For the timekeepers of Titan, every second matters. As does every third, fourth or even 120th. In 2002-2003, for one, the company marked its time with no less than 122 new models. These contributed 15 per cent of its revenue in the same year. This year, the share of business from recent designs those introduced in the last four years is ticking its way up to a whopping 72 per cent.
To be so many steps ahead of their time, Titan requires processes that hinge on split second precision. Before such method was established there was some madness recalls B V Nagaraj, divisional manager, Design and Development. "In the '90s, we did not have product or project management or a design studio. To request for a design, an employee would make a sketch and throw it across to the next department, which would make some changes on it and pass it on to the next," he says.
"In the last decade, we have developed strictly monitored measures that enable us to launch so many models in a year," says, BG Dwarakanath, vice president, Horology and chief technical officer. "Individually, not all models are complex. But the complexity arises from handling multiple products," he says.
Titan has not only to upgrade existing models and refurbish current collections, it also has to revamp entire ranges with new styles or shapes. But the greatest effort goes into breakthrough innovations that create segments by themselves like Fastrack and Edge.
The cutting edge
While ideas for innovation often come out of keeping a finger on the customer's pulse and an eye on the current competitive scenario, sometimes the pendulum is set into motion from inside the company. The Edge was born as a challenge from the senior management. "The process was slightly different in that Edge was not driven by the customer. We set ourselves the task and presented the idea to the marketing department," says PS Bhat, divisional manager R&D.
In 1999, Titan took drawings of the 3.5mm product it had in mind and showed it to Swiss suppliers in Basel. "Most of them refused to make the watch. The ones who agreed, quoted exorbitant prices. So we said, 'Forget it. Let's make it ourselves'. The next year, when we showed the same suppliers what we had manufactured they could not believe that an Indian company had pulled it off," says Mr Nagaraj. The phrase 'concept to reality' in this case can safely be interchanged with 'dream to reality'.
Manoj Chakravarti, general manager, Corporate Affairs, says, "There are thinner watches in the world but they are museum pieces and purely of academic interest. In the mid '90s ultra thin watches were in vogue in the global market. But the products in this category were not stable and could not withstand temperature changes or other hard conditions. The concept emerged only to disappear later. The Edge is the only product that has created a category."
To achieve what its predecessors did not, team Titan put the watch through the rigours of its painstakingly polished processes. "Till about six years ago, we used to make the product first only to have the marketing team come back and tell us later that it did not meet their requirements. Now after deliberation, we formulate a clear-cut brief and sketch," says Mr Nagaraj. The brief documented is rigid and precise and ensures that the product meets cost, delivery and styling requirements. There are cross-functional teams that reset the clock hands in case the product development strays from its course.
The Edge had to pass all the stringent criteria. One of these was that while the watch shed inches, it had to remain water resistant like the other Titan products. This was one of the things that put it in a league different from the other ultra slim models.
When the pilot lot of Edge was being developed, the manufacturing department faced a number of challenges. The movement thickness in itself was a trial by fire as only three brands in the world that could make the innards of the chronometers almost wafer-thin.
Then came the issue of how to encase the device. For instance, the sapphire crystal usually used for the watch glass is 0.8mm. Titan had to grapple with how to take this down to 0.3mm. Stainless steel was the only material that could be used for the cross section to make the watches sturdy. "In making the product thinner, the increase in complexity was not linear but exponential," says Mr Nagaraj.
The balance of a mechanism so fine could verge on the delicate. However, the person buying it would treat it like any other watch, not like a newborn infant. Hence the prototype had to be subjected to the regular tests including dropping it from a certain height. Titan has about 36 stages of such examination before the technology is certified wearable, over and above the tests each component is put through separately.
The product that emerged through all these gates was sure to be a Titan. "While the design may have attracted the buyer, quality had to back it up. If a product bears the Titan brand, the customer expects this to be a given," says Mr Chakravarti.
Whatever the value proposition of the watch the design and quality can't be mutually exclusive. Definitely not for a product like the Edge, which has a ripple effect on the rest of the brands under the Titan umbrella. Such ranges are key image builders for the company.
"In around 1998, Titan was not a young brand. We were looking for something to make it youthful. The Fastrack range evolved as the young Titan," says Michael Foley, head of design. "Fastrack was very exciting for the Design Studio. We had to look at a set of consumers different from the regular ones," he adds.
The bridge between the years could be crossed only with design innovation, which is among the biggest differentiators for the watch markets. "Watches are accessories. They are driven by technology but they make a lifestyle statement," says Mr Foley. It is for this that Titan houses the Design Studio that takes care of all its product aesthetics and retail identity needs.
In fact, it was the in-house studio that recently redesigned the stores from regular counter based ones with cubicles to open, completely visible ones where there is nothing to separate the customer from the salesperson. The department also acts as a custodian of a cohesive identity for the company and shapes its signage. If you think that such a studio is run on artistic whims and fancies, you might be in for a big surprise. The Design Studio has also refined the intuitive aspects of its competence with tidy techniques.
The big ideas are generated on common ground between the brand management, technical design, and research departments, the distributors and the advertising agency. Every idea is then taken through the filters of market gaps and consumer need, the value the company generates from it and, of course, the relevance and feasibility of the project. The brief gathers the scope of the project how much money is to be put into it, what price the product is to be sold at and whether it is a single watch or part of the collection.
The designers let their right hemispheres work after tickling the left counterparts with these brief details. They then think along the lines of semantic clues like flamboyant, romantic, shy, minimalist, sensual, arrogant, or sporty. The brass tacks involve considerations of silhouette, form, and colour. The second level looks at the texture of the materials used and the third works out the detailed patterning and other intricate elements.
In the case of the Fastrack range, the design team used bright coloured dials for the first time. Steel was the material of choice. "In fact, it was Fastrack that popularised the white, bold look in India," says Mr Foley.
Sapna Behar, also a Titan designer, says, "The watches had a rugged, sporty look. Also what we did for girls had to be different from what we did for the guys. In fact, in this category, the profile of women was different even from those in other ranges. We took the accessories route and based our ideas on long link bracelets and pastel-coloured straps."
As Fastrack was a completely new idea, it was put through a market feedback. It is only when the first indent goes through this stage that the iterations are carried out. "We researched it in Mumbai and Coimbatore as one was a big market and the other small. Our earlier perception was that the small towns would have different expectations. But we discovered that youth in the metros lead the bandwagon. Even in small towns there is a hub of fashion drivers who set the trend," says Mr Foley.
Having caught the imagination of Generation X, Fastrack started getting even younger. Says Ms Behar, "It has had many avatars. It has undergone a reinvention every year and we are constantly introducing new models," she says. Foley adds, "Weve now separated it from the umbrella and repositioned it as a distinct under-20s brand even though it did not start out like that. It has, in fact, now become the basis for extensions in new categories." Jewellery, sunglasses and other personal accessories, which are not time-based products, have also been launched under this collection.
The company has also decided to aid the will power of its customers with its personal body and health accessories. It has launched a pedometer to help them lose weight by keeping track of calories burned. "This was a very prestigious project. We worked on it with doctors, food technicians and nutritionists to monitor input and output of calories," says Mr Dwarakanath.
So the wrist is not the only place you find a Titan. You will find it as outdoor clocks in public spaces. Or on dashboards of the world's grandest automobiles. And considering there are so many products enticing you, you will definitely find a Titan on your mind.