British watch retailers embroiled in major space race

Bucherer has doubled the size of its Westfield London showroom.

The British watch retail landscape is being transformed by an accelerating space race as rival businesses expand flagship showrooms to accommodate bigger shop-in-in shops and branded boutiques for anchor brands.

The next 12 months will see the country’s biggest groups opening their largest showrooms – often in the same location as existing stores, but enlarged by knocking through to adjacent units and adding VIP suites and event spaces in upper floors.

These ‘destination’ stores are pulling in customers from further afield than smaller shops, which is putting pressure on independent high street jewellers that are stuck in a catch 22 because the biggest watch brands will not work with them unless they invest in their space and environment; a risk they cannot afford to take without the pulling power of the brands.

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Examples encompass major multiples and family-owned independents. Laings is reconfiguring its Glasgow corner unit in Argyll to add 30% to its ground floor space, much of which will be devoted to enhanced areas for Patek Philippe and Rolex.

Chisholm Hunter opened its largest store in the UK on Edinburgh’s Prince Street with event space on the first floor looking out on Edinburgh Castle.

George Pragnell is currently doubling the size of its Stratford Upon Avon home showroom, which will fully re-open next year.

Berry’s has almost finished the expansion of its Albion Street store, which will have a dedicated frontage and boutique for Patek Philippe when it is complete this summer.

Bucherer has just completed the refurbishment of its Westfield West London shopping mall space, which is now double the size and includes a Rolex shop-in shop plus dedicated rooms for Omega and Cartier.

David M Robinson has knocked through to next door on Manchester’s St Anne’s Square so it can add a Rolex boutique.

Beaverbrooks has taken a unit neighbouring its Westfield East London position and will add an Omega boutique to its multi-brand showroom.

Fraser Hart has made space for a dedicated luxury watch room at its Brent Cross shopping centre space.

Harrods has added a lower ground floor to its Fine Watch Room that doubles space available to its brands.

These are not projects executing over a ten year period. They will all have been either completed or started this year.

The investment is mind-boggling and has all been paid for by the retailers. The watchmakers don’t just expect their partners to spend their own money, they even charge them for the branded furniture and fixtures.

This investment is essential to maintain and grow market share within the UK. It is also even more vital if the UK, and particularly London, wants to retain its status as a global destination for the wealthiest watch connoisseurs.

Aurum Holdings with its ‘golden triangle’ of Watches of Switzerland emporiums in Regent Street, Oxford Street and Knightsbridge kicked off the space race before The Watch Gallery, now owned by Bucherer, opened Britain’s biggest monobrand boutique, also in Knightsbridge.

That global competition is intensifying, most notably this month in Dubai, where the world’s biggest Rolex boutique just opened just a seven hour flight from London, and on a key transit flight route from Asia.

The three-storey megastore is unlikely to be beaten when it comes to sheer scale in this country, but it cannot be ignored as the ultimate destination for the space race that is gripping the UK market right now.

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