Q&A: Braun Büffel Managing Director Christiane Brunk on trying to bag the millennials

By RIO ROSE RIBAYA
As the original was published on 12 October2017

Tech savvy, connected, and strong proponents for their own personal advocacies are just some of the characteristics that describe millennials. Say what you will about those born between the early 1980s and the Information Age, but this 80 million-strong individualistic generation has already been disrupting the status quo, effecting changes and reviving moribund economies.

Considering that these millennials are poised to become the largest spending generation in history over the next 20 years, it’s no wonder that brands have been going out of their way to lure them back into their stores to shop. Chief among these brands, is Braun Büffel.

Braun Buffel MD Christiane Bunk
Braun Buffel owner and Managing Director Christiane Brunk welcomes guests to the brands 130th anniversary celebration held at the Centre Court of Suria KLCC in August.

Millennials are less concerned about designer names when it comes to purchasing handbags — a trait that Braun Büffel acknowledges. In response, the brand has devised numerous strategies to remain attractive among this subset — from introducing new colours, shapes, and styles to offering handcrafted leather products, timepieces and eyewear.

Lifestyle Asia recently caught up with Christiane Brunk, the owner and managing director of Braun Büffel who is at the forefront of turning the 130-year-old German manufacturer of leather goods into an international lifestyle brand. She spills insights and secrets of upping the brand’s appeal to a younger crowd while maintaining the preferences of its older customer base.

Braun Buffel
Braun Büffel Managing Director Christiane Brunk in one of the installations for the brand’s 130th anniversary celebration held at Suria KLCC in August.

Post image Related: Spotted: 10 best dressed at Braun Buffel SS17 preview party

How is the competition among leather bag brands in this region like?

There are a lot of leather bag brands that are being introduced in the Asia Pacific market. Essentially, we are all competing for the same share of the market. It is a win-win situation for consumers today because there exists multiple considerations when one is looking at purchasing a leather accessory — both from online or offline sources. However, I personally feel that competition is good. It breeds growth and the need to embrace innovation in order to stay ahead of competition.

So, how does Braun Büffel deal with this?

There might exist various other leather accessory brands in the market, but I am confident that none of our competitors are able to say that they enjoy the same legacy and heritage in the art of leather craftsmanship as us. We are quick to adapt to market trends and always seek for innovation and creativity in all aspects, ranging from merchandise to business processes. The market has been challenging within Asia Pacific. But our sales in Malaysia continues to be resilient, because we stay true to our positioning of being accessible luxury, which we are able to maintain by fostering close relationships with our supply chain partners.

Braun Buffel MD Christiane Bunk
Mrs Christiane Brunk is the fourth generation of the Braun Buffel family to helm the family business of German luxury leather manufacturing.

Braun Büffel is known for quality brown and black leather products. Is it difficult to sell it to fashion forward millennials?

What we gathered about the millennial customer is that when looking for a leather accessory, they are looking for a statement piece. One that matches and complements their outfits as well as lifestyle trends. Essentially, they are not brand conscious but purchase decisions are made on the attributes of being style conscious and lifestyle driven. Hence, we adopted a different design approach without neglecting our core focus of excellent craftsmanship and attention to functionality. We analysed the lifestyle behaviours of millennials – such as the love for travel, sports-driven interests and the need of a leather accessory that is an expression and extension of their own personality.

Additionally, we studied how millennials’ shopping preferences are shifting electronically. The global retail landscape is ever-evolving — especially in Asia, where Asia adopts these changes the fastest due to innovation in e-commerce and mobile commerce. That’s why we launched our e-commerce platform, essentially opening another channel of distribution that serves the demand for online shopping as well as globalising the brand digitally.

Is this part of the reason why we’re seeing more colours and shapes in your collections recently?

Yes, we introduced a wider spectrum of colours to our collections, ranging from pastel hues to vibrant palettes. We also introduced bag shapes that are popular with millennials such as backpacks; both regular and mini-sized — ideal for metropolitan commutes, smaller sling bags — ideal for storing essentials when attending a party, duffels that are perfect for short weekend getaways… the list goes on. The reason for more colours and bag shapes is because we place emphasis on analyzing fashion and market trends, in turn allowing us to understand what are our customers’ wants and desires in a leather accessory.

Braun Buffel
Braun Büffel has introduced a spectrum of colours from pastel hues to vibrant palettes to attract millennials.

Can we take this as a departure from the conservative style that Braun Büffel was known for?

I wouldn’t say that we are moving away from our classic designs. There still exists a core customer demand for our classic collections of black and brown leather products. Consumers today yearn for something that is stylish and bold. Somewhat of a statement piece to match their outfits. That’s where we started to relook the entire design concept — we wanted to target a wider mix of customers, not just one particular and specific group of customers. That is how we establish a strong brand-customer relationship and the reason why we have a strong pool of returning customers.

What inspired you to venture to other segments such as sunglasses and watches?

The decision to widen our product categories is because we wanted to expand beyond leather accessories into lifestyle categories. We wanted to create the Braun Büffel world and define who the Braun Büffel Man and Woman is – one that encompasses the makings of a trendsetter, one that is sophisticatedly chic and refined.

Braun Buffel
Braun Büffel Managing Director Christiane Bunk launched the brand’s first eyewear collection in Malaysia and Singapore in 2006 as well as the company’s first timepieces in 2014.

With all these changes, how is the response that you’re getting from younger crowd and more mature consumers?

The decision to change was not made overnight and it was done with much research and development efforts involved. But the feedback has been extremely positive. We are reaping rewards in terms of buying into the confidence of the younger crowd, who might have a previous cognitive brand perception of us being dated. We are pleased to say that the demographic range of 18 year olds to 30 years old makes up a considerable contribution to our overall sales. Our mature consumers still believe in us because we have established a solid reputation in the field of leather accessories. We have never taken our success for granted and we are proud when we say that a Braun Büffel leather accessory is a worthy investment.

Feedback from our mature consumers on our newer design approach have been very encouraging and with our introduction of newer colours/shapes, we see that their purchasing behaviour is also shifting into said newer bag shapes, essentially closing the once wide gap of bag design preferences between the younger and mature consumer.

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