In the extremely competitive world of high-end luxury retail, there is one golden rule: Location. Location. Location! Yet, with their unexpected move from London’s most famous luxury retail thoroughfare Bond Street around the corner to a six storey townhouse on Brook Street, Frost of London has thrown the rule book out the window. The gamble is in giving up an A1 location (albeit at the less prestigious northern end of the street) for an additional 50% of retail space that the new property provides. Tom Mulraney sat down with Frost of London co-founder, Dino D’Auria, to get the inside story on what led to the move, the challenges currently facing the market, and what we can expect next from this iconic London retailer.
WatchPro: What led to your decision to relocate away from Bond Street and what are some of the advantages in your opinion?
Dino D’Auria: A key reason for the move is that there is more space. We had 45 brands at one stage. We went down to 35, and now we’ve got 23. This was very intentional on our part as we want to concentrate on the brands we love and give them the attention and exposure they deserve.
Some of the brands we stock really need to be explained to the customer so that they can appreciate the value. It is important then for those brands to have the right retail partners who are going to give them the time and attention they deserve.
I think by decreasing the number of brands, and oving to a property with six floors, it allows us to create a better experience for our remaining brands and for the customers. We’ve also got a boardroom now that we can use for staff training and that our clients can use for meetings, as well as a rooftop terrace that will allow us to host really cool events for our special clients.
There are also other advantages to this new location. It’s opposite Hush (an iconic dining destination in London), which is very busy with lots of business meetings, etc. leading to more visibility of the shop throughout the day.
Brook Street itself plays a big role too. All the cars that go past us have to turn right onto Bond Street and they get stopped in traffic right outside our shop all the time.
They would have not seen our shop before at our previous location on Bond Street. I cannot explain how much better it is. Drivers stop here all the time to drop off or pick up their clients and the first thing they see is Frost. It takes one out of hundred to walk in. Likewise, people coming from Claridges have to walk past the shop. As do people cutting through from Selfridges to Bond Street.
And, most importantly for us, it’s been like moving from a flat to a house. It already feels like home after two to three weeks. We’ve got a bigger and better team now and we’re ready to take it up another level.
WatchPro: What do customers think of your new home?
Dino D’Auria: The response has been massive. Very, very good. I’ve even asked my clients what’s worse about this shop compared to the old shop? And they say nothing. The only thing I can think of is maybe the address, Brook Street as opposed to Bond Street, but we’ve been here 10 years and we’ve got our client base. Plus, if someone is stood outside our old location and calls me asking where we’ve gone, I just tell them wait there two minutes and then I run around the corner and get them. It’s that close. It’s just one block we’re talking, we’re literally touching our old building.
WatchPro: Moving away from the new location for a minute, what’s the current retail environment look like for Frost, and indeed for the wider market?
Dino D’Auria: The market is tough. Ask whoever you like. And anyone who says it’s not tough is lying. Even for me, if I say it’s not tough, it’s because I’ve worked my client base well and I’ve got a few bigger sales. But even for that, you have to work double. It’s a lot harder to achieve half of what you could have five years ago.
WatchPro: What’s driving these challenging conditions, in your opinion? Is it just the knock-on effect of uncertainty around Brexit or are there other forces at play?
Dino D’Auria: I think it’s the amalgamation of a lot of things. In recent years, bigger brands, like Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet have shifted their focus to opening mono brand boutiques and only working with a few select retail partners in key locations. This has had a knock-on effect as other brands look to follow suit.
For example, Cartier lets it watches be stocked widely at a number of retail partners, but not its jewellery. All of a sudden, the Cartier bangle holds value and that’s where they make their money. The watches are available widely, but the jewellery is not, so it creates a demand for it. It’s the same reason why we’ve got Bulgari watches, but we’ll never get Bulgari jewellery. In general, that side of things has become harder with the bigger brands.
Also, now I think with social media, you’ve got everyone and their dog who is a jeweller putting up pictures on Instagram and the like. They’re making sales but they’ve got no real base, which creates a credibility issue. I always say, don’t buy from me, buy from who you feel comfortable with. But buy from someone with a physical shop.
If you’re buying from Instagram, or the internet, or someone who goes around to the footballers selling out of their car boot, it will be the after sales service that is lacking. You might get it £1,000 cheaper but when you need to service it, or when a diamond falls out, or when something’s broken, or you need an extra strap, that’s when the real difference shows through.
WatchPro: And Brexit? Have you felt any positive or negative impact from the uncertainty since 2016?
Dino D’Auria: To be honest I’ve banned talk of Brexit in our shop. I can’t stand it. Look, if I had the answer, and I could tell you that two plus two is four and this is how you solve everything between everyone, no one is going to listen to me. They’re going to carry on doing their thing. It’s a whole new problem. It doesn’t matter what we think. We’re a pawn on the chess board.
In reality, Brexit is the UK market. And for us, we only get about 5% of our business from the UK market. The Middle East is huge for us, Brunei, Jordan, America, Asia, even Australia. China for us is a fascinating market. We’ve never really had Chinese clients because they prefer big name brands, like Rolex, Patek, Louis Vuitton, etc. We always have niche brands and the up-and-coming new things, so it’s tough for us to hold down that type of client.
But since we got exclusivity on Franck Muller in the UK more Chinese clients have been coming in store. Likewise, the popularity of Fred, a French jewellery brand with a very strong Asian following, has helped in this regard too.
WatchPro: Ecommerce and online sales are beginning to play a larger role for traditional brick and mortar retailers. Is this also the case for Frost of London?
Dino D’Auria: It does well, but it could do much better for us. I think with the decreased number of brands it’s something we can give more attention to now. When we first started out, we didn’t even have a website for the first two years. It was just something that kept getting put off. So, a lot of our customers knew us by face first before we even went online, which helped give our website more credibility when it did come online. But certainly, with fewer brands now, more time and resources will be available to dedicate to online.
WatchPro: What, if any, impact is social media having on sales?
Dino D’Auria: The impact is massive. My business partner Joseph is very good on Instagram. He’s got a lot of followers and gets loads of business from it. Even I find I’m getting loads of screenshots from my customers of Joseph’s pictures. Plus, you can see now what customers are looking at and liking. Even what they’re sharing. It’s great but it takes a lot of work to maintain.
WatchPro: What’s next for Frost London?
Dino D’Auria: In all honesty, not in an arrogant way, I think we’ve sort of realised that we’re just as valuable to our suppliers as they are to us. And so, I think, we’re just going to focus on what we really want to do.
We’ve got a clear vision this year, with a very strong focus on the brands we have, as well as bringing on a select few additional ones. We want to work with people who are nice, humble and very passionate about what they do because we’re very passionate about what we do. But those brands also need to perform, and so we’re going to do everything we can to help them do that.
Likewise, we will continue to have a strong focus on our clients. Reward them with dinners, afternoon teas on the roof terrace, and what have you. The reality is you can shop anywhere, but we want our long-term clients to feel like they’re part of the Frost family. Now, with this new space, we can do that. For example, a customer can have their kid’s birthday upstairs if they’re in town, or use the boardroom for a meeting, or what have you. We want them to use it like a home from home.
Overall, we’re just really happy with the way things are heading. We love our new home, we love the brands we’re working with, and long may it continue..
Author Tom Mulraney is a 10-year veteran of the watch industry. He is the publisher and editor of The Watch Lounge, a digital magazine with a unique take on the world of luxury watches. www.thewatchlounge.com