How to Snag a Prestige Watch Brand

Searching for an exclusive watch brand for your store, to no avail? You’re not alone. Many retailers are slamming into roadblocks while trying to land the prestige watch lines they covet.

Upscale watch companies considering new retailers have strict criteria and lofty standards. “We have long-standing relationships with stores we’re comfortable with, so we don’t feel a strong need to increase our dealership base,” says Hank Edelman, president of Patek Philippe. “Plus, we can’t turn on the spigot to increase production dramatically.

Adding retailers just splits the same pie into more pieces, which doesn’t help anyone. Sometimes it’s very frustrating to say no. Yes, other stores could sell our watches, but at the expense of loyal jewelers who have sold our watches capably for years.”

Not all coveted brands are upscale. Sometimes a hot lower-end brand like Casio can be in demand as much as the higher-end brands. But over the long term, the most coveted are exclusive brands that are usually handmade in relatively small numbers. (Mass producers like Rolex are the exceptions.) They require the most investment and typically rake in the most profit per unit. And landing one prestige brand opens the door to snagging more.

Retailers must be well-prepared when pitching for hard-to-land watch brands. You need to score an A+ or you fail. Does your store pass the test? Prestige brands say the following factors are all necessary for a retailer even to be considered:

Location, location, location. Geography can be a major stumbling block in landing a prestige brand. Explore whether the brand you want is well-represented in other stores in your area. If not, it’s a point in your favor. If competitors stock the brand, however, your store can automatically be eliminated. “Unless a store is utterly spectacular and has escaped our attention, we’d likely not consider it if we have a dealer nearby,” says one distributor.

Still, don’t give up. Compare your store against the competition and determine your worthiness against theirs. Build your case without trashing your competition (which can come back to haunt you).

Store ambiance. Does your store environment complement the brand you desire? The right ambiance, in both store design and product mix, is essential to obtaining a prestige brand. The first question a luxury watch distributor may ask is, “Does your store carry Rolex or other prestige brands?” If your store can sell Patek Philippe, Mikimoto, or Scott Kay, it likely can sell most upscale brands. Exclusive, highly respected brands include Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Cartier, Chopard, Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Rolex, Franck Muller, and Breitling. If officials at prestige companies respect your current selection, your chances are better.

Stores must also have a “reasonable” representation within each brand they stock. Committed stores that ideally showcase 25 to 30 models of a brand have an advantage over stores that carry only a handful of models. For luxury makes, retailers must be prepared to invest at least $100,000 in product – not counting presentation, promotion, and advertising.

“Retailers must have a specific strategy that tells us why they want our particular brand and how they can make it viable and profitable for their store,” says Nancy Fox, president of Jaeger-LeCoultre USA. “Tell us your plans for the future and where you think your store is headed. [Watch companies] are determining if stores are realistic about a long-term relationship or whether they are jumping into the watch business because someone has convinced them it’s a gravy train.”

Profits and people. Fiscal responsibility is critical and non-negotiable. Profitable stores that pay bills on time have the best shot at prestige brands. And if you get them, can you sell them consistently? Your sales staff must have the expertise to sell $60,000 watches to sophisticated buyers. “The people behind the counter represent us,” Edelman says. “They have to understand the market and the watches. They must be able to explain our prices and quality to the consumer.”

Executives at prestige watch companies also want to know whether you have the customers for pricey classic watches, upscale sports watches, or high-end jeweled watches. Are your customers sophisticated enough to appreciate complicated features like minute-repeaters?

Gradual growth. There are plenty of prestige watch brands to target. As more brands flood the United States, odds are you can land a good one. Newcomers to the watch game should explore brands that are profitable without relying on lots of fanfare, such as Cyma, Concord, and Maurice Lacroix. Or target upscale makes searching for additional distribution, like Breguet, IWC, Gerald Genta, and Daniel Roth.

Alternatively, you might shoot for popular brands that sell consistently, including Omega, Baume & Mercier, or Tag Heuer. Luxury watch distributors consider these last three brands high-profile entry-level lines for a luxury retailer. From there, work your way up the price-point ladder.

It is possible to break through. Many stores have done it. But first do your homework, because snagging a prestige brand is no cakewalk. “Some retailers think we have a hidden agenda, and we really don’t,” Edelman says. “We just rack our brains to make these decisions.” Whatever you can do to make those decisions easier will work in your favor.