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Paul Sheeran.

THE BIG INTERVIEW: Paul Sheeran’s branded superstore

Paul Sheeran aims to transform the Dublin landscape for luxury watch retail after the recent opening of eight connected branded boutiques.

Paul Sheeran aims to transform the Dublin landscape for luxury watch retail after the recent opening of eight connected branded boutiques. Rob Corder visited the mega project as it neared completion this summer.

WATCHPRO: Before we come to talk about the spectacular new showrooms we are meeting in today, take me back to how things began for you here in Dublin.

PAUL SHEERAN: I started as a retail jeweller in 1990, moved into Dublin city centre in 1994 and took on my first brands in 2000, which was a challenge. It was very hard to break into the watch business and the very first brand we took on was Maurice Lacroix.

No disrespect to any of my early brands, but they tended to be ones that had no representation in Ireland and were not well-known or in demand.

In Ireland you would see the same brands in every store, so we wanted to be different. Demand was not nearly as strong as it is today, so we would see customers go from store to store trying to negotiate discounts.

WATCHPRO: If we think the UK has been up and down over the past decade, that is nothing compared to Ireland.

PAUL SHEERAN: It really has been a rollercoaster. When people talk about the Celtic Tiger from the 1990s to the end of the 2020s, we experienced crazy growth. The watch industry was funny at the time with sales flying out for the likes of Jacob & Co models and Zenith Defys; all the watches were oversized and made to be noticed.

In 2009, Ireland hit a wall with the international banking crisis. But the people are strong, and we had solid politicians who were not shy about the pain we would need to go through to get to the other side, and showed us how to get it done. There were no protests, people just got their heads down and worked hard. Because of that, we now have a better Ireland. We have evolved.

WATCHPRO: How difficult did it get for your business?

PAUL SHEERAN: Very tough; I was lucky to survive. Sales dropped by around 60%, which was a phenomenal hit. Everybody dropped, but parts of the market got hit harder than others.

There are dead cert brands in our industry. We all know who they are, and aside from those brands, nothing was selling. Jacob & Co disappeared. Franck Muller disappeared. There were a lot of brands that sold really well in the boom years but fell by the wayside.

The financial crisis went around the world, but Ireland was one of the first into it, and also one of the first out of it because of the way we responded.

Uncertainty leading up to the Brexit vote and after it helped our recovery because we had a lot of international financial institutions moving head offices to Ireland. Other industries like pharmaceuticals have also come in.

I have always wanted to be the best in this country, regardless of what my competitors do, and that is still what I want. If I am the number one for the brands I represent, then we will see what other opportunities come along.

WATCHPRO: How about today? Is the economy facing the same headwinds as we have in the UK with rising inflation and a cost of living squeeze?

PAUL SHEERAN: It is tough again now. We are mindful of interest rate hikes and other issues. But being through difficulties before has taught us that we need to be working with the most in-demand brands because they will keep selling.

To build a business you need to be working with strong brands that have a chance to sell even when everybody wants to buy one of the top two or three brands.

It is not the same top brands in every category. You might say everybody in the market for a pilot watch will want IWC, for example.

Jaeger-LeCoultre makes the most iconic Reverso. What we have tried to do is work with brands that have the best watches in as many categories as possible.

WATCHPRO: How has competition changed around you, not only from other jewellers and watch retailers, but in general retail and consumer spending?

PAUL SHEERAN: Traditionally, we have had one street: Grafton Street. But Grafton Street is very difficult to do business on. There are some beautiful shops there, but nowadays there are also a lot that are not so great, and it is very expensive.

Dublin is changing. As it becomes more prosperous, the authorities are trying to expand and improve the retail scene not only around Grafton Street, but into other parts of the city. To let the blood flow throughout the city, as they say.

WATCHPRO: You are only just off Grafton Street, but from what you are saying, this location on Chatham Street is much more viable today.

PAUL SHEERAN: We have opened all of our new boutiques off Grafton Street, including the Montblanc store on Johnson’s Court. It would have been impossible for us to create branded boutiques like this on Grafton Street because we could not have secured the properties that the brands would have liked. They want the right adjacencies, so they would not have wanted to have been scattered along Grafton.

Montblanc scaled
Paul Sheeran’s standalone Montblanc store on Johnson’s Court.

Coming to Chatham Street has allowed us to build a parade of branded boutiques together, which solves the adjacency issue. We have six great brands side-by-side so each one complements the other.

That has effectively turned this into a beautiful street in the heart of Dublin, and it is continuing to improve around us. The new European Parliament offices are being built right across from us. That is beside The Westbury, the top five-star hotel in Dublin. It is all getting better and better and what we have built here could not have been done on Grafton Street.

WATCHPRO: How much is the changing face of Dublin being managed by the authorities, and how much is it simply the private sector evolving?

PAUL SHEERAN: I chose this position because I knew what it could become. One of my inspirations was Sloane Street in London, where they are widening the pavements and improving the whole environment to make it a nicer place to spend time and shop.

I can see how they are joining up Knightsbridge and Sloane Square and into Kings Road in Chelsea. It is evolving all the time and is quite different to Bond Street and Oxford Street in the West End.

