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CORDER’S COLUMN: We are NOT all in this together

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Picture the scene: you are the owner of a handful of multibrand luxury watch and jewellery stores that have been closed since the last week of March. Some of your people have been made redundant, others have taken pay cuts or been furloughed; you are burning through cash with no certainty when you will be able to reopen and what level of business there will be when lock down is relaxed.

You do your best to stay engaged and active, so the reduced number of new watch launches keeps you interested and there are a number of fantastic collections you know your customers will like. If you could only find a way to sell them.

Many of this year’s launches have been open online to the public. Watchesandwonders.com, Breitling, Zenith and others have revealed collections to the world at the same time as retailers were seeing them.

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And some brands say they are ready to supply the watches immediately; a departure from the normal practice of unveiling watches to the trade and press in Q1 and shipping them several months later.

Your customers are tuning into these watch launches online and through social media. They are chatting over Zoom and WhatsApp with their friends about the watches they love and intend to buy. This might not help you as a retailer just yet, but at least you feel there will be pent-up demand when you reopen.

But wait! The phone just rang and one of your regular customers is asking to buy a very expensive watch he has just seen launched online. It is not a boutique-only exclusive model and the brand has announced during its online press conference that the watch will be available to buy at authorised dealers immediately.

So you call your rep with the great news: “I have sold this incredible new watch and all I need is for you to get it to me,” you coo excitedly.

The response — and I assure you this is a genuine example from a retailer who insisted he would not be identified — was that the brand had received so many orders directly from customers that it  would not allocate watches to its long standing and loyal authorised dealer until it had fulfilled orders accepted through its own website.

This is a brand that would not exist without the support of its authorised dealers, and it has taken the decision to rob those partners of sales at the very moment they need them most.

My blood boils at the outrageous unfairness and cruelty of this story. If I were that retailer, I would be down in my store with an axe turning this watch brand’s overpriced furniture into firewood.

I hope it is an isolated example from a rogue rep, but — knowing the brand in question — I fear it is common. If you have been similarly affected, I urge you to share your story because there are laws designed to protect businesses against this sort of abuse.

I thought we were all in this together. The world’s wealthiest watch brands think otherwise.

11 Comments

  1. Name and shame please we can band together and boycott the brand it’s time we customers stand together with the retail trade in these difficult times.

    1. I would love to name and shame, but the retailer is afraid that if I name the brand, his/her name would be identifiable to the brand. This just makes my blood boil even more because retailers fear they will lose agencies for the best brands if they go public with any complaints.

  2. This is typical of Swiss brands, I’m a bit surprised some people only realise that now.
    Why did Richemont buy watchfinder in 2019?
    They know very well the future is online, not with the physical dealers, so it is only a matter of time…

  3. Another reason the Swiss watch industry won’t survive,as usual totally out of touch by playing the short game for greed and not protecting the industry,who is buying these watches direct anyway?,you can’t negotiate a discount by buying direct and I’m assuming it’s a brand where normally a discount can be got through an AD?

    1. I would not assume the brand refused a discount. Having saved the margin the authorised retailer would have been paid, there would have been plenty of profit to play with. Imagine stealing sales and undercutting ADs on price?

  4. Why not dump any of these back stabbing brands? Why would you bother supporting them if they won’t support you?
    As a watch repairer, I will not handle brands that won’t supply parts, why would I bother? I have been in the trade for over 40 years and have never experienced the greed that these companies now practice, they want it all for themselves, from sales to service.
    I have lost count of the umber of clients that have said they will never again buy a watch made by a brand that will not supply parts, having refused to work on their watch, they are often offended, but when I explain the reason, they soon realise they have no choice but to send their watch to a monopolising rip of merchant!
    It’s time the trade showed these compamies who is really in charge. Do not carry their stock and don’t offer any kind of service. Cut them off like they have you. It’s only a matter of time before they re think their ways hopefully.

  5. Great article… I think we all have a good idea of the brand in question.
    Disgusting behaviour from those big companies.

  6. At Raymond Weil we have kept the distribution and aftersales open during the lockdown on a skeleton staff. We have been drop shipping orders to the end consumer on behalf of our retail partners, this has ensured they can continue to trade even if their stores have been unable to open.
    We value our retail partners and will endeavour to support them in anyway we can , especially during these times.

    Craig Leach Brand Director Raymond Weil UK

  7. I assume this is Breitling, with their ‘Rainbow’ SOH 57. Mr. Kern insisted the AD’s could get it; this turned out to be a lie.
    Same can be said for TAG Heuer, who were very quick to make their 160th anniversary Carrera model a ’boutique-only’, cancelling all orders placed by their Authorized Dealers – many of whom had customers who had eagerly put down a deposit (or paid in full!) for these beautiful pieces, resulting in refunds. We all love to see Mr. Biver and his inspirational videos, but in the end it’s all business.

  8. This news comes as no surprise to me. If you travel to Singapore,Dubai or Hong Kong you will see all the major as well as the minor watch brands have opened their own retail outlets. These pilot projects will eventually be rolled out throughout the whole world.. It will probably be quicker than we imagine. As a retailer i have been subjected to quotas being told that if i did not reach certain sale figures then i would not be supplied in the future. As for the law: Unless this law is enforced there is no point in having the law in the first place.
    mick emmanuel, jersey

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder