How Bering has taken the UK watch market by storm

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Since it arrived in the UK a year ago, Danish brand Bering Time has won 250 retail partners. Its UK director Henrik Leth Møller discusses success and the future with Kathryn Bishop.

“There is an old saying in Denmark that goes ‘Everything you do with the left hand is half done’, meaning that anything worth doing is worth doing right,” says Henrik Leth Møller, UK director of Bering Time, with a smile.

He is here to talk business with WatchPro and if there is one statement that sums up the way that Leth Møller and his team have worked in the past 12 months, it is just that. No half measures and plenty of drive.

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Leth Møller arrived in the UK at the end of last summer to launch Bering. But, void of an office, car and sales team he found it was down to him and the fledgling Bering collection – which, to date, had only been available in the German and Danish markets – to get the ball rolling.

“The first thing I did was call the CMJ and sign up with them,” he explains. “Then I showcased the brand for the first time at the CMJ buyers’ meeting in August last year.”

Leth Møller’s contacts within the CMJ, namely Willie Hamilton, were built when he was chief executive of jewellery brand Spinning Jewelry in Denmark, a position he held for five years until he felt it was time for pastures new. His contacts in the UK industry helped him to jump-start Bering, even though he did not officially join as UK director until September 1 last year.

“I went out and bought a car, and just drove around the country to see if we had some leads,” he explains. But he needed a sidekick and Leth Møller had just the person in mind: Ian Latham, a man with 35 years experience in the watch and jewellery industry, who Leth Møller felt would know the needs of his customer base and understand the Bering product. Together, he and Ian began cold calling potential customers. “That was what motivated me – that building Bering was absolutely from scratch so any mistakes and successes would be my fault or to my credit.”

The pair began to tackle the UK market pre-Christmas, signing up a number of burgeoning UK retailers early on, including Fabulous and Derby’s Identity the Jewellers.

“By November we had the first 20 accounts and had been out on the road for about five or six weeks,” Leth Møller explains. “Then the phone started to ring and our first customers were calling and telling us how well it had gone.”

Identity the Jewellers became a success story for Bering, selling 100 of its watches in the two months to the end of December last year. And, with Bering’s RRPs positioned between £80 and £500, it is fair to say that the return was not a meek one.

With Christmas wrapped up, so came the next steps for Bering. Leth Møller hired a rep to work both in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and then decided to show at The Jewellery Show at Spring Fair.

“We sent out 1,000 invitations to retailers inviting them to visit us at Spring Fair and the show was crazy,” he reveals. “We doubled the number of accounts we had, signing about 35 at the show with another 40 or 50 leads.”

Bering’s increasing success brought with it the need for further UK reps. “We hired three full time reps, Gill Johnstone, Alan Fraser and Stephen Todd,” Leth Møller says, adding that he had consciously hired a younger team that he knew could work closely together. “I wanted to go in tune with the brand so went for some young energy,” he explains.

With backgrounds in everything from jewellery management to store merchandising, the three rookies went to market with varying degrees of experience but, rather than let this hinder the brand, Leth Møller says it was about Bering doing things in its own way.

“There are a lot of things that we do differently to the rest of the watch industry,” he states. “For a start, most retailers in the UK are used to selling watches from the window where customers pick one out and try it on. But we’ve aimed to get our furniture, cabinets and counters in-store and now have them in 95% of our retail partners.”

Leth Møller says that this type of presentation works better for the brand as he feels a larger in-store presence with plenty of branding makes more of an impact, as does the brand’s bright white POS featuring artwork of icebergs and polar bears.

But, with the lower end of the watch market saturated and Skagen having held its own as the go-to Danish brand for so long, just where did Bering hope to fit in the UK market?

“Skagen have really shown people the minimal style,” Leth Møller levels. “But Bering is simply a different option. The guys behind the brand believe there is room for more than one serious, minimalistic Danish watch brand and that’s us, offering key prices, sapphire glass and ceramics.”

The most successful watches in the Bering range sit between £100 and £200, with key styles such as the black model with two red sub dials and a women’s white ceramic watch becoming bestsellers. In all, says Leth Møller, feedback is always positive about the designs and he says he has never had a retailer say they did not like the collection.

While the brand has faced the challenge of keeping SKUs down – it has about 200 at present – Leth Møller says one of the harder tasks is working with retailers to help them pick which timepieces to take. “Our standard package is 75 watches but we often work with retailers who want to take a range of 50 watches and many find it really hard to choose. They’re going ‘Oh, but if we take this, we have to take that’,” he says with a laugh.

Bering has also become a Houlden Group member, securing the brand several stockists including Inspired by Brufords, but there are still key accounts and retailers that Leth Møller hopes to win over.

“When we arrived in the UK I wanted national coverage for Bering, I wanted it to be a major player in the sub-£300 market,” he explains. “We want to work with the best independents, the best multiples and we want to develop the brand with the retailers because we’re not selling to them but selling through them. It’s about cooperation.”

Leth Møller and his five-strong sales force encourage retailers to give feedback and to tell them what does and does not work in their stores, and also offers them support. “If they don’t do good business we don’t do good business. We support the retailers by offering free POS and giving them marketing contributions to advertise locally,” he explains.

This year the brand secured its first multiple, Beaverbrooks, and it is now in seven stores. “The initial sell through has been very, very good,” explains Leth Møller. “When I visit the Beaverbrooks’ stores the staff are always so motivated and knowledgeable – I’m always very impressed.”

With Bering’s star rising rapidly in the UK market – faster than most would have anticipated – has its growth brought any challenges? “Keeping up with demand has been a challenge but re-orders have been good,” says Leth Møller. “When you look at how fast the company in Europe has grown from zero to 2,000 doors in just two years, and here in the UK we have gone from zero to 250 in a year, I’d say we have done well.”

Leth Møller says he is very conscious that Bering retailers are served as best as possible, and as a result has ensured the brand does not become oversaturated.“We said from the start that we don’t want to be in every retailer,” explains Leth Møller. “I’d rather have one retailer in each town that takes Bering seriously. We know some brands are afraid to hand out exclusivity but we’re not so afraid.”

Leth Møller returns to a phrase time again – national coverage – which is all about having an even spread of retail partners. “People ask me for a figure all the time,” Leth Møller smiles, in reference to the number of doors he would be happy with in the UK. “I usually say 500. We’re ahead of track, so maybe if we can get to 500 retailers then we are both lucky and hard working,” he laughs.

Each day brings something new for Leth Møller and his team, from staff training to trade shows. “Just a year ago my daily reality was completely different,” Leth Møller says. “Now, we are rapidly expanding, I have five people on the road – it’s so different to me as the lone ranger 12 months ago.”

Unsurprisingly, Bering’s head office in Denmark is happy with its development in the UK and, while it has become a force to be reckoned with in the sub-£500 bracket, it has also taken the global market by storm. After a frenzied BaselWorld where buyers queued at the stand, Bering has opened doors in counties such as Sweden, Holland, France, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, Canada and the US.

Back in London, Leth Møller takes a moment to reflect. “In these times a lot of retailers are finding it difficult but others are doing very well and expanding,” he muses. “I often think that if, a year ago, we had said ‘We’ll go to the UK in a time of crisis and open 250 accounts in our first year,’ people would have said ‘Yeah, you’re crazy’, but we did it.”

This article was taken from the October 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine, out now. To view a digital version of the magazine click here.

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Adam said:

    Do they make anything in Denmark? It looks like all their watches are made in China.

    • Alex Cochrane said:

      @Adam

      I believe they are made in China, for the prices they are, I think it would be wiser to spend money on a Seiko or Orient watch,

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