WATCHPRO: For those that do not know Dublin, there is a challenge in telling the story of just how exceptional this parade of boutiques is, and how it came about in a part of the city that has been dominated by Weir & Sons with its vast store with almost every brand, including Rolex and Patek Philippe, for decades. You have come from a backstreet alley off Grafton to build this spectacular showroom with a fantastic line up of brands.

PAUL SHEERAN: Our biggest challenge was getting the brands. My attitude is that we will perform for any brand better than any competitor could. I am driven to deliver that and will always find a way. That is not ego, it is simply that I have to make it work.

If any of my brands is not performing, I will work out how to turn it around. It is no good to me or my brands if I have watches gathering dust.

WATCHPRO: What brands were you selling out of your old store?

PAUL SHEERAN: If I go back to the boom years of the 2000s, I had around 16 brands, but when the recession hit I had to make survival decisions over what was going to help me get through, and what was not.

Paul sheeran johnsons court
Paul Sheeran’s original central Dublin showroom in Johnson’s Court is now mostly devoted to bridal and other jewellery.

In around 2010, when we had two stores, one in Dundrum and the other in Johnson’s Court. We decided to close Dundrum and cut back the brand line up to IWC, TAG Heuer, Breitling, Longines and Jaeger-LeCoultre, which worked for us because it helped us to focus and do well for each of the remaining brands and enabled us to add Tudor in 2018.

Taking on Tudor taught us a lot and was another stepping stone to what you see here today.

WATCHPRO: It looks to me like what you learned was to give the best possible customer experience for each of the brands you represent, and your conclusion led you to opening the boutiques we see here today, where you have effectively built your own Bond Street.

PAUL SHEERAN: Yes, and I would also say that if I had not done this, somebody else would have; not necessarily right here and in the way I have, but this is something Dublin needs and the brands wanted boutiques.

WATCHPRO: OK, we are almost up to the present day with this story. Give us the full brand line up here.

PAUL SHEERAN: IWC, Breitling, Longines, Jaeger-LeCoultre and TAG Heuer we had before. Longines is still in Johnson’s Court but here we have added Panerai, Cartier and Hublot. Plus we have Montblanc in Anne Street.

We have been very focused on the brands we wanted to bring here and move forward with. We consider all of them winners in their fields that contribute to our business and are well-known to our customers. Take Cartier, for example, every woman wants a Cartier, so that is a great brand for us to do well with.

We felt Dublin was under-served for a long time because a city needs more than just one major player. It needs competition. We push each other and complement each other. We feel we have done a great job here, and I know Weir’s are investing in major refurbishments as well. The customers win.

Exterior cs scaled
Paul Sheeran’s new parade of branded showrooms takes up the entire ground floor of a redeveloped building on Dublin’s Chatham Street.

WATCHPRO: It is a funny thing about the luxury industry that it does not sustain itself, you have to work at it, even if you are Rolex or Patek Philippe. I remember something Jean-Claude Biver once said to me that we are in the business of creating irrational desire because ultimately nobody needs what we are selling.

PAUL SHEERAN: I make this point to my team consistently. We are creating an environment and offering a level of service and hospitality where people want to come in and treat themselves.

We see people turning it into a special occasion, they dress up to come here. They come at special times like a birthday or anniversary. You get that in the heart of Dublin, but not in out-of-town shopping centres.

The bars around us here are what I call white collar bars, not the hen party spots. It is a really nice area and, as you said earlier, a bit like our own Bond Street and everybody is discovering it and spreading the words.

WATCHPRO: This is a brand-new building. What was here before?

PAUL SHEERAN: This was a three-storey building of apartments with a couple of bookies and a hairdresser. Covid played into our hands a little because business was good for us and redevelopment of this building was delayed. That gave us time to persuade a couple of key brands to come on board with us.

Had it been finished as planned a few years ago, we would have missed out. Anthropologie was supposed to be coming in to take half the building but the delay allowed me to persuade the landlord to listen to my proposal.

It is not just us opening boutiques, a lot of fashion brands that have been hesitant to move out of Brown Thomas [Dublin’s historic department store], are now creating their own stores. These brands are realising that Dublin can support boutiques, and these are raising standards in this part of the city, which in turn brings in different customers.

Hublot shop in shop scaled
Hublot’s shop in shop.

WATCHPRO: How have you gone from effectively one store to building this enormous emporium of boutiques? How have you raised the capital?

PAUL SHEERAN: We own our place at Chatham Court, and it has made good money, and we get more bang for our buck here off Grafton Street and are paying the rent. I don’t own this building.

Plus a lot of the brands have contributed to making this happen, as they do.

WATCHPRO: They don’t always. If it was Rolex and Patek Philippe you would have been paying them.

PAUL SHEERAN: I would be very happy to do that [laughs]. At the end of the day this is a good business. We had to borrow a little bit to get it done but it’s nothing we can’t handle.

The answer to your question of how we got to this is essentially through hard work, vision, blood, sweat and tears; people who believe in us. I have proved myself with the brands rather than just talking myself up.

There is no brand here that is not delighted by what we have achieved. It has not been risk-free, but we had the vision to see the opportunity.

I could not have done it without great people around me, including my partner who has to listen to me at night agonising over how I can make a brand work better. I have people who have been with me for 20 years in the stores who share my vision.

Breitling’s boutique.
Dublin boutique interior 6 scaled

WATCHPRO: Are any of these boutiques joint ventures? Do the brands have any skin in the game?

PAUL SHEERAN: No, but they have one common goal, which is to see their brands succeed. They know that boutiques work, which is why they have been pushing to see something like this in Dublin.

It is such a new concept that the brands and other retailers have been flying in from other countries to visit us and learn about what we have done.

The brands are invested in our success and have given us phenomenal support, but not financially. They do not have any kind of stake in the business like a joint venture. It is 100% Paul Sheeran.

What we are seeing is competition between brands to do well. This project is talked about in Switzerland among the brands. That puts pressure on us, but I like that because I know I am in their thoughts and being talked about at the highest level.

Being part of those conversations allows me to think about how to do the best I can do and to use that to get better allocations and other support. I have not finished here. I want to keep growing my business in Ireland, so I need to keep raising my game.

Tudor shop in shop scaled
Tudor’s shop in shop.

WATCHPRO: I know it is a balancing act, but you have the potential here to offer the best of both worlds: a branded, immersive experience for your customers, but with you as a family jeweller embedded in your community in control.

PAUL SHEERAN: That is such an important point. I am an Irish guy in an Irish business, and people here love that. We support each other. We bring people here for tours every day. If you spend any time here, you will see that all of my team know everybody coming in.

WATCHPRO: You appear to have created a business that will be there for the important moments in people’s lives. That might start with an engagement ring at your jewellery store. They might start their journey into watches with a TAG Heuer, Breitling or Tudor and then move — through their lives and through your linked boutiques and shop in shops — to Cartier, Hublot, Panerai, IWC or Jaeger-LeCoultre.

PAUL SHEERAN: That is working very well for us. We have TAG Heuer at one end of the building and Jaeger-LeCoultre at the other end.

It is a journey, and the brands complement each other, all the while the customer is in control. We will do our best to get you the watches you want whether your budget is £1,000 or £100,000.

Inside tag heuer scaled
TAG Heuer’s boutique (above) is at one end of the building with Jaeger-LeCoultre (below) at the other. Customers can walk from one to the other without leaving the property.

Book appointment jaegerlecoultreWATCHPRO: We are seeing a direction of travel for many companies, particularly Richemont brands, wanting to sell directly to customers through their own boutiques or online. Do you have concerns that your investment here is paving the way for them to come in at some point in the future and cut you out of the deal?

PAUL SHEERAN: I would be mad not to have concerns, and I see the same thing you are describing. But I have seen companies change directions so many times over the years, what I do is control what I can control and do the best I can do.

There is nothing wrong with brands running their own boutiques, particularly in the biggest global cities like London and New York, but I am not so sure it will work in Dublin or Manchester. It would be hard for these brands to make it work without a partner like us.

We have seen brands try and fail to manage boutiques outside the biggest cities, and it has not worked the way they have liked, and they end up back with local business people like me.

It may look more profitable if they keep all the revenue from the sale of a watch, but the cost of building and maintaining a store, its staff and all the overheads make it a lot harder to be profitable.

We spread the risk, particularly in a set up like this. Some brands are hot one year and cooler the next. We can manage that because we have eight brands here, and they will all have collections that are really popular at one time and others that are harder to sell.

Cartier scaled
Richemont brands Cartier, Panerai, IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre occupy half of the boutiques at Paul Sheeran.

Panerai scaled Inside panerai scaled Inside iwc scaled

WATCHPRO: I think this line of conversation is particularly important here because, while the likes of Tudor, TAG Heuer and Breitling are predominately wholesale operations, Richemont is on the record saying it wants to go direct, and four of your brands here are from that group. In addition, Richemont has a multibrand retail concept, TimeVallée, which is expanding from Asia into Europe and sells the same brands you do.

PAUL SHEERAN: They can go for it. I cannot stop them. But I do not think it will work in every location.

WATCHPRO: If it is dependent on location, you might just be proving to Richemont that it could work in Dublin.

PAUL SHEERAN: I cannot think that way. I have to simply focus on doing the very best job I can do and the future will take care of itself. I will never be complacent, and we constantly put pressure on ourselves to improve.

TimeVallée could have done what I have done here. Other retailers that are far bigger than us wanted to come here and do something like this. But we got it done.

I am not convinced that the big multi-nationals always win. This is our community, we care about it, we support each other.

WATCHPRO: Are you willing to share any financial details of the impact this new showroom will have?

PAUL SHEERAN: Our accounts are public, so you can see we were doing around €5-6 million. I certainly expect we will do at least three times that if we do our job right.

It has not been an easy journey over the past 35 years to get here, but sitting here today it all feels worthwhile.

I have always wanted to be the best in this country, regardless of what my competitors do, and that is still what I want. If I am the number one for the brands I represent, then we will see what other opportunities come along.


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