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Accurist chief exec on rebooting a heritage brand

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Accurist has an enviable brand history, starting out in London in 1946, however little of this rich history has penetrated the consciousness of the mainstream watch market. But this is all about to change, as new chief executive Jonathan Crocker tells Rachael Taylor.

Incoming Accurist chief exec Jonathan Crocker does not have a background in watches, but he does have a passion for timepieces that dates back to his formative teenage years.

“The first watch I bought was a Submariner when I was 18,” says Crocker, in reference to a lifelong love affair that started with a Rolex. But it is a passion the newly appointed watch boss is putting to one side for now, as he pledges to leave his enviable collection gathering dust as long as he sits in the hot seat at Accurist.

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But being a self-confessed watch geek, Crocker has of course made sure his Accurist watch wardrobe offers him a full complement of styles by customising existing models to suit his tastes. “I take my position very seriously and being a brand starts with the people in the brand,” he says. “I have chosen a beautiful automatic movement Pure Precision model with an oversize case, crystal back and skeleton dial, but have a number of straps – croc and silicon – so that I can adjust according to my mood. I have also chosen a grand complication minute repeater from our GMT collection, which at the moment I am wearing with a, wait for it, Nato strap – very cool.”

Crocker has a flowing, easy charm that quickly adapts itself smoothly to whatever subject he is gripped by at the time; be that high-end electronic goods (he has previously worked for achingly hip brand Bang & Olufsen) jewellery (he was formerly managing director at Hot Diamonds and consulted for Chavin) or Accurist, but while his easy manner suggests a certain laissez faire, he is a strict perfectionist and keen visionary, and he certainly has a vision for Accurist.

Before accepting the chief executive role Crocker worked with the brand’s owner and chairman Andrew Loftus, who he met through a mutual friend, as a consultant for three months. During this time he undertook an in-depth research project evaluating the brand’s weaknesses and strengths. In short, what he found was that the strengths were the heritage of the British brand, which has been producing watches since 1946, and the weakness was that nobody seems to know about the strength.

“During the consultancy I found so many extraordinary things out about the company, of which I truly had no inkling of – the real heritage, the provenance, the attention to detail and the passion for watches – let’s call these strengths,” divulges Crocker. “We are a British heritage brand, started in Clerkenwell, London, in 1946 as Accurist Watches, but actually our roots go back to 1917 when the Loftus family first started trading in timepieces and diamonds. But, and here, if you force me to use the word weakness, was the opportunity, because this was not translated to the shelf or indeed to the customers. There are so many brands in our market today and, frankly speaking, we need to get in the game to start to take back the position that has been ours for much of our 67-year history.”

Crocker’s strategy for the brand is, he says, one of simplicity – he is going to make sure the company starts shouting about what it does, and what it has done through marketing, positioning and working more closely with its retailers.

“Our strategy is to realign the brand to reflect the vision, values and core competencies that have remained the same since the company was founded,” says Crocker. “This will take the form of a creative exercise to define the brand identity, tone of voice and communications to ensure that we show who we are and what we stand for. Our investment this year in new point-of-sale materials for all of our stores will dramatically improve our on-the-shelf presence and is a major investment into our retailers.”

To do this Crocker is expanding his team. He has already hired a new head of marketing – James Wall – and as WatchPro went to press was recruiting other core members of the team.

He is also planning to increase Accurist’s retail network with a particular focus on independent jewellers and department stores.

“We sell many hundreds of thousands of watches profitably every year – this is something to be very happy about,” says Crocker. “We have had times in our history when we have sold more, so here is my challenge. There are many retailers that I will be encouraging to take another look at our brand in the months to come.”

To encourage those retailers to consider Accurist, the brand has created some fresh new product categories. The major launch is a line of watches with Nato straps called Vintage.

“When I first started looking at the products that we had in development, the Vintage range leapt out as being really current and core to our brand values, making them perfect for the first launch to start our communications strategy with,” says Crocker, who adds that as soon as the watches hit the market he will be wearing one. “This is a quintessentially British watch, inspired by the first pages of our back catalogue and using the very first logo that was applied to an Accurist watch in Clerkenwell 1946. I do not see this as a new market for Accurist – we have always had a nose for trends and make great value timepieces, so nothing new there, but I have to say that this collection is not only very Accurist but also very cool. “

Accurist has created a whole storyboard around the range and will execute what Crocker refers to as “tactical launches” around the UK, starting with a collaboration with Northampton retailer Steffans. “We will be setting up an installation in their beautiful watch room and running an in store and online campaign with them in true Steffans style,” he says.

While Vintage will be stealing the limelight in the coming months, there is further product development afoot, including plans to widen the brand’s offer of solid gold watches, which are fully assembled in the UK, and also to publicise its complicated watches. It has GMTs, minute repeaters, constellations, moon phases and perpetual calendars, all of which sell in stores for less than £400.

“I love these watches,” enthuses Crocker about the complicated timepieces. “They have been made as a showcase for our abilities in design and value to commemorate the new millennium and our association with the Greenwich observatory. I will be putting some focus on these watches primarily for two purposes: showing our ability to make stylish high precision timepieces and giving focus to one of our core beliefs of providing true value to our customers.”

While Crocker admits that he is “very aware of what I do not know about the watch industry” he seems to be making a rude start, and bringing some of that much needed polished marketing pizzazz to Accurist that has kept the watch industry afloat for as many years as there have been brands competing for market share.

“Today, nobody needs a wristwatch but everybody should dream about having many,” says Crocker. “I do believe that in this context Accurist is a luxury.

I was very lucky to find a place in Bang & Olufsen when I was in the early stages of my career and 12 years with this super brand taught me so many things. Selling luxury, for me, is about making the unnecessary necessary.”

And the art of making the unnecessary necessary is not all that Crocker will bring from his Bang & Olufsen days to Accurist, he will also use his experience in developing brands in new markets to nurture an international sales channel for Accurist within the next 18 months.

“I have plans to make a robust and profitable export business with Accurist,” reveals Crocker. “My export strategy is already drawn up and we will begin to focus on this once we have refined our UK business.”

Refining is a strong word choice from Crocker, as it would seem that the building blocks for Accurist are already in place, and have been for some time; the challenge is simply to make better use of them. With a effortlessly natural marketeer now at the helm it seems that the evolution of this British brand into a Great British brand has already begun.

This feature originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of WatchPro. To read a digital version of the magazine in full online, click here.

 

 

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