Chloe Spencer joined WOLF four years ago after starting her career on the shop floor at Midlands independent Francis & Gaye Jewellers and a spell at buying group The Company of Master Jewellers. Recently promoted to WOLF’s UK sales director, reporting to Ian Martindale, she has not only seen the company through one of its most challenging years, she has helped it achieve record sales in 2020 and is on track to do the same in 2021.
Anybody craving data on how the premium watch market is performing can do a lot worse than ask WOLF.
After all, if sales of high end automatics rise, so too will the winders needed to keep them in good working order.
WOLF has become the go-to supplier of winders, jewellery boxes and other accessories to major multiples and smaller independents, and the company’s success during the pandemic is a clear sign that the wider market is in surprisingly good shape as we near the end of this nightmare year.
Chloe Spencer (pictured top), who was recently promoted to sales director for WOLF in the UK, paints a picture of the past 12 months that will be familiar to anybody in retail and wholesale.
“At the beginning, everybody panicked and didn’t know what to do. We were all worried about having to on furlough and paying the mortgage but we quickly realised that people were still shopping,” she recalls.
WOLF’s UK director Ian Martindale furloughed the team as soon as the government support scheme was announced, but a month later it was clear there was so much business activity he needed everybody back.
“Our online sales were not only back to normal but increasing, and our online partners were seeing the same thing. So we got taken off furlough and have been working full time ever since,” Ms Spencer reveals. “We have had a record year, which I cannot believe I am saying during the pandemic, but it is true.”
UK households paid down debt of £16.6 billion last year on credit cards, personal loans, student borrowing and car finance, the most repaid since 1993 and the first annual net reduction since 2011, according to the Bank of England.
Wealthier households, starved of the chance to eat out and go on expensive holidays, spent more time treating themselves to luxury items like watches.
“In the short period I was able to get back out to see retailers over last summer, they were finding that people were not spending money on holidays or going out to dinner twice a week, they had been saving their money and some of them were treating themselves with luxury watches that need watch winders,” Ms Spencer notes.
If watch collecting is a hobby, the pandemic certainly provided a lot of additional time to focus on it.
“A lot of people have been at home. They might have been looking at their watch collections and deciding to sell one or two pieces to buy another new one. They might want to present their watches in something nice and new and bought a new stylish winder. Globally we had our best year yet. In the UK we were more than 10% above our revenue target, which was set before the pandemic,” Ms Spencer says.
As a bellwether for the wider watch and jewellery market, WOLF noted the rapid shift towards online shopping, and the success of the largest retailers in generating sales through their websites and also directly with clients over the phone, e-mail or messaging apps.
“The thing that I am finding amazing is the way different types of retailers are adapting. For the biggest retailers, it is business as normal. They are already planning ahead to the second half of the year with us,” suggests Ms Spencer.
“Smaller independents have also adapted fast. They are doing click and collect. They have their sales associates reaching out directly clients. We have introduced drop shipment for those independents, which is really helping them.”
Drop shipping has been a godsend for independent retailers. They do not need to tie up cash buying sizeable levels of stock, and they do not need to worry about fulfillment of any sales they bring in online or through clienteling, as Ms Spencer describes: “The biggest assistance we could give is the drop shipment. Independent stores needed the most help, so we offered to pay for the postage and handle all of the fulfilment. All they had to do was send us any sales orders and we did the rest. They didn’t have to buy stock or send staff into stores to deal with dispatching orders, which might have exposed them to more risk. It was free of charge to independents throughout the period, and we get product to their customers faster than they could themselves. This was generating sales even for independents that had furloughed all of their staff.”
Remarkably, Ms Spencer says she does not I do not know of any jewellers she deals with that have closed. “We work with a lot of top tier retailers with anchor brands like Rolex or even jewellers with Pandora that have done well because there is always demand, particularly online. Luckily, we have not heard any horror stories from our retailers, which is really nice,” she adds.
Looking ahead, WOLF is expecting another record year, and has forward orders from the major multiples to prove it. With the government promising a one-way ticket out of a final lock down and stores re-opening in April, the worst certainly appears to be over. Orders for businesses that are able to plan through to the end of the year suggest sales will exceed pre-pandemic levels, according to Ms Spencer.