Nespresso’s Roger Staeheli gets a buzz from growing Asia’s booming coffee scene
The HK and Macau country manager sees plenty of potential in Hong Kong’s home and out-of-home segments
When Switzerland-born Roger Staeheli was appointed Hong Kong and Macau country manager for Nespresso in March, he was immediately struck by the contrast between his new and old homes.
“Compared to Europe in general, Hong Kong and Asia are much faster, much more dynamic,” Staeheli says. “This city is alive 24 hours a day. People work hard in Switzerland, but there is a bit of a different mindset there. In Switzerland, even on weekdays, shops close by 7pm, and no shops open on Sunday.”
Nespresso was founded in Switzerland in 1986 and has been part of the booming coffee-drinking scene in Hong Kong since 1996. Initially, the company only sold to businesses here, but it subsequently began selling its systems of machines and capsules of roast and ground coffee to the home consumer as well.
“We opened a subsidiary in Hong Kong in 2003 and then our first boutique in 2006, in the IFC,” Staeheli says.
The company now has two boutiques in Hong Kong, as well as offering online and phone-order options.
“Hong Kong is interesting in that the consumption of coffee is shared equally between home and out-of-home segments,” Staeheli says. “And in both segments, there is a great deal of potential [for growth].”
Staeheli’s education and career path highlights another difference between Switzerland and Hong Kong. “Actually, I didn’t follow a traditional route in my education. I first did an apprenticeship, which is a very common thing to do in Switzerland.
“I started with an apprenticeship in the banking industry and worked in the industry for a couple of years. I then moved to a big publisher, before going to university [to study economics] when I was 24. The work experience I gained before going to university really helped me in making the right choice in what to study.
“For me it was fundamental in the sense that, when I was 18, I was not really clear about what I wanted to do. I think very few people know exactly what they want to do when they are 18.
“Also, it was easier to focus on my studies because I had a better understanding of what people expect.”
He joined Nespresso after graduating, first working in sales in the Swiss market and then at its headquarters. “The reason I wanted to work for Nespresso was because the company was booming at that time, especially in Europe, and it had a very dynamic image of strong innovation and strong growth. My background was in banking, but I wanted to work somewhere where I had a better link to the product.”
Staeheli does not consider the time he spent in the banking industry as wasted. “I still deal with numbers a lot. It’s a big help today to have this financial background, because ultimately we work in a business. We still need to deliver according to shareholder expectations.”
He says a career at Nespresso requires a range of qualities. “You need to deliver a strong performance, and your attitude is very important. In our company, we value both. Performance means delivering – overachieving, actually – and doing this constantly, not just on a short-term basis, but over the years.”
Staeheli says he puts a lot of effort into understanding his customers. “We don’t speak about consumers, we speak about Nespresso Club Members, and we turn these people into our ambassadors. We listen to them and we have a direct relationship with them. By listening to them, we can really make sure that our products fit their expectations.
“As an affordable luxury brand, brand positioning is super important. The customers want to enjoy and indulge themselves – and this is really what we offer to our members.
“Nespresso was already advertising on TV and in print before George Clooney [first took part in a Nespresso advertising campaign], but we really didn’t have a so-called brand ambassador. This really started in 2006 with George Clooney. The target was to raise awareness, as at that time we were very European-centric, and this really helped to push the brand.”
Staeheli thinks the coffee industry will be increasingly defined by discerning consumers. “The big trend in this category will be towards more premiumisation. Coffee is no longer just a functional drink; it is something you want to appreciate,” he says.
“I would compare it to the wine industry. Many years ago in France, the average consumption was huge and people were drinking wine every day. Today they drink less, but better. And today people are really interested in gourmet coffee – they want to know about the origins of the coffee and how it was blended.”
THE RIGHT BLEND
Roger Staeheli shares his formula for brand development
Know your ID “Be very clear about your brand identity. You need to know who you are, what you do, what your vision is and what your mission is.”
Be consistent “Ensure there is as little gap as possible between brand identity and image.”
Define language “Especially in the luxury industry, you need a strong language code. For example, Nespresso doesn’t refer to coffee, it talks about Grand Crus. Staff in its boutique are not referred to as boutique employees, but coffee specialists.”
Get customers onside “Turn them into ambassadors; listen to them and engage with them.”
Deliver quality “Nothing else makes sense if you don’t have a good product.”