There’s been a rise in the number of women entering male-dominated industries over the years, and Julianna Chai is a Malaysian woman who did just that back in 2008.
After her studies and a few years of working in the local advertising industry, she left to work for a company in the Middle East for 6 years. She worked in a corporate communications department before being transferred to an in-flight services department and worked her way up to a senior air stewardess position in 3 years’ time.
It was through her travels around the world and her passion for the luxury watch trade that inspired her to venture into the industry. Since 2008, she’s been with Red Army Watches as the brand’s Managing Director.
Venturing Into An Unfamiliar Industry
As Red Army Watches “is a rather small company with a small team”, Julianna’s expected to be involved in almost all aspects of the business including marketing, operations and human resources. “I did expect that I have to do everything in the beginning, since it’s my own business. We started the company with a 3-person team and it stayed that way for a few months,” she said.
Prior to her involvement with Red Army Watches, she had never stepped foot into the luxury watch industry. “Learning the ropes from the basics was a very interesting experience for me. I had to take on so many different roles.”
3 pieces of advice Julianna’s mother (who was an entrepreneur herself) gave to her was to always be honest and fair in whatever you do, to always strive for improvement, and to always practice respectfulness.
On the last point, Julianna said, “Without the dedication of my team, Red Army Watches is nothing. Because each of us is committed and are always working as a team, we are able to achieve growth as well as profitability. For that, I always try to cultivate a working environment that helps boost their confidence and productivity while ensuring that they’re not stagnant personally and professionally.”
According to Julianna, being a woman in the male-dominated luxury watch industry isn’t as challenging as it’s assumed to be. “As long as we are passionate and persistent with our goals, we can achieve just as much as our male counterparts,” she said, adding, “Although sometimes I do have to appear tougher than I want to be, just to prove that I can indeed stand on equal grounds with men.”
She believes one reason why the world of watches has always been seen as masculine is that “men don’t get many opportunities to accessorise themselves—it’s usually just a watch on their wrist. Whereas for women, we have many other choices of accessories including bracelets, earrings and necklaces.”
Understanding Your Market
The reason for Red Army Watches’ establishment in 2008 was to bring in mid-range watch brands into the market. “Before venturing into the industry, we did an extensive market research to understand the watch retail business in Malaysia. We found out that there’s a gap between the expensive luxury watches and the lower-end watches,” Julianna said.
The biggest challenge has been changing the mindsets of Malaysians about watches. “People are fixed to the idea that watches are usually Swiss or Japanese-made,” she stated. To combat this, Red Army Watches engages itself in public relations activities to advertise their watches.
Julianna noted that the challenge has gotten easier, however, “as the younger generation is more open-minded, tech-savvy and well-travelled. These make them more willing to consider new brands and watches.”
The luxury watch industry is a competitive one, “especially when the presence of established mainstream brands is strong. That’s why we find the need to do something different with our brand, or else we won’t get noticed,” she said.
Despite that, she told us that the market has actually accepted the non-mainstream brands brought in by Red Army Watches, so much so that they currently have 3 Red Army Watches outlets in One Utama, Pavilion and Plaza Gurney in Penang. Besides that, they also have a watch lounge concept store Sevenfriday Space at Four Seasons Place KL and a lifestyle boutique mo.men.tum in Sunway Velocity.
Appealing To Gen Y
When you think about our younger generations, mechanical watches aren’t a common accessory you’d associate with them. For Red Army Watches to appeal to them, they focus more on digital media marketing through social media campaigns and postings on online platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
“It’s easier for the older generations because they grew up with mechanical watches. Hence, they are more invested in a watch’s craftsmanship, detail, together with watch movement—aspects that are what make mechanical watches so sought after,” Julianna commented.
“The younger ones are into mechanical watches that have unique designs with backstories and concepts that they can relate to, such as military, automobile and even naval backgrounds, all to provide them an enhanced lifestyle and experience. They also highly value practicality,” she added.
To progress in the industry, the brand continuously seeks collaboration with non-mainstream watch brand owners. An example of this would be the Sevenfriday Space that was created in collaboration with the lifestyle watch brand Sevenfriday. “Instead of launching just another watch boutique, we incorporated a watch lounge and coffee bar into the space,” she said.
Julianna plans to continue her entrepreneurial journey with Red Army Watches, and she said that they’re definitely looking for expansions in the pipeline as they pursue the brand’s vision of being the leading retailer for non-mainstream watch brands in Southeast Asia.
- You can find out more about Red Army Watches here.
Featured Image Credit: Red Army Watches