British jewellers have been taking diligent precautions to ensure the safety of their teams and customers, allowing the majority so far to keep their doors open.
But if a giant like Bucherer has taken the decision to close all of its European and American showrooms, there has to be a chance that many others will follow as early as this evening.
It is hard to over-state the gut-wrenching emotion and fear this will create, and that must be recognised by business leaders, but this is no time for moping. Minds must turn immediately to how to keep bringing in sales without a showroom floor.
I was fortunate enough to sit in on an internal meeting at a major family-owned luxury watch and jewellery retailer in America last week. It was quite a fly on the wall experience at which they worked through what new watches had arrived, and who was rising to the top of their waiting lists and would get the call that the piece of their dreams was about to be theirs.
This allocation process has been taking place for years at the world’s top luxury jewellers; at least those with Rolex, Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet in their inventory.
Successful independent jewellers’ top salespeople are not just selling over the counter in their stores. In fact, this accounts for only a fraction of their sales. It is typical for 70% or more of sales to go to repeat customers and this business is almost always done in private meetings that do not need to take place in the store.
Even if new customers are all walk-ups (and they are not by any stretch all walk-ups), the majority of clients can be reached by phone, Whatsapp or e-mail and met in their homes.
It could be argued that putting salespeople on the shop floor is an inefficient use of their time, experience and talent. Their smartphone is a genuine weapon of mass destruction when it comes to sales, and it looks bad using a phone in the shop. Freeing them up could lead to higher sales per person.
New 2020 watches are starting to drop, and we are going to see brands create scarcity even in a time of falling sales. I hope we are going to see brands allocate a lot more limited editions to their family-owned authorised dealers, because they are far more likely to sell through from there than from a monobrand boutique where the typical tenure of a sales associate is months, not decades like in the independents.
Limited editions must not be hoarded for monobrand boutiques directly owned and run by the brands. They should be allocated according to who has customers for them, and that could be a single-store venerable business like Hamilton & Inches in Edinburgh, a Watches of Switzerland flagship in London or a brand-owned boutique on Bond Street.
Large retail groups, along with the brands themselves, will try to ramp up e-commerce sales. I hope they succeed. But their sophisticated CRM systems will not cut it against teams of motivated salespeople from independents. They have known their customers for years and know how to tune a conversation so that even the bleakest of backdrops doesn’t prevent a sale.
And here is a nugget anybody can drop into their next sales pitch and will hopefully put a smile on your faces.
I heard a story of a couple walking into their local jeweller yesterday and buying two expensive watches. The associate did not want to give the couple any reason not to spend their money, but the conversation inevitably turned to Coronavirus and how it is affecting people’s spending.
It turned out that Coronavirus helped that store get the sale because the couple had been forced to cancel the anniversary cruise they had planned for their golden wedding anniversary. Dropping $20,000 on two watches that will hold their value over time was the perfect tonic for them both.
Knowing the great jewellers watch stores working in this country, I am sure many more great ideas on how to keep sales coming in will emerge.
Feel free to share them with WatchPro‘s audience because maintaining momentum through these difficult times needs to be a collective effort.