‘We’re not saying yes to everyone. We’re looking for dealers that are right for the brand’
With a revitalised range of TV and audio, plus a more accommodating trade plan, German super-brand Loewe says it’s ready to rock ‘n’ roll again. Steve May talks to UK sales and marketing chief Alan Whyte (pictured)
Few would argue that Loewe’s Bild 7 OLED TV debut was one of the highlights of this year’s IFA tech expo. Combining ingenious engineering with spectacular picture quality, it looked a compelling alternative to mainstream flat-screen flagships.
But what of the manufacturer behind this designer glass? Loewe has seen more than its fair share of drama of late. Acquired by holding company Stargate Capital in 2014, the company has significantly restructured its UK operation – and it’s not just the product line that has now had a refresh.
“There’s a realism to the way we are now doing things,” says Alan Whyte, UK sales and marketing director. “We need to be more humble, less aggressive. So we’ve scaled back the criteria of becoming a Loewe dealer,” he tells ERT. “What we had before was quite prohibitive. There were a lot of hoops to jump through. We’ve changed our terms too. Our discount structure was confusing, even internally. Dealers who have to work with multiple manufacturers want a really easy solution. They don’t want the unnecessary hassle of trying to decipher price points. So we’ve now made it all very easy…”
Mr Whyte says this more accommodating approach has allowed it to add 21 new dealers this year. “This has improved our geographical reach – and for us that was half the battle. We benefit from our Harrods concession, but it’s not enough to sustain us. Not that we’re just saying yes to everyone. We’re looking for dealers that are right for the brand.”
Alan Whyte took his seat in November 2015. But this isn’t his first Loewe gig. He was with the company in 2006, when the brand was distributed by Scottish hi-fi specialist Linn. “I’ve always had a fondness for gadgets and technology,” he says, with a twinkle in his eye. “Now my role is very hands-on – I’m operationally involved. We’re a small team, but I think we’ve got all bases covered.”
Mr Whyte says that Loewe’s not blind to the fact that retail space is at a premium. “My goal is simply to take away as many barriers as possible – remove the things that are restrictive to growth of Loewe UK as a business.”
One key challenge, he concedes, remains brand awareness. “Loewe is a household name in Germany, but in the UK we still have to work at that,” he says. “There’s a misconception these days that Loewe TVs are rebadged Hisenses, but that’s simply not the case.”
“People question how such a small company can compete on the global stage. The answer is we have developed top-line relationships with companies like Hisense. So, in addition to good technology sharing, there’s a procurement benefit. The buying power of Hisense gives us access to tech that we could never access before.”
Mr Whyte cites the use of a chipset from Sigma Design.” In the past, we couldn’t obtain this because our purchasing volume wasn’t there. However, piggybacking with Hisense, we’re able to do that. In the same way, we have a strategic relationship with LG Display for panel procurement. When it comes to screens, Loewe can take what is appropriate for any particular use.”
International affiliations aside, the company remains keen to stress though that all software development remains in Germany. “We still have our factory in Kronach, which is a sleepy little town straight out of a Bavarian postcard. It’s been our lifeblood since the 1930s.” Apparently, the location was chosen so wood could be sourced from local forests to build TV cabinets.
To further reinforce its German roots, Loewe has renamed all its TV products Bild. “This translates to picture,” explains Mr Whyte. “And our audio products will be called Klang, which, believe it or not, comes from the German for sound. Yes, when we heard the new naming structure it did raise a few smiles internally,” he admits.
On the subject of audio, the message is very much watch this space. “We intend to offer everything from Bluetooth travel speakers to our floorstanding Klang 5s. But we won’t stretch ourselves too far…” he cautions.
Bild and Klang aside, Loewe says it remains cognisant of specific UK consumer demand, which is why it’s announced that Freeview Play will be a feature going forward. “It shows the powers that be are serious about the UK market. We are getting a disproportionate amount of support. Things like Freeview Play also enable us to have a conversation with bigger players, which gives us the volume we need to progress the business.”
The executive is keen to caveat Loewe’s traditional premium positioning. “As much as we command a higher price-point, I think we’re also a value-for-money product,” he argues. “When you see what goes into each TV, the craftsmanship – whether it’s our glass filter screen from Berliner Glas, or the sound systems that we provide – we’re good value.”
Sound has always been a focus for Loewe TVs. “Of course, you get the latest buzzwords: 4K, HDR and OLED… but sound has become more important.”
The Bild 7 OLED screen boasts 120W of amplification, with 10 speakers and four bass drivers – “it’s the best-sounding Loewe TV I’ve heard,” Mr Whyte enthuses. “The OLED panel is razor thin. It blows the competition away….”
Ultimately, he says Loewe’s message to retailers is unambiguous. “If you look at it from a business angle, Loewe provides a good business case. When you’re dealing with the market-leading brands, unless you’re a leading player your margins will be slim and you have the internet to contend with. But we don’t really see any discounting. It’s a sign of the times. People want to make full margin with us.”
And there’s a great narrative behind the brand. “Consumers are unaware of just how long we’ve been in business. There are pictures of our founder with Albert Einstein. You can’t buy that sort of history and heritage.”