February 11, 2005

Excerpts: Blue Ocean Strategy - Part VI

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 2:27 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

By probing questions such as these, the Swiss watch company Swatch, for example, was able to arrive at a cost structure some 30 percent lower than any other watch company in the world. At the start, Nicolas Hayek, chairman of Swatch, set up a project team to determine the strategic price for the Swatch. At the time, cheap (about $75), high-precision quartz watches from Japan and Hong Kong were capturing the mass market. Swatch set the price at $40, a price at which people could buy multiple Swatches as fashion accessories. The low price left no profit margin for Japanese or Hong Kong-based companies to copy Swatch and undercut its price. Directed to sell the Swatch for that price and not a penny more, the Swatch project team worked backwards to arrive at the target cost, a process that involved determining the margin Swatch needed to support marketing and services and earn a profit.
Given the high cost of Swiss labor, Swatch was able to achieve this goal only by making radical changes in the product and production methods. Instead of using the more traditional metal or leather, for example, Swatch used plastic. Swatchs engineers also drastically simplified the design of the watchs inner workings, reducing the number of parts from one hundred fifty to fifty-one. Finally, the engineers developed new and cheaper assembly techniques; for example, the watch cases were sealed by ultrasonic welding instead of screws. Taken together, the design and manufacturing changes enabled Swatch to reduce direct labor costs from 30 percent to less than 10 percent of total costs. These cost innovations produced a cost structure that is hard to beat and let Swatch profitably dominate the mass market for watches, a market previously dominated by Asian manufacturers with a cheaper labor pool.