CORDER’S COLUMN: Britain’s biggest watch retailers make money in many different ways

Rob Corder, managing editor, WatchPro and managing director of Promedia. (Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images)

It would be easy to conclude over the past 18 months that only purveyors of high end Swiss watches can thrive in an era when the weak pound is sucking in high spending tourists to London and a handful of other picturesque cities.

This is far from the case, as our State of the Nation’s Top 10 Watch Retailers reveals.

 

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The two giants: Aurum Holdings, which operates Watches of Switzerland, Goldsmiths, Mappin & Webb, Watchshop and The Watch Lab; plus UK Jewelry, the British subsidiary of Signet Jewelers that owns Ernest Jones and H. Samuel, account for 60% of the turnover of the Top 10.

But these are not businesses with just one strategy — they span the entire market from selling inexpensive watches online to grand complications from London’s West End.

It is interesting that the more upmarket Ernest Jones has very similar trading figures to H. Samuel at the value end of the spectrum. Aurum Holdings does not disclose the breakdown between its retail brands.

There are different business models everywhere you look in the Top 10. Watchfinder is the starkest example, with its omnichannel approach to buying and selling pre-owned watches. The fact that the business is now almost as big as Beaverbrooks is remarkable.

TH Baker and WR Ferris, two companies that were small independents less than a decade ago, have both grown on the back of early and wholehearted investment in Pandora jewellery, but both have used that springboard to invest in highly successful chains under their own names.

There may never be another jewellery brand like Pandora, but the success of these two companies demonstrates that spotting the next big thing and then executing perfectly to grab market share is possible even with giants like Aurum and Signet as competitors.

It might be assumed that Patek Philippe and, particularly, Rolex partners would be uniquely successful. But this is not true either. Only three out of the Top 10, Aurum, Fraser Hart and Bucherer have Rolex, while just Aurum and Boodles have Patek Philippe.

The entire Top 10 operates a total of 943 stores, but there are only 64 Rolex doors between them, less than 7%, and only 19 Patek Philippe doors, just 2%.

It adds up to a fascinating landscape of contrasting businesss models that should remind every executive that opportunities still abound.

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