Fascinating interview in BA's magazine Business Life with the CEO of Mont Blanc, Lutz Bethge. The company seems to be doing pretty well, with Antoine Colonna, luxury goods analyst at Merrill Lynch, saying: ‘Few brands that I follow - possibly with the exception of Burberry - have done as phenomenally well in the last five years.’
Some great insight into this luxury goods company, and in particular how much importance is placed on the product.
Montblanc has of course one of the most recognized symbols in the world. Seeing that little white star says a whole lot about the person holding the pen. The power of this symbol is the way it has been used consistently, but discretely, since the foundation of the company in 1913. Bethge comments that the snow capped peak of Mont Blanc was chosen as it "symbolised their own commitment to the highest craftsmanship."
2. Product passion beyound reason
I love the comments Bethge makes in his interview regarding the dedication to product quality and craftsmanship. "When I speak to the people in the factory, sometimes they show me a product and say it has to be scrapped as it has scratches. I say I can't see them, so they tell me to use a magnifying glass. People would probably love Montblanc items for half the price, but that's not possible because of the work that goes into them."
Like many luxury goods firms, Mont Blanc has stretched its brand. However, it still has at its heart a strong core in pens, or as the company calls them, "writing instruments". Although Mont Blanc now sells leather goods, jewellry, glasses and fragrances, the writing instruments business still makes up 50% of sales, and I bet more than half the profit.
Interestingly, the core is important in new and fast growing markets like China, not only more mature markets, as Bethge comments: "In China the writing instruments has been a huge success and sales are growing significantly".
4. A brand with stamina
I love the comments of Bethge regarding the Mont Blanc brand's ability to weather the storms of recession, and having a long term view: "The world will suffer many crises to come, but there will always be people who want to show somebody their respect and appreciation".
5. Relentless renovation
The final key to success with Mont Blanc I'll touch on is the clever way they have renovated and rejuvenated the brand. They have added new lines in writing instruments with more contemporary design. They have selectively stretched, respecting quality and craftsmanship in the new product areas. And they have also added some nice emotional "sizzle", through communication featuring celebrities such as Bond actress Eva Green.
In conclusion, Mont Blanc is a great example of combining a super product "sausage" with some sexy sizzle, and constantly renovating the brand to keep it relevant. And I now know what to have on my birthday wish-list...