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ASK ARIEL: Should jewelers keep working with independent watchmakers?

Ariel Adams

In this first of a series of guest columns, Ariel Adams, owner and editor-in-chief for aBlogtoWatch, answers questions on behalf of WatchPro readers. Click here to Ask Ariel anything you like!

Ariel replies: The question appears to be whether or not third-party authorised dealers (aka “jewellers” in this instance) should moving forward continue to work with smaller, independently owned and operated watchmaking companies. In reality, the definition of what an independent watchmaker is would be a more complicated discussion than trying to define what a jeweler is today… but I digress.

Does it make good business sense for watch retailers to carry watches from presumably less well-known and well-funded brands? The form of the question appears to suggest that most jewellers would answers in the negative, that no, they shouldn’t work with independent watchmakers.

I would disagree and suggest that independent jewellers in many ways have a lot to gain by promoting the work of independent watchmakers.

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The reason this question exists in the first place is because watch retailers today — especially jewellers whose main business might be diamonds and gold in addition to timepieces — need to increasingly evaluate the value of their retail price.

The interest of a retailer is to stock products which move, so that money can be made and new products can come in. Independently-made watches arrive with less consumer awareness and markedly lower marketing budgets than the big brands.

Independent watches will never “sell themselves” like a Rolex, but when sold they can lead to long-term customer relationship

This fact tends to translate into the situation where independent watches require more time and effort to sell, and thus can be more challenging to effectively monetise.

There are some schools of thought that believe a retailer should carry the most marketed brands because those brands will have the most in-store turn around and thus profit.

If that was the case then some of the world’s most powerful retailers wouldn’t be so heavily invested in independent watches. Even though obscure products are more challenging to sell, retailers report that they are both more gratifying to sell and lead to deeper consumer relationships.

This latter fact is probably a result of the retailer and consumer forming at least a conversational relationship as a function facilitating the purchase in the first place. Independent watches will never “sell themselves” like a Rolex, but when sold they can lead to long-term customer relationships that make up the bread and butter money making backbone of most jewellers.

It takes enthusiasm and passion to properly sell independently made watches. Consumers arrive into a store with little to no understanding or awareness of many independent brands and that requires showmanship and storytelling to properly reserve.

My experience in the market is that only the top percentile of watch retailers will ever embody the sufficient enthusiasm and education to get many customers excited about interesting albeit unknown luxury watch brands.

Those that do are rewarded with success as well as the deserved reputation for being able to move such products. That will in-turn give them greater ability to sell ever more exclusive products.

Jewellers who traditionally focus on larger, more corporate luxury watch makers are often romanced by the promise of greater exclusivity and customer excitement by stocking independent brands.

Jewellers typically have more leverage in retailer relationships with smaller watch brands and in many instances margins can be higher.

With that said, many of those same jewellers underestimate the investment necessary in human capital. Meaning hiring, training, and retaining good sales staff.

In my opinion a well-rounded watch retailer always has at least 25-30% of their inventory as more interesting, harder to find brands. Which brands? It is really just a matter of taste.

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Ariel Adams

The author Ariel Adams

4 Comments

  1. Ariel, thanks for this strong position!! I think Jeremy Oster from Denver couldn’t agree more with you. His wife amd himself did amazing sales for us and for other indies buddies. It’s good to see someone independent standing like this and making such a statement. Congrats! All the best. Xavier

  2. I agree – there are significant benefits to be gained by taking the seemingly more challenging route of stocking smaller independent brands. And that is all to do with developing those long-term relationships and trust: the things that will keep the client coming back. If you can demonstrate great value with a distinct product and do so with exceptional service and genuine passion, then you’re on to a winner.

    Our business model holds this as its core principles – and we believe we are forging a different path in our industry for this very reason.

    Great article, by the way…

  3. There are literally hundreds of Swiss (and other) brands in the market. How many brands can a retailer realistically showcase? And facing the reality of monthly overhead costs he must meet, and knowing he needs a minimum insured income to cover those costs, he needs to stock brands he knows will sell.
    So what should be the mix be of “known” brands to independent “discovery” brands? There is no fixed number. It will likely be different for each retailer, depending on his geographic location and his customer demographic. Perhaps there is an average percentage, or range? An interesting metric to be sure.

    Here is an important point that is not mentioned. There is a certain kind of watch enthusiast, and he may be a seasoned collector who already has a Rolex, Cartier, Hublot, Panerai, Omega, and IWC and now looks for something a bit less mainstream. There is also an enthusiast who does not want what everybody else has. For example, in the city I live, one could go to the swankiest private members tennis club, and see 50 guys all wearing a Submariner. Great brand, iconic design, not inexpensive, a recognizable badge of achievement, right?! But there are some guys who think, if everybody else wears it, what’s so special about it? And there are some guys who don’t need someone else’s approval for validation of their self-worth or sartorial style. For these guys, maybe a Bremont MBII or a Sjöö Sandström Royal Capital or an Urban Jurgenson One or a Cyrus Vertical Tourbillon or a Czapek Place Vendome does the trick. He certainly gets bragging rights for not following the crowd, and he’s got a cool timepiece he can talk about, with a compelling history and probably an interesting story about how and why he acquired it. That customer is out there too, and another reason why retailers should consider the independents. And to Ariel’s point, it certainly obliges the retailer to become a scintillating story teller and not just an order taker, espresso and bon bon aside. That’s where and when the brand DNA and the emotion can be best conveyed, and where enduring relationships can be built!

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