Ets. Atamian is today one of the leaders in the Lebanese watch industry. We met Mher Atamian, the third generation, who helped develop this family business into one of the important watch companies in Lebanon, always ahead with new projects.
Atamian is on the Lebanese market since 1927, and you are the third generation. There has been a lot of evolution in the company, can you tell us about it? My grandfather began his watchmaking career in his tiny shop in Bab Idriss back in 1927. My Father followed in his footsteps but decided to go to Switzerland to learn the art of watchmaking from the experts first hand and after his return, he started importing watches to Lebanon. After my graduation in Electrical Engineering in the year 1993, I decided to join the family business which at that time had already a very nice portfolio of International brands like Longines, Rado, Delma, etc… My father had built an excellent reputation in the market as a distributor. I learned many things from him and started to put my own strategy in place, introducing in 2001 the retail business to go along with the distribution. We encountered success and slowly retail became a big part of our business, enabling us to enlarge our portfolio.
There is Atamian and Timezone, can you tell us about the difference between these two companies? Timezone is more about fashion and fun brands like CK, Just Cavalli, Tommy Hilfiger, Lacoste, Timberland, Nautica, Hugo Boss, Ferrari, etc. Atamian boutiques carry mainly traditional and fashion Swiss made brands.
What about the Lebanese client, what does he look for in a watch? Nowadays, because of the evolution of the digital media, the Lebanese consumers have become more aware of the new product launches and novelties. As a result, we need to always be ready to show them a wide range of products and must always train our staff since the clients entering the boutique have a vast knowledge about the models, the trends, and mechanism of each watch. For the fashion brands, our clients look for the latest trends, colors and materials. While for the more traditional Swiss brands, they go more into details such as the kind of movement being used.
How would you assess the Lebanese market? The Lebanese market has been suffering since a while. Tourism is at its all time low, especially the ones coming from the Gulf who used to visit Lebanon in summer. There’s an international crisis; Gulf countries, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, have economical problems due to the petrol prices. So, today we rely more on locals or on Lebanese expats. Purchasing power in general has decreased worldwide, and in Lebanon as well. This said it doesn’t mean that we shifted from our vision and our plans, we’re still opening new boutiques wherever necessary and starting new adventures, because I believe that in order to evolve one should keep going through with his plans which is a typical Lebanese businessman’s attitude.
Have you acquired new brands in your portfolio? We have become very selective, because the companies we represent are satisfied with our performance and we need to keep up with the good work. However, if an opportunity arises to work with a known and exclusive brand, of course we will be interested. Lately, we started with Panerai, in ABC Achrafieh and the first signs are very positive. We are also shifting our focus to add branded jewelry to our portfolio; it’s complementary to our business and it would provide new source of income. We are starting with Chopard which is a brand that has strong watch-making history and is very unique in its jewelry designs. It is a great addition to our portfolio! Our target focus is to start with medium price range jewelry lines which are affordable to the consumer.
Isn’t jewelry even more competitive here in Lebanon because we have a lot of local jewelers? Yes, competition is tough! Local jewelers imitate all the major jewelry designs but there is a niche of clientele, who prefer to wear the original product even if they have to pay more. You will notice that there are a lot of international jewelry maisons who are entering the market slowly but surely with boutiques and shop-in-shop because the demand is there.
What about the connected watches? A lot of watch companies are coming up with connected watches, both Swiss and Far East. They all want to grab a share of this new market. In the USA, China and other major countries it is proving to be a success. We will have to wait and see if this trend will stay or not.
Are you going to add connected watches like the TAGHeuer? Of course, TAGHeuer is launching it and we will receive it very soon, we have a good amount of clients who have paid deposits on it. This is an example of a company who has reacted quickly and has come up aesthetically with a very beautiful watch, reliable and according to the DNA of the brand, giving the option at one point to change it back to an automatic watch if after a while it becomes obsolete.
If you had to describe Atamian in a few words. I would describe it as a family business with values. We believe in our personnel and consider them as family, we also treat our clients as friends.
Will you have a dedicated space for jewelry in Atamian boutiques? For the jewelry we will dedicate space and we will customize some of the window displays. In the long term we will look to open mono brand boutiques for jewelry if things go as planned.
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