Q&A: Pietro Tomajer of Graham on UK distribution and Brexit

Two years ago Graham Watches took control of its own distribution in the UK watch market. Today the brand is already seeing the benefits of this decision. The brand’s UK managing director, Pietro Tomajer, took the time to answer some questions exclusively to WatchPro:

WP: How have things gone for Graham London in the UK in the two years that you’ve had the subsidiary over here?

PT: Graham 1695 UK Ltd’s journey has been an extraordinary one.

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With the valuable cooperation of our partners Swiss Watch Repair ltd and MDS Ltd and the support of our privileged retailer, William and Son, we have managed in little time to expand the brand’s presence on the market, trigger a satisfactory sell-out performance and provide customers with top class punctual wholesale and after-sales service. Graham was introduced in the UK more than 10 years ago, but it has been in the last two years that the brand has taken into its own hands all aspects of Graham watches distribution, which is a great achievement for an independent watchmaker like us. The UK is indeed a key market for us, as since the brand re-launch in 1995 we have been inspired by the legendary British watchmaking tradition, which we have contributed to slowly but surely.

The inspirational link with George Graham, the ‘father of the chronograph’ has made the brand interesting in the eyes of those interested in understanding the tradition of British watchmaking. Although not yet in the position of setting up an all-round production in the UK, Graham is a British-Swiss owned company ambassador of a legendary name that was going to be forgotten otherwise. Graham is an active member of the British Horological Institute; we are indeed very proud of this.

WP: How are the eight UK accounts performing for you at the moment?

PT: Different outlets have by definition different approaches and results when promoting a brand, some having to introduce the brand to a contemporary audience of future collectors and some others dealing with a more established base of watch enthusiasts. However, we were very pleased to acknowledge that all our stockists have had both keen interest and sales around the new Graham watches collections: in London, outside of London and in Scotland. The Chronofighter is still our iconic and best-selling collection. The ‘pilot-watch’ look and the links with the instruments used by the airforces’ bomb aimers before and during WWII have established this collection as a classic for chronograph and pilot watches fanatics. The new Chronofighter Vintage collection, now priced at £3,450.00, represents an optimum entry product for all those who are becoming familiar to Graham.

The overall brand perception and reputation is pristine; retailers find today in Graham a valid alternative to mainstream traditional watch brands.

WP: Will you be looking to increase your number of stockists in the UK?

PT: Graham enjoys a good global reputation. The brand is growing and making more noise in high-end watch making – flagship store in HK, strong and active network in the US – naturally curiosity is aroused and demands increase in the UK..

We are constantly introducing the brand to keen retailers and collectors’ clubs with a taste for quirky independent watchmakers, featuring both a taste for classic watchmaking values and a contemporary interpretation of the same. When we spot fertile ground on the idea of introducing our way of interpreting watchmaking then we set up a new collaboration, like has recently happened with Rox in Scotland.

We propose today an iconic collection with an increased selling-through ratio, with a clever price positioning featuring hi-specs on both mechanical core range movements and high-end award winning haute horlogerie pieces with the power of perfectly showcasing Graham manufacturing high standards and abilities.

With the set-up of our branch in the UK, Graham works to establish long lasting partnerships with the whole of our present and future stockists network, in order to create synergies and common efforts to face the current challenges that the market is presenting.

WP: What effect, if any, has the EU referendum result had on sales of Graham in the UK (and London in particular)?

PT: We observed a short-term increase of sales in the summer period. We are expecting this to stabilise in the longer-term, although we of course wish to keep the positive trend by supporting our retailers with a number of initiatives to attract the foreign clientele, such as in-depth product training for sales staff, tailor-made co-op campaigns, attractive window and in-store animation, on which we get full support from our headquarters in Switzerland.

WP: How have these changes affected you and do you see them as good or bad?

PT: I think that the UK has and will always have the power to attract the imagery and desires of the luxury worldwide clientele. Any brand is expected to look and present itself at its best in the UK. This is the reason why we decided, two years ago, to take full control of our distribution. We look at any electric wave crossing the UK as a good thing and as a push to enhance and improve our attention in presenting the brand in London and across the country.

WP: How will you be celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Chronofighter this year?

PT: We have launched a Chronofighter Vintage UK limited edition of 15 pieces only, already sold-out. This collection is putting the accent on the 15th anniversary of our star collection, the Chronofigher, which took inspiration initially from pieces of the equipment of Lancaster bombers’ crews during and after WWII. US and Asian editions have also been launched, always in limited editions of 15 pieces only. The idea is to create a core of several very limited and very sought after Graham Chronofighter collections. We had several 15th Anniversary events across the globe and we are looking for an unforgettable one to be organised in London as well.

WP: What are the prospects looking like for Graham in 2017?

PT: The Chronofighter 15th anniversary has boosted the brand both internationally and nationally. In the UK we have now been approached to showcase the brand on the high street with some of the most established high street retailers, who are currently trying to differentiate and expand their offer into some of the quirkiest independent watch manufacturers in the market. Our heritage, our link with one of the most iconic names in British watchmaking history and our re-interpretation of George Graham’s unique skills, linked with a clever commercial approach, seem to represent today a very good business option for retailers.

The question will be to build up sustainable growth, boosting sell-through and building up long-lasting partnerships with our keen retailers. With Graham, the attention will always be put on the product first and foremost, both in terms of original features and specs and overall quality level.

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