The topic of boosting watchmaking resources was top of the agenda at the inaugural Houlden Discussion Group series for Members, writes the group’s chief executive Helen Haddow, as accredited service centres become critical to authorised dealers of the biggest brands.
Over the past 10 years, retailers have all seen a significant and ongoing growth in luxury watch sales. This in turn has been mirrored by an increasing demand for professional watch servicing. Retailers, recognising that this growth area is an opportunity which could become a regular revenue stream through the provision of much-needed customer service, are looking at how best to improve their in-house watch servicing facilities and invest in their own watch workshops.
Members, however, agreed that this opportunity is being threatened by both a lack of watchmakers coming through the ranks and the reality that watch servicing facilities have traditionally been a loss leader for many jewellers. The latter is principally due to the need for highly skilled people, the high remuneration costs required, and a substantial investment in the latest technology, all of which represent a considerable financial commitment.
On the skills side, a generation of highly trained watchmakers are fast approaching retirement age and it is now apparent that there are not enough apprentices being trained to fill their shoes, let alone meet the growing demand for more watchmakers.
This has highlighted the need to attract new talent into the industry and promote the craft of watchmaking as an attractive career. Not just for the young but also for those now looking for new career options due to the pandemic. The overall message is that watchmaking provides a secure and sustainable career choice – and to make this viable, this has to be a collective message across the industry.
I also believe that the challenge does not just stop at sourcing the apprentice watchmaker but also at then developing their skill base. The British School of Watchmaking – of which Houlden have been a founding sponsor since 2005 – is the obvious choice, playing an invaluable role in training watchmakers. However, it’s the only facility that teaches CFC Swiss qualifications in the UK which is the preferred qualification by both the brands and retailers. Not helped by the fact that their intake of students is currently limited to both the WOSTEP1800-hour course and the 3000-hour course due to lack of industry funding and insufficient teaching resources to meet the growing demand.
Jon Weston from JJ Rudell and MD of BSOW, says: “Looking to the immediate future, we don’t just need more people choosing watchmaking as an attractive career prospect but also more support from the retailers within the industry. Their support will bring an end to the question of who will be servicing all these watches we are selling now in 15 years’ time. It will also end the uncertainty at counter point which can only be a good thing. Customers realise that servicing by the brands themselves historically involves huge lead times – something which retailers can change through investing in their own resources”.
On the servicing side, there is also the need to turn watch service and repair centres into effective revenue generators, contributing to the overall growth and sustainability of the retailers’ business.
Returns can be slow, so we need as an industry to assess what we’ve done in the past and evolve and adapt this facility into one that contributes to the bottom line, recognising that this is a growth area which not only complements the overall service of the watch retailer but also helps foster valuable customer loyalty. It also provides a further incentive to visit the retailer, thereby offering a potential opportunity for additional sales. We therefore need to consider how best to improve in-house watch servicing facilities and invest in our own watch workshops.
As a Group, we realise that action needs to be taken now to safeguard our business and tackle these challenges, now and for the longer term. We appreciate that we are not alone in this and are keen to open the debate up to other independents looking to address these issues and would like to invite those interested in helping take the discussion further, to share their experiences and ideas. Just contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We in turn will do the same, as together there is a real opportunity for us to collectively maximise the increasing demand for watchmaking and servicing in line with the growth in the sale of luxury watch brands, as a viable way to help future-proof our business.