand. I want the Omni channel to be pumping and working and and we’re creating relevant, beautiful cable products that people want to wear.
Sam: [00:28:01] I so agree with you that I think it’s really sort of a three year journey out of this pandemic because as you said. Looking forward, continuing some of the growth initiatives, continuing to evolve the brand, sort of waiting for the consumer in the markets to come back for the dust, to settle on all the ways in which both the consumer buying behavior as well as the way that brands reach their consumers is so fundamentally shifting. It’s going to take a long time for the dust to settle on all of those aspects.
Coralie Charriol: [00:28:34] I agree. I agree.
Sam: [00:28:36] Wonderful. Here’s something else you should know. Although the jewelry industry is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, direct to consumer brands have experienced remarkable sales growth. Some saw gains as large as 400 percent between April and May. Thanks to Stayita and Forbes for the data used in today’s episode. You’ve always been an ambassador for your business and championed causes you believe in as a brand. Tell us about your thoughts on luxury brands championing social causes more broadly. How does it work for the brand, the consumer and the cause? And why do you view it as important for a brand to do?
Coralie Charriol: [00:29:19] Well, I definitely think it’s very important for the next generation. I think the next generation want to be wearing products that have a message. When they buy a product, it stands for something. And I have designed three watches that are related to three different causes that are around environmental issues. One is about elephants because it’s one of my favorite animals on the planet and I really love elephants. And we have partnered up with Elephant Family, which is based in the U.K. We did a beautiful Dayal with elephants on it and as well a Bengal that matches and a portion of the proceeds goes to helping elephant family. Then we, of course, we have the ocean. I’m on the board of the Lonely Whale Foundation and we fight against Single-Use Plastic. I’ve even used I’ve even taken plastic out of all my packaging and my shopping bags and I’m now one hundred percent paper and that’s my commitment. That’s all of this is my starting commitment at Charriol to fight against Single-Use Plastic. But we did a beautiful dial on a watch as well as a bangle. And the one that’s coming out next year in 2021 is going to be polar bears, which will be linked to a climate change organization as well. And they’ll be a watch and a bangle. Now, I think it’s very important for the brands to give back, to connect to the social causes, to help also shed light on these social causes. And I think also the consumer, like I said, likes to hear it as well. They’re buying something. But yet when they purchase something, it’s not just for them. They’re also helping out the cause. And I think it’s important for the cause because sometimes you just not heard you’re preaching to the same people over and over and over. And this is a way of getting different people, of different areas, of different social status to listen and to hear you. And I definitely think it’s important and I think it’s of my generation. I remember when I told my dad about this, he was like, really? What, you know him it was about selling the dream, selling the the thing that you asked for. And I think it’s like now it’s more about connecting to what’s happening today. Yes. You want to sell the dream, but you also want it to have meaning.
Sam: [00:31:48] I think that’s that’s such a key consumer shift. You know, I think increasingly customers want to identify brands with doing good in some way and relate to a variety of these causes, because in the end, these are the exigent issues of our time.
Coralie Charriol: [00:32:06] Yes, absolutely agree.
Sam: [00:32:09] Coralee, in an industry saturated with often impersonal pieces, we love your dedication to crafting artists and on one of a kind, jewelry often tied to a social cause. And we love and admire that. You’ve taken over leadership after your father’s death of what is now a 40 year old brand and are leading it into its next iteration and its next evolution. Thanks so much for joining us on the show today.
Coralie Charriol: [00:32:39] My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
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