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CORDER’S COLUMN: Retailers react with cold fury to this year’s exhibition schedule

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At the end of January, WatchPro attempted to chart a course through the wreckage of this year’s exhibition calendar, noting the fragmentation that has led all of the major watch groups and biggest brands holding different events.

Even this effort was quickly out of date as Grand Seiko had cancelled its Tokyo Summit by the following week.

Rolex/Tudor, LVMH, Swatch Group, Richemont, Movado, Fossil, Breitling, Audemars Piguet, Grand Seiko, Kering and many others are refusing to come together into one, or even two, major trade shows, leaving retailers, consumers and press trawling the world for the first five months of the year to see the 2020 collections.

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Every one of the groups and brands will tell you they will be putting on a fantastic show, but none appear to be listening to the needs of their key retail partners.

So WatchPro decided to do the work for them, and surveyed 127 of the most senior executives in the British watch industry. These are owners of major independent stores; bosses at mini multiples representing the likes of Rolex, Patek Philippe, TAG Heuer and Breitling; and senior buyers from the major groups including The Watches of Switzerland Group and Bucherer.

It was an anonymous survey, and we will publish the full results in the first week of March. But, to get the ball rolling, we thought it interesting to share some of the opinions that came back.

It is worth noting that these are UK retailers, who can catch a budget airline to any city in Europe. The same survey of retailers in the United States — and WatchPro has spoken to many about this issue — might have elicited even more forthright reactions.

“I really believe the arrogance of the Swiss watch making industry will harm their and our business long term,” said one respondent, who has a suggestion for the brands and exhibition organisers: “One important show a year guarantees the most senior and important buying and selling directors make themselves available and attend the five days that become vital to seeing the new ranges.”

“I have personally been asked to go to Milan for 3 days, Zurich for 2 days, Basel for 2 days, Dubai for 3 days and London twice for overnighters for the brands that we carry. I have no desire or want to travel or pay costs that often and be away from my business for that period of time,” the retailer continues.

“Come on – its time for the industry to come together, bash some heads together and build a single future show with ALL the brands exhibiting their products to the convenience of their clients – us the retailers,” the argument concludes.

Those views were echoed by another independent for the leading luxury brands. “Geneva and Basel are now too late in the year. The previous dates did suit us and we were used to this timetable. This years arrangements for UK customers in Geneva makes life difficult, requiring two trips to Switzerland which for us means a lot of time lost travelling and two weekends away in succession.”

The time and the cost of attending multiple shows is a recurring theme. “The whole trade believes we get stung with the increase in the hotel rates for Basel. Taxi fares are crazy, the charges for a bottle of water are unbelievable, that’s why we all at the end day end up in the local pub complaining about the prices , but not the 🍺. [Basel] is too expensive.”

This retailer at least had something positive to say about the Geneva show. “I find SIHH a far better fair, all done in one day; brilliant setting,” he said.

2 Comments

  1. I have just returned from Inhorgenta in Munich. It reminds me of how the Basel fair was back in the 90’s.but on a much smaller scale.
    Several smaller independent brands that are happy to see customers without an appointment. Less emphasis on the arrogant multi nationals.
    Excellent choice of restaurants scattered around the Messe. Affordable Hotels and a willingness by the organisers to provide a welcoming program of events for buyers and exhibitors..

  2. An open letter to the global high-end watch business:
    IT’S TIME TO GROW UP
    As one who witnessed first-hand the demise of a healthy industry due in part to similar shenanigans vis-a-vis shows, I will offer this for the hundredth time: Every luxury product type – fashion, automotive, boats, jewellery, whatever – needs a unifying show (or two). Not just to reach the dealers, distributors and press, but to convey to HDI consumers that they are dealing with a healthy industry. Do not fool yourself into thinking that just because your best customers are not of the watch industry that they are unaware of this ludicrous state of affairs. Watch enthusiasts – and they’re the ones buying the oddball timepieces – are frighteningly savvy.
    I am referring to the way the consumer electronics’ primary showcase – CES in Las Vegas (which dwarfs Baselworld and SIHH combined) – treated its high-end sector with utter disdain, if not downright contempt. High-end audio, which was one of the founding product types when CES began, no longer has any presence there. Instead, it has fragmented into small regional shows save for one event in Munich in May, and that is smaller than CES.
    The analogy is thus: gigantic, entry-level watch producers do not need a showcase. Casio, Citizen, Timex, Swatch, Fossil and others in that cost sector sell quantities because they’re affordable. The hi-fi equivalent – wireless speakers and earbuds – shift in equally numbers. $80,000 tourbillons, on the other hand, need a showcase just as do supercars … and high-end audio systems.
    We “get” why you wanted to revamp both shows, but it isn’t working. Dealers, distributors, press and other industry groups have swiftly become fed up with having to attend a few dozen little one-brand events when once they could all be covered in a couple of days at comprehensive shows.
    The fact is that Baselworld’s organisers failed in bringing prices down to sane levels, when all it had to do was the tell the city fathers of Basel that they are about to kill off one of their biggest revenue earners because they refuse to moderate the hotels, restaurants, etc. One line – “We’re moving to whole lot to Geneva/Paris/Berne/Zurich/Milan/wherever” – would have had them choking on their muesli.
    Even Las Vegas, as greedy as it seems, NEVER scalped convention-goers the way Basel does.
    Seen from the outside – I’m a journalist who remembers when the two shows ran in a row – the moving of Baselworld and SIHH back together could have been a godsend for the industry. Coronavirus notwithstanding, the indecisiveness, the ego displays and other acts of self-inflicted sabotage by the entire watch industry have done nothing but undermine confidence, and at every level. This is at a time when there are enough external problems to confront (e.g. the slow-down in China, concerns about Brexit, et al) without shooting yourselves in your collective feet.
    What do we want? One show. An end to rip-off pricing. This isn’t rocket science, or even advanced horology. It’s common sense. Like I said – it’s time to grow up.

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder