As watch servicing and repair services are being reclaimed by the big manufacturers at an alarming rate it’s rare to see a retailer investing heavily in expanding its own shop floor service centre.
But that’s precisely what Wempe, on London’s Bond Street, are doing. The German luxury retailer and watch manufacturer’s UK managing director Lynn Schroeder explains it’s all being done to reinforce the relevance of its bricks and mortar retail business.
Discussing the company’s first tentative steps into online retail two years ago that involved a few select jewellery collections and, tellingly, still doesn’t involve any watch brands Schroeder said: “We want people to come to our store. Obviously we don’t want to ignore that people want to buy online and to make their life convenient. But we believe in the whole experience, which we can’t really give if we do it online. There are too many things we want to think about before we explore that any further.
“This is the whole point of being able to afford luxury, the whole package. Why don’t you take some time out instead of clicking something, just come to us and have a glass of Champagne a coffee and experience everything else. At the end of the day if some goes wrong the customer spends more time online trying to sort everything out online, being upset about it, than if they had of come to us in the first place.”
Wempe is a fourth generation private company, the biggest international family-run business of its kind in the world, operating in seven countries worldwide. Except in Germany, where Wempe operates 15 stores , the company only opens one retail outlet in each country it operates, Schroeder explains: “We do not believe in an A and a B store”.
Wempe has now been in London for 17 years. In 2007 it moved from a 60sqm space on Bond Street to its current 660sqm two-storey boutique on the other side of the road.
“It shows the UK market has finally acknowledged us and we feel very blessed and honoured that they trust us with their business. We’re hoping we can grow even further, not in size I think we’ve accomplished that, but in reaching more customers.”
As well as selling its own watches alongside those of Patek Philippe, A Lange & Sohne, Rolex, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet and others as well as offering the only UK retail outlet for Glashutte Original, Wempe also sells fine jewellery, ships’ clocks and watch winders.
Schroeder believes the store also offers the best customer watch maintenance service in the UK. Schroeder pushed ahead with introducing an in-store service centre taking on two experienced, full-time watchmakers. The centre is on the shopfloor and has its own reception desk. The watchmaker’s workshop is even open for viewing, bringing the whole process in full view of the customer.
“It was my job to convince the brands that something like that was needed, because they didn’t necessarily understand it here in the UK. ‘You want to repair watches? On site? On the shop floor, in front of customers? Why would you want to do this? You’ll never succeed.’ It was not so easy.
“Step-by-step we had to convince them, because they saw my commitment and my investment. I also found a couple of watchmakers who were willing to have both experiences; the bench experience as well as being in front of customers.”
Schroeder underlines the difficulty in expanding, or even maintaining, in-house servicing accreditation across multiple brands. The brand’s accreditation rests with the watchmaker not the employer; should the watchmakers choose to leave, so does the retailer’s ability to service or repair those watches.
The watchmakers are developing the level of repair accreditation they hold with the brands sold within store and, where they are not permitted to deal with an issue, can act as a knowledgeable liaison directly with the brand’s own service personnel. Wempe also offers a year’s retailer warranty on top of any manufacturer warranty to add to the service they provide their customers and show “that we’re here for the long run”.
While both of Schroeder’s current watchmakers are British, she employed both while they were working abroad. Schroeder explains that the UK’s lack of proper apprenticeship schemes and vocational training often causes problems finding suitable candidates; whether that’s on the technical side or customer-facing retail positions. The situation has led Schroeder to develop her own two-year apprenticeship, which she is currently trialling with an enthusiastic but inexperienced sales applicant.
Customers must be embracing Schroeder’s in-house approach as the service centre is taking on a third permanent watchmaker in September.