Watch Out!

The watch brands a jewelry store carries are an important indication of the kind of store it is. Yet, time and again, there’s a disconnect between a store’s fine-jewelry merchandise and the types of watches it sells. Other jewelry retailers offer a gorgeous selection of fine-watch brands, but the jewelry seems like an afterthought. This trend seems to be getting worse as retailers dive deeper into their comfort niche because of the challenging retail environment.

If there was ever an example of “horses for courses,” this is it. The retail timepiece battleground has become a demilitarized zone with jewelry folks looking across no-man’s-land at the watch sector, and the watch people returning suspicious glances and rattling their sabers to intimidate the other side. At the retail level, timepieces too often are the source of anger and frustration instead of profits.

Several reasons for this dichotomy come to mind. The first is the classic chicken/egg conundrum. Many jewelry retailers have given up trying to sell watches. When asked why, they say things like, “They’re not profitable. The carrying costs of the inventory are too steep. The margins are not good enough. Watches need too many square feet to display. It seems like everyone else has the same brands, often for sale at prices below what I can buy them for.” To those excuses, you should say, “Phooey!”

Look at jewelers like Levinson Jewelers in Florida, Nagi Jewelers in Connecticut, Schubot Jewellers in Michigan, and Bernie Robbins Fine Jewelers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania—as well as chains like Ben Bridge and Jared. These retailers are expanding their jewelry business and adding watch lines as part of their growth strategy, despite the soft retail landscape. These stores are not primarily timepiece destinations that cater primarily to watch aficionados (like a Tourneau). They’re successful at selling pearl, bridal, fashion, and fine jewelry. They’re full-service, well-rounded retail operations that integrate timepiece lines into their store persona and thrive on the halo effect from the watch brands. Their branded timepieces’ reputations speak for the rest of the merchandise in the store.

These stores have a few traits in common. Most have timepiece service technicians or trained watchmakers on the premises or can readily outsource watch repairs to skilled service centers. They work hard at creating a solid working relationship with their sales reps and U.S. (or Swiss) offices so that they can quickly resolve the issues that inevitably arise. They devote pages of their handsome catalogs to their fine watch brands (and thereby have most of their catalog costs paid for).

As part of their investment, they commit to spending the time and money necessary to carry out extensive sales training. As a result, brand attributes and key selling features are ingrained in their sales staffs’ psyches, and there’s a palpable sense of pride and appreciation for each of the watch brands’ technical and artistic features. The better watch manufacturers are dedicated to enhancing this kind of education and include money for training programs in their budgets. To know a watch brand is to love it, and it’s critical that retailers have a passion for the timepiece lines they carry.

Given the plethora of fine-timepiece lines for sale, retailers need to know their customers. They also need to know their sales personnel. We’re back to the “horses for courses” analogy. To build a successful watch business, you need a strategy that creates harmony between your jewelry inventory and your watch brands and ignites a passion for the products you decide to carry. Your watch lines need to complement and enhance your store’s ambience and style.

Next month we’ll discuss a good/better/best timepiece initiative and cast a critical eye on the role your current watches have versus what other brands might do for your business.

Rbannerot@aol.com