Peers Hardy, best known for bringing blockbuster fashion brands like ICE-Watch and Daniel Wellington to the UK, is looking for another trend to blow up, this time for affordable and trend-led smartwatches.
The company started introducing its first families of activity trackers and smartwatches for adults in the fourth quarter of 2020, a move that proved so successful it helped the company maintain sales close to the £22 million turnover of 2019 despite the challenges of the pandemic and the pressures on the fashion watch market that have been escalating ever since Apple launched its first Watch in 2015. Remarkably, profits increased by around £1 million.
The big launch in time for Christmas last year was for Reflex Active, a full family of connected timepieces that became an instant best seller for the early adopters such as Argos and Shop Direct.
They join a range of activity trackers for kids launched almost two years ago under the Tikkers brand, which also “went crazy” when they hit stores like Argos priced at around £20.
Reflex Active and Tikkers are a sign of things to come at Peers Hardy, which believes there is a major gap in the market for high quality but stylish and fashionable fitness bands and smartwatches that almost everybody can afford.
The business model is familiar to Peers Hardy because it has pulled it off before with watches produced under license for a number of high street fashion brands with the most notable being Radley London with which they have a long-standing relationship.
It has created its own brands, with responsibility for design, manufacturing, distribution and marketing for the likes of Henry London. It also has a global network of agents and distributors, having handled the likes of ICE-Watch, Daniel Wellington and Cluse over the past decade.
The trick is to capitalise on the hottest current trends while planning for the next big thing. Peers Hardy has successfully profited from rising and waning brands and styles for decades.
Although sales of fashion watches have more than halved since the Michael Kors bubble in 2014 when the UK notched up retail sales worth almost £570 million in quartz timepieces, Peers Hardy has reinvented itself several times over to stay relevant, and is using all of its experience and expertise to embark on a fresh venture in smartwatches.
A lot has to go right to hit the sweet spot of a growing market. First you have to identify a trend; not too difficult in the case of smartwatches because every other passenger on a railway carriage appears to be wearing one. Then you have to find your own niche. In the case of Peers Hardy this is twofold: first, it wants to be incredibly competitive on price so that the millions of people for whom spending up to £100 on themselves is a major treat; secondly, it is applying its experience in fast fashion, creating collections that look as irresistible as a candy store online or in a high street window.
With the concept created, it is time to execute, and Peers Hardy set its designers to work conjuring up smartwatches with a fashion edge. They have stuck to winning themes such as rose gold coloured cases with or without crystals and colourful straps in a range of materials decorated and embellished to make them appeal to the same crowd that might buy a Radley analogue watch.
“We are offering a wide choice of fashion watches in which we have incorporated smart movements rather than quartz. While our tech is absolutely fantastic and just what people want at this time, we are fashion first and function second. Most watches from the large Tech companies, while very clever, have no personality” describes Paul Harry, sales and marketing director at Peers Hardy.
The real competitive advantage comes with manufacturing, where Peers Hardy has long-standing relationships with the right factories in Asia. “This is a massive barrier to entry for competitors,” says Peers Hardy managing director Nick Baker. “You have to know the Far East suppliers.”
And finally there is distribution and marketing. Peers Hardy was turning over £35 million when it last had a smash hit on its hands with Daniel Wellington. When that agreement ended, the business launched its own brand, Henry London, to plug the gap. It was launched at Baselworld in 2015 (remember when that was a thing?) and was on sale in 70 countries almost overnight as agents, distributors and retailers around the world picked it up.
Two years later, that launch contributed to Peers Hardy making it into the Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200 league table of Britain’s fastest-growing mid-market private companies. The company was 53rd on the list.
Peers Hardy also learned the power of social media, first with Daniel Wellington and then with Cluse, a similar Scandi minimalist brand it took on after parting ways with DW. “I went to see the Cluse guys when I signed the agreement and they have about 40 people of all nationalities just working on social media. They have a Chinese girl talking to Chinese bloggers, the same in America, Spain, South America. Meanwhile their digital marketers are studying the next thing. For example, lookalike campaigns. They know who has bought their watches, and they create what they call a lookalike profile that they then apply to any country around the world targeting those lookalike people who have the same hobbies, the same lifestyle. By matching one existing customer’s profile to thousands of people with similar profiles around the world, they can be pretty sure their watches will appeal and sell to them. It is amazing, and Cluse is the expert at the moment,” Mr Harry described in 2017.
The UK remains the most important market for Peers Hardy, accounting for 70% of sales, and is key to the new push into smartwatches. Here you will find its analogue watches at the biggest online and offline retailers — Argos, Watchshop, H. Samuel, F. Hinds and Amazon — and the company is gearing up with fresh point of sale and digital assets to launch the new smartwatches. “Sales are predominately online, so we have a huge digital marketing campaign ready for Christmas. We are also changing all of our displays in stores. Everything needs to have a screen these days,” Mr Harry says.
Over the years, Peers Hardy has typically had around half a dozen watch brands in its portfolio at any one time, and the thrust into smartwatches will see a similar number so that the company has an offer for every taste: men, women, young, older, fashion-led or health-conscious.
