HOT 100 2013: Robert Stewart, Stewart’s Watches

It has been a big year for Robert Stewart. Actually, it has been a big 26 months – ever since he dived in the deep end with his bold retail concept Stewart’s Watches in a leafy Midlands suburb.

With its casual vibe and unusual brand list it has been described as a breath of fresh air in the watch trade and its impact has taken even Robert himself by surprise. “I’m not really sure how I have been noticed on the industry radar as most of the industry is based in London and I’m on a small street in Leicester.”

But his offbeat tastes, which are what drove him to start the business, have indeed caused a stir. “I could never find watches being sold in the UK that interested me and found the big Swiss manufacturers to be so far out of my budget that I was sure other people must have similar feelings to myself. So I chose good quality brands but with a more reasonable price tag.”

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The story of his two-and-a-bit years of trading is irresistibly charming, charting a journey from working in other jewellers to running a business. He confesses it was a massive jump and he had to learn very quickly. “My dad was a great help during the first year [and] I think my passion for watches just about got me through and I winged the rest of it.”

Nonetheless, there were challenges – like acquiring brands in the first place. “As the shop was a building site and the business had no past trading history, it was quite difficult to assure brands. I was holding meetings with watch brand agents in my parents’ dining room.” Which was also where he sold his first watch to a customer who travelled from Nottingham.

“I find it very difficult to be formal,” he explains. “So the shop layout and my personal style is relaxed and casual.”

But he’s more focused when it comes to the business plan. “In the next 12 months, I aim to continue with the growth similar to what I have seen over the last couple of years,” he says, adding that year two is up 13.5% on year one. “Then I can start to look at the next step of evolution for the shop. I don’t want to stray too far from what I originally intended when founding the business but I’m always looking at new brands and I am always looking to improve our range and set ourselves apart as being truly unique.”

The Retail Titans category was sponsored by Bremont.

To see the full digital version of WatchPro Hot 100, click here

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