Orama SA

Bulle isn't that big a place with a population of only 11,000 people, yet for the past five years the town has taken top honors as Switzerland's fastest growing community. It probably has to do with its location at the base of the Swiss Alps. The views of the mountains are just fantastic and it's on the main road leading up to Gstaad, one of Switzerland's most famous ski resorts.

I'm here to visit Orama, the parent company of Andre Le Marquand and Side Watch watches. The address brings me to a good-looking, four-story building about a two-minute walk from Bulle's compact city center. Judging from the building's directory there are only two tenants, Orama and a construction company. I enter the elevator and press the button for the second floor reception. Hmm, the elevator doesn't move. Matter of fact, when you press any of the floor buttons the elevator doesn't move. It looks like you need a key to access the floors. As I stand there scratching my head I take a second look at a piece of stationary taped next to the elevator buttons. It's in French but I notice the Andre Le Marquand letterhead. Oh, oh, I know the word "fermee" means closed and I see dates. Jeez, they're closed for vacation July 18 to August 18.

As I'm retrieving the camera off my bike to snap a picture of the note in the elevator I notice a man greeting a woman who had been waiting outside the building. He exited a car festooned with several Side Watch advertisements. The elevator doors were just about to close when I say in a loud voice, "do you work for Side Watch?" The man answers, "yes". I explain who I am, what I do and how I sent a letter a month earlier to founder and CEO Andre Le Marquand telling of my pending arrival. I then say, "boy, that's pretty tacky that nobody notified me you'd be closed". The man says to come on up and he'll see with me after his meeting with the woman.

The second floor houses the reception area and offices. The first floor contains the watch assembly area. While the man talks to the woman he suggests I wander around downstairs as he turns on the lights and I'm shown the stairway. Looking at all the watches and assorted watch parts scattered about the workbenches I say, "you don't even know me and you trust me down here by myself?" The man just shrugs his head as he heads back upstairs.

Boy, I like the offices and workplace. Stepping off the elevator, who's exterior is black, a colorful reception area filled with lots of red and black greets visitors. Along with the reception counter painted a bright red there's also the bright red window blinds. Several black pillows decorate the bright red sofa and strips of bright red periodically interrupt the black carpeting throughout the floor. A glass display near the reception counter is filled with Andre Le Marquand watches.

So, who is this man who ends up giving me a nice reception? It's Cedric Le Marquand, head of sales and marketing, and son of founder Andre Le Marquand. Le Marquand doesn't know anything about my letter of introduction but apologizes for the snafu. His 73-year old father started the company back in 1978 and the plan is for him to eventually take over the reins.

Built in 1996, the company owns and occupies the first two floors of the four-story building. Parking is plentiful for the 27 employees including covered parking for commuting cyclists and smoking is not allowed in the workplace. There's no cafeteria but there's a break room, which I notice lacks chairs. Why no chairs? Well, the intricate workings of watches requires sitting down on your rear end all day and evidently when break time comes, the employees have elected to forgo sitting down. It's an hour to Geneva's airport, one and a half to Zurich's airport and three minutes to the nearest freeway. Any employee perks? Watches at cost.

So, you haven't heard of Side Watch? Me neither. It's a new line of watch with the idea being you wear these wristwatches on the side of the arm. It's primarily aimed at those into sports. For example, wearing one while cycling I don't have to turn my wrist to see the time.

Le Marquand's second floor middle office is next door to his father's. I note the laptop, one plant (real) and several pictures of his wife and kids. Going home for lunch isn't too big a deal since his commute time is two and a half minutes. His view out the window? The street. Oh, and remember how I was surprised at Le Marquand letting me roam around the watch assembly area unsupervised? It turns out close circuit cameras were beaming pictures of me to a monitor on his desk.

Websites: www.sidewatch.ch and www.lemarquand.ch