A valuable lesson
Montblanc regional president Franck Juhel talks expert craftsmanship, the concept of gifting and how collectors are shaping the future of the maison
For more than 110 years, Montblanc has been synonymous with expert craftsmanship, from the luxurious writing instruments that have been created since 1906 to the exquisite timepieces and impeccable leather goods that are sold around the world today. This reputation for excellence has allowed the brand to establish boutiques in excess of 110 countries and gain a loyal core of collectors from all corners of the globe. Yet Montblanc remains as ambitious as ever, consistently entering new markets and creating distinguished products that stand the test of time. This is in large due to the desire of those tasked with taking the company forward, and few individuals embody this passion more than Franck Juhel. Previously holding senior positions at Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre, he is now president of the maison’s operations across the Middle East, Africa and India, a role that sees him tasked with expanding operations in the vast region and ensuring a level of service that is on par with the brand’s flagship stores in London, Hamburg and New York. “In this region, especially the Middle East and India, the concept of gifting is very important.
This is crucial for Montblanc as we have established a reputation over time for crafting products that anyone would be happy to receive. That has been a tremendous advantage as we look to expand our presence,” explains Juhel. “Of course, we can always do more and are constantly assessing where to open our next boutique, but our goal today as a brand is to work on the quality of the service we provide to our customers. We want to ensure that the level of service in Dubai, New Delhi or Durban is the same as in our stores on Bond Street in London or on Madison Avenue in New York. We also want to ensure that the same range of products is available in every location.” Since Juhel took on the role 18 months ago, Montblanc has opened eight new stores in India and a small boutique in Dubai’s iconic Atlantis, The Palm.
There are also plans in place to significantly up the offering throughout Saudi Arabia, one of the best performing markets for the brand in the region. “To be honest, with Saudi Arabia, we don’t know where the limit will be and when the growth will end,” admits Juhel. “We have eight boutiques in the kingdom but I know that in six months, 12 will not be enough and soon after, even 15 won’t meet the demand. “We have a similar scenario in India as we have clients and friends of the brand who are expecting Montblanc in their city, but the challenge is where to open. We have to find ways to meet the demand while also respecting the DNA of the brand and the environment that we need to open it.”
As well as expanding Montblanc’s presence throughout the region, Juhel is also tasked with assessing the performance of products and creating strategies to take the maison forward. This means he is regularly in touch with collectors, who, by his own admission, know more about the brand than even those with decades of experience within the company. These meetings are crucial as Juhel is able to better understand the needs of Montblanc’s customers. This information, along with sales data on all of the brand’s products, has led to some surprising discoveries. “We had thought for a very long time that because of new technology, analogue would disappear.
And when you are in charge of a region, you need to work on plans and strategies, so you begin to question what will replace that loss,” says Juhel. “But I have found that even the younger generation wants that link back to reality. “In fact, our fastest growing category today is writing instruments and this remains our leading category throughout the world. It is especially true in this region where calligraphy has been passed down through generations. They demand that level of craftsmanship, which is why we brought our master nib maker to the UAE. “Clients can meet this specialist who is then able to create a personalised nib based on the buyer’s loops, angles and writing pressure. This could also be created especially for calligraphy or even specifically for signatures, where the speed you write at is much faster. I have one that I use solely for signatures and it is amazing.”
Of course, Montblanc has not ignored the digital revolution and receiving feedback proved vital when the maison made its first tentative steps in the world of smartwatches. It all began in 2015 with an e-strap that acted as an activity monitor, followed two years later by the launch of the Summit 1. “The case and design represented all the codes of Swiss watchmaking and was made by us in Switzerland in the same way that we produce our mechanical timepieces. And we were amazingly surprised by how it was received by the market and our clients,” says Juhel. “When we first launched, we didn’t have enough stock. But the most interesting lesson is that, it has not just brought new clients to the brand, but also existing customers, who own a Montblanc tourbillon, for example, have bought the smartwatch. “There was a discussion that smartwatches would replace mechanical timepieces, but we have seen that one doesn’t replace the other. There is room for both.”
This kind of client feedback is invaluable, not just for Juhel, but the brand as a whole. Each of the regional presidents has strong relationships with collectors, and it is these individuals who truly decide what the future holds for the maison. They are even invited to the meetings that are held each quarter as Montblanc’s board from Hamburg convenes with the regional presidents to discuss the products that will be launched in the years ahead. “I see collectors all the time. It is a great way to pick their brain and see what Montblanc will be tomorrow,” Juhel says. “We have writing instruments, leather goods and watches that have been developed, thanks to the feedback from our collectors. And at the end of the day, they are part of Montblanc as it is like a family. “For the last few years, we have also invited them to our board meetings that delve into the subject ‘what is Montblanc for you and what is the future?’
“We talk for hours and there is a lot of information shared on both sides. But we are not only talking about the products being launched in a year or two, but also the ones coming as far as seven years in the future. “Ultimately, we know our DNA and we have to respect it and this will never change. Montblanc is more than 110 years old because we have values that we have respected since the beginning. But I don’t see how we would be able to grow or be true to ourselves, today and tomorrow, without talking to our clients.”
Discover the collection at Montblanc boutiques at The Dubai Mall 04 4340300 and The Galleria on Al Maryah Island 02 6764776.