Tikkers is a brand for teens or younger. It first launched as a brand in 1999 with a mission to help kids tell the time by getting them to wear and use bright, colourful and sparkly watches. Shifting into activity trackers in 2019, the mission has expanded to encouraging children to keep fit. Underpinning the popularity of the trackers is their on-trend styling and digestible £25 price point.
Connected to a companion smartphone app, they monitor step counts, activity goals, sleep and hydration. They also handle message notifications, call alerts and alarms. They are sold with a one year guarantee.
There are six collections in the more adult Reflex Active range. Series 1 are simple activity trackers, similar in look and functionality to the Tikkers pieces but with more grown up silicon rubber straps and one inch long screens. They sell for £25.
Series 2 does the same job, but the screen is rectangular rather than rounded and the case is metal, which makes if look more like a proper watch and less like an activity tracker. There is more functionality with features including calorie counter, weather updates, find phone and distance tracker displayed on the touch screen. They come on a range of straps, some with printed patterns, others encrusted with crystals. This ticks the price up to just under £50.
Series 3 looks to solve the lifeless black screen problem that puts off some potential smartwatch customers. Some of the 38mm circular watches have decorated dials, made popular in recent times by the likes of Olivia Burton and Sara Miller, with flowers, bees, butterflies and hearts, others are pimped with crystals on the dials or bezels. The smartwatch stuff is on a screen cut into the centre of the dials with all the usual tracking and messaging synched to a smartphone app. They all sell for around £50, whether they have rubber straps or steel mesh bracelets; with or without gold coloured plating.
Series 4 styles are more aligned with the offering from the existing fashion watch houses but at a fraction of the price. Full function with touch screen and with solid link bracelets and leather look straps for men and women.
Series 5 are full-function smartwatches in 42mm round cases. They have an additional sensor for heart rate monitoring which, added to other fitness-related measures such as step count, sleep monitoring calorie counter and sports modes places them in the hot market for health and wellness wristwear. The size and style makes them effectively gender-neutral, but women may be more drawn to pieces with rubber straps decorated with flowers while men might prefer pieces with steel mesh bracelets. Prices again are around £50.
The newest series 6 has all the same functionality, but in a rounded rectangular shaped case that bears a passing resemblance to an Apple Watch but without a crown so all the functions are operated via the 1.3 inch touchscreen. The series has the same health and fitness focused apps as the Series 4 and 5 and will keep working for a remarkable four days between charging with typical use and over two weeks in standby mode. These top of the line models sell for £55.
Amelia Austin are aimed at the fashion watch customer, and are even on sale alongside clothes and accessories in Next.
They use the same technique as the Reflex Active Series 3 to solve the black screen issue by presenting the smartwatch functions in a rectangular window at the centre of a 38mm circular watch. They have slim, feminine mesh bracelets or soft leather straps in a range of colours designed to complement the dials, which feature scenes from nature including bamboo, bees, butterflies, birds and flowers. Amelia Austin is supported with a very active social media campaign. Prices are around £65.
Peers Hardy has chosen to use Radley styling for the only licensed family of smartwatches so that they have instant appeal to fans of the brand. The watches come in four forms: the rounded rectangular style of the Reflex Active Series 6, the circular style of the Series 5, the ornate Series 3 and the activity trackers of Series 1. They share the same functionality as well, but adopt the instantly recognisable Radley Scottish terrier dog motif both on straps and with some of the apps on screen.
The newest family is Harry Lime, and it is also the most feature-rich. The brand takes its name from the rhyming slang for time, which can trace its origin back to the main protagonist in Carol Reed’s classic 1949 thriller The Third Man. It is being promoted a smartwatch with infinite possibilities, and a collection that should appeal as much to gadget fans and those that favour the looks of a classic analogue timepiece.
They are presented as gender-neutral, with social media posts showing them worn by women riding fashionable mopeds, on the beach (they are water resistant) or stretched into yoga poses while men seen at the office or out clothes shopping.
Despite retailing for only £75, the Harry Lime watches come with a rich suite of apps including heart rate monitor, step counter, GPS connection, calorie tracking, multi-sport activity tracking, alarms, alerts and messaging. They will run for four days between charges and come with a 2 year guarantee — a statement about their build quality.
They have a great sporty look with chronograph-style 240 x 240 pixels full colour digital watch faces housed in 44mm acrylic cases in several colours with matching silicon straps.
Peers Hardy positioning
Taken together, the Peers Hardy smartwatch brands offer options for every taste at attractive prices. The trick in this country and through world-wide distribution is to differentiate them from the morass of poor quality unbranded product that is flooding Amazon and Alibaba.
“We are positioning and marketing the brands so that they deliver good margins for retailers and a quality experience for customers who want to make a statement about their style and lifestyle,” remarks Mr Harry. “This is a great opportunity for independent jewellers to get back into watches that people will really want to buy and keep coming back for,” he adds.
With the experience and capabilities of Peers Hardy behind them, the five families have every chance of making affordable fashion smartwatches the next big thing.