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David Hurley is the Executive Vice President of Watches of Switzerland USA in charge of Watches of Switzerland and Mayors Jewelers in the United States.
How has the Watches of Switzerland business changed in the United States from last year, and in particular, now that the WOS SoHo, Hudson Yards, Wynn Vegas and Encore Boston stores have all reopened?
We have seen strong growth in the US since opening our first SoHo store in 2018. With stores now in Hudson Yards, Las Vegas, and Boston, we are able to bring our world-class service and tailor it to reflect the clients in each market. We are developing deeper understandings of each market and have had success identifying and cultivating distinct clients for each. With this knowledge, we have been able to offer specialized products and activations for each. Since last year, the Watches of Switzerland brand is now quite well known so we have seen strong repeat business and a loyal base of true collectors.
What level of importance has digital played in keeping your business operational?
Leaning into digital and exploring new ways to engage with our audience has been critical in the past few months. From brands like Patek Philippe allowing Watches of Switzerland to sell online, to hosting virtual launches like the introduction of our Toge Special Edition timepiece with Grand Seiko we have expanded digital in all sides of the business. We now have a fully operational e-commerce site that has been performing well. We were quick to embrace social media and Instagram in particular during COVID, with Brian Duffy doing an IG live series hosting various watch industry CEOs