Every market is a continuum. At one end the people who buy on price from suppliers who’ve become a commodity.  The other, people who are willing to pay premium prices for a memorable experience.

Barbara and I were recently up at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.

It’s arguably the leading tourist attraction in the Interlaken area, heavily marketed by Jungfraubahn, who own the whole shebang.

Just getting up there is an experience.  At 3,454 metres above sea level, you catch the rack railway completed in 1912 by tunnelling through the Eiger and Moench mountains.  Once up there you have spectacular views of the surrounding Alps, can walk out on the Glacier and dare I say it, buy the ubiquitous chocolate or watches.

The second is Kirchhofer Watches.

Jurg Kirchhofer is one of the most controversial men in Interlaken, Switzerland. One of the region’s most successful business owners, his name evokes passionate diatribes whenever it comes up.

Being naturally curious, I wondered why? What is it about this chap that causes so much comment?

First some background on the family business.

In 1944, Fritz Kirchhofer, a master watchmaker, opened a jewellery and watchmaking store in Interlaken. In a few years he expanded and started his own watch factory as well as opening another store.

Fritz realised early on that he needed to do two things to prosper in this business. First, offer a wide selection of watch brands to the tourists who flocked to the region, and second, offer unrivalled after sales service.

I’m not sure when Fritz passed the business onto his children, but the real expansion occurred when son, Jurg took over.

Jurg took his Father’s philosophy of brand choice and exceptional service and added a crucial ingredient… Traffic to his stores!

Interlaken is a tourist town. So he set about cornering as much of the market as he could. He owns everything from souvenir, luxury luggage, high end watch and jewellery shops and even a well-known restaurant (which had a long family owner tradition).

Jurg fully embraces the concept of ascension. i.e. There are different levels of buyers, from the cheaper end of town to those who want and will pay for a unique experience.

His high end stores are a destination in their own right. His most expensive watches cost upwards of $500,000 each and he has a waiting list!

This is from an interview he gave in 2007…

“Many tourists like to buy their watches like fast food, but this store is the exact opposite. The service is like what you would find in a five star hotel. It is a completely new experience.

My goal is that this should become the meeting point for watch collectors and watch lovers to learn more about watches and to go into more depth. Many collectors are thirsty for information and can’t get it, and they can get the accurate information here.”

Yes, Jurg had a good base to start with, but he saw opportunities to expand, took major risks and put in an incredible amount of hard work. He’s a shameless promoter of himself and his business. He knows exactly who his market is and where they are.

For example he has 8 promotional offices throughout Asia and makes multiple trips there each year to promote tourism (and of course his stores). He has relationships with tour operators who funnel busloads of tourists to his stores.

His business is nimble. He spots trends and opens stores to cater for them. His world class restaurant not only provides traditional Swiss cuisine but Asian food for his guests.

His belief is that in an international market, customers want to deal with people who speak their own language and who can explain the benefits of his products.

So his shop staff speak over 20 languages ranging from Russian, Korean, Japanese to Hindi.

“I firmly believe it is the very personal service my wife and I are willing to offer. We go the extra mile for our customers. We take care of the details, things that might be unimportant for other retailers. We recommend restaurants, we see that our clients get the best tables, we suggest excursions for them. In our main shop, we have one person who is responsible for giving out tourist information and we speak 20 languages.

In a tourist resort, it’s very difficult to succeed if you are not willing to work 180%, because we are open from 8:30am to 10:15 pm, seven days a week. This business is very labour intensive. If you don’t like what you are doing, you are not going to like living in the shop.

Consumers today like to compare and they cannot do it in a monobrand boutique. A large shop invites them to come in and walk around and talk informally with the staff.

I think the recommendation of an old traditional retailer who has been there for generations is still very much appreciated by the clients.”

So why the controversy?

It appears the “tall poppy syndrome” is not purely an Australian phenomenon.

According to local gossip, Jurg wasn’t considered to be the brightest kid in school. However, he mastered the most important fundamentals of business… understanding your market and giving them a real buying experience, topped off with exceptional after sales service.

He knows what he wants and goes for it. He has passion, drive and an incredible work ethic. He bulldozes his way through the bureaucracy and makes enemies.

But as they say, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

So back to Jurg and what makes him a force to be reckoned with.

  • Understand your market, what they want and give it to them.
  • Create an ascension model – levels of products and/or services that cater to different price points.  i.e. Always have a premium product.  You may not sell that many, but unless you have one, no one can buy it.
  • Understand that you can’t be good at, or do everything. Jurg certainly doesn’t speak 20 languages.
  • Shamelessly market and promote yourself. It’s your responsibility to get your name out there. No one else is going to do it for you.
  • Work hard and love what you do.

And in case you’re wondering, Kirchhofer is the ONLY watch shop at the top of the mountain!

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