Philippines - As Louis Vuitton recently marked its 20th year of doing business in the country, Jean-Baptiste Debains, the former president of Louis Vuitton Asia-Pacific, was moved to say: "Today, it sounds completely natural to be in the Philippines. It wasn't so 20 years ago."
"During those days, it was probably daring on our part," said Debains, who has left his post in Hong Kong for Rome to oversee Fendi's international business (Fendi is part of the LVMH group). "At the same time, we also paved the way for others to come in."
While he declined to reveal investment figures, including how sales of Louis Vuitton in the Philippines compare with the rest of Southeast Asia, Debains said the French luxury company was just being true to itself when it took a gamble with a then-young Philippine market. After all, it has always been part of Louis Vuitton's DNA as a brand associated with travel to explore and seek new adventures.
"After 20 years in the Philippines, what's important is the fact that we have been able to strengthen and build relationships," he said. "Some of our relationships with clients go back even further because they have been buying Louis Vuitton abroad."
"For us, ranking is not interesting," added Debains. "What's interesting is the kind of relationships we develop with clients over time in every market we go to."
Such product awareness and brand recall wouldn't have been possible without a local presence. There's nothing more important than "direct relationships you're able to develop with your team at home."
The physical expansion of Louis Vuitton's lone store in Makati City over the years is very telling. When it first opened in 1993, the brand made do with a modest 50-square-meter-space at 6750 on Ayala Avenue.
Ten years later, Louis Vuitton made the big move to Greenbelt 4. By then, American designer Marc Jacobs was already six years into his job as the brand's first-ever artistic director. Classic, reinterpreted and limited-edition Louis Vuitton bags had started flying off the shelves the world over, including the Philippines.
With a total gross area of 302 sq m, the new store wasn't only several times larger than the brand's old address. It also kept in step with the look and feel of Louis Vuitton's stores abroad.