Watch marketing that works

Most jewelers sell watches, but a new JCK national survey finds only one in three actively markets or promotes them. Why? Reasons cited include competition from other watch retailers, the Internet, and mass marketers. One Missouri jeweler even called watches “a necessary evil,” stocked in case a customer wants one. Yet jewelers can sell watches successfully. Here are examples of watch marketing that works.

Corporate Awards. “One of our best watch promotions is to find local companies and organizations that need employee service awards or corporate gifts,” says Rich Thomas, owner of Stephanie’s Diamonds & Fine Jewelry, Logan, Utah. “Watches work particularly well as corporate awards, because people use them a lot at work—one study says people look at their watches 40 to 50 times a day—and the company logo on a watch is a constant reminder of who gave it to them.”

As a reminder of who sold the watch, Thomas puts his store card in the watch box and offers free adjustments—another way to attract new customers.

“Once we establish a relationship with a company, repeat sales year-to-year are automatic,” says Thomas, who gets his award watches from several suppliers, including Belair, Citizen, and Seiko. He sells 200 to 300 annually (out of 400-plus watches overall). “Two hundred times $100 [the average price of his award watches] is $20,000 annually,” he says. “It’s like an annuity!”

Other jewelers cultivate colleges or high schools, especially athletic departments, which often give watches as awards to student athletes. One Midwest jeweler sells 150 annually that way. But, adds Thomas, these marketing programs “grow as fast or slow as a jeweler’s efforts to ferret out clients.”

Direct Approach. Direct mail used selectively can build watch sales. Goodman’s Jewelers, Madison, Wis., for example, formerly put promotional inserts for its watches into local newspapers, but “that wasn’t successful,” says owner John Hayes. In 2003, he decided to mail them only to his customer list of 4,500. “It was hugely successful,” he says. “We used a fourth of what we did for newspapers but got 10 times the results.

“It also brought back people we hadn’t seen in a while. The direct-mail coupon was a reminder that we’re still here and they’re still our valued customers,” says Hayes, whose store does 18 percent of annual business in watches (not including $80,000 in watch repairs).

Eventful. Tying watch marketing to an event or holiday (besides Christmas)—i.e., Founder’s Day, an annual marathon, the first day of summer, Groundhog Day, or back-to-school—is a business booster, say jewelers. Consider Gene Poole, of Hudson-Poole Fine Jewelers, Tuscaloosa, Ala. (home to Stillman College, the University of Alabama, a state school, and some high schools), who holds a successful graduation-day watch sale.

“Graduation is a big event for lots of folks,” he notes, “one they want to commemorate with a gift, and watches seem to be the product of choice.”

But Poole holds it in April. Why? “Timing,” he says. “It puts thoughts of graduation, watches as gifts—and us as the place for them—early in peoples’ heads. It also keeps us from getting lost later in the crowd of [Mother’s and Father’s Day] holiday and graduation gift ads of other retailers and gives us an event between March and May.”

The store promotes its graduation-day watch sale with ads in college, high-school, and local newspapers; radio ads; billboards; appearances on a local talk shows; and direct mail. It provides 5 percent of Poole’s yearly watch business (15 percent overall) and “generates good traffic,” says Poole, whose brands include Rolex, TAG Heuer, Seiko, Maurice LaCroix, Citizen, Swiss Army, and Austern Paul. “I believe in branding,” he says. “These names get people into the store, and then I can sell them something else, too.”

Swiss Fare. Many jewelers hold in-store watch fairs to promote their upscale brands, boost watch and jewelry sales, build public awareness, and increase traffic. Almost one in six (says a 2003 JCK national poll of hundreds of jewelers) conducts at least one annually.

In Kennett Square, Pa., Bove Jewelers holds two for its Swiss brands, one in late spring, the other in early autumn, timed to launch the coming sales seasons. Owner George Reinas calls them “mini-Basels,” after the world watch fair in Basel, Switzerland. They feature the brands’ representatives, vendor specials, and even free gifts. They’re successful—past ones generated six-figure revenues—and “customers look forward to them,” says Reinas.

Gause & Son Jewelers, Ocala, Fla., holds a Swiss Watch Month for his seven brands each spring. “We advertise it heavily, feature a brand a week, and emphasize ‘Swiss made,'” says owner Jerry Gause. “We get additional ad literature from suppliers, and sometimes in-store props and banners, and bring in brand ‘reps’ to meet customers. We take trade-ins and do other things to encourage people to buy, like extending the warranty on a watch. And we have Swiss chocolates or German beer.”

Gause started Swiss Watch Month five years ago to boost business in early spring. “It adds 15 percent to 20 percent to our watch business,” he says. Watches account for 25 percent of his annual revenues.

Incentives. Employee incentives can boost watch business. Often these are cash rewards (e.g., $15 per watch sold) from a supplier or the retailer. Other programs offer a free timepiece for selling a number of a brand’s watches or amassing points (per watch, type, or price of watch sold). In return, salespeople give more attention to specific brands, slow-moving watches, or lesser-known brands.

Do incentives work? Yes, say a number of jewelers—though as one added, “You must do the paperwork [required by the brand] to ensure the salespeople get them.” Joe Espling, Espling Jewelers, Jacksonville, Fla., enjoyed a 20 percent gain in sales of Accutron watches last fall. “It worked so well that if they don’t do it again, I might,” he said. Nick Fratto, Anthony Jewelers, Palmyra, N.J., saw Concord watch sales rise 40 percent. Incentives, he said, “make a big difference in moving and selling” a watch. Adds a Midwest jeweler, “We see our salespeople taking clients purposely to those watches [with incentives] instead of others, even our own label.”

Sell Your Own. Many jewelers, even those with several brands, generate strong sales with their own watch (i.e., with their store name or logo, made by companies specializing in private-label watches). A 2003 JCK national survey of scores of jewelers found 46 percent have their own watches, many saying they’re second only to bridal jewelry as their best-selling private-branded product.

“Ours sets us apart, has the prestige of being Swiss made, and a customer can’t comparison-shop it around,” says Michael George, owner of M.S.G. Jewelers in St. Louis, of his Michaela watches ($500-$750, triple keystone). “When someone comes looking for a good watch and finds he can buy our quality Swiss watch at a reasonable price [compared to brand-name models], he’s sold,” he notes. “Often, he becomes a lifelong customer for watches and jewelry.”

Dee’s Jewelers in Salisbury, N.C., does well with 10 name brands ($25-$3,200), but also sells its own brand. “Promoting our own watch and the lifetime warranty we provide—even though the supplier gives a three-year warranty—is most successful,” says owner Robert Dietz, a jeweler for 41 years.

Since adding his watch label ($150-$450) almost two years ago, it’s grown to 20 percent of his watch sales, which represent 15 percent of total business. “It also brings many new faces,” he says—even though marketing outside the store is primarily word-of-mouth, and major chain stores at a nearby mall sell watches. “The fact that the watch is ours, that we’re locally owned and well established, and that we provide a lifetime guarantee are good selling points,” says Dietz.

Creative Pricing. Used selectively, price reductions boost business, say some jewelers. Krekeler Jewelers in O’Fallon, Mo., put a coupon for 30 percent off in direct-mail and newspaper ads a month before Father’s Day 2004 to spur watch sales. “It’s the first time we did,” says co-owner Pat Crowder, “but Father’s Day isn’t big for us, and we wanted to generate business. This certainly did! It was wonderful, so I didn’t mind taking a little less profit. We’re going to do it again.”

The limited-time reduction applied only to Krekeler’s four mid-price brands and only to items in stock. And shoppers had to bring the coupon to get the discount. “That let us gauge response, including new customers,” Crowder says.

About 10 percent of Krekeler’s revenues are from watches. “They’re a good draw, especially of men, and generate steady business,” Crowder says.

An East Coast jeweler, who didn’t want to be identified, uses what he calls “creative pricing.” “I’m not a discounter,” he told JCK, “but with the watch market increasingly competitive, you must do something.” His store is near a retailer that sells the same brands for less. “We were losing sales, because we didn’t meet their prices,” he says. “So, we had to change our philosophy.

“We still don’t advertise ‘discounts,’ it’s not in our marketing vocabulary, but now when people come in for a watch, we show it to them, talk about its design and features—and tell them we offer it at 20 percent off the manufacturer’s suggested price. It’s the only product where I do that, but we have to, or become a ‘watch museum’ where nothing moves.”

Name Identification. Constant or exclusive marketing of a leading brand links it to the jeweler in consumers’ minds, spurring traffic and sales, say jewelers. For many, that brand is Rolex. “The best promotion for our six watch brands is having Rolex,” says Sissy Jones of Sissy’s Log Cabin, Pine Bluff, Ark. “People come to see a Rolex and often buy one of our other brands.”

When a store of Sartor Hamann Jewelers in Lincoln, Neb., became a Rolex dealer in 2004, the retailer advertised the fact heavily. Manager Jeanne Lillich notes that the store is in an upscale community and a large competitor sells other luxury brands. “We have to get out the word that we’re the one with Rolex,” she says. “Rolex instills feelings of success and prestige, bringing consumers into the store. Then we show them other things, too.”

In Santa Barbara, Calif., Kern Jewelers promotes its Rolexes with strong newspaper advertising up to 100 miles away. Owner Richard Kern markets other brands locally, too, but being the area’s only authorized Rolex dealer, and actively publicizing it, is “a great advantage,” he says. “People know it. They want it. That brings them in.”

It isn’t necessary to sell Rolex to benefit from a top brand. The key, say many jewelers, is to pick the right brand for your community and market it well. Bartle Jewelers, Mukwonago, Wis., “starts where Wal-Mart stops,” says owner Steve Bartle. The mass marketer and others like Target are active in under-$50 watch brands. “You can’t compete with that, and I don’t,” he says. “While they beat themselves up on low-end watches, we start ours at $50.” He notes that people in his blue-collar bedroom community “don’t need a $300 to $2,000 watch, but they want a good-looking one with a good warranty.” So he aggressively promotes Pulsar ($50-$100, three-year warranty) and Citizen ($60-$120, five-year warranty). Sales are solid and stock turns 1.5 times a year.

In Louisville, Ky., Gumer & Co. is Breitling’s dealer and does well with it. Last year, owner Bruce Gumer added more units, displays, and models of the Swiss luxury sport watch and “had even more sales,” he says. Gumer, who sells several brands and does 15 percent of his business in watches, adds, “If you have the best watch [in its category] and no one else does, that brings customers and business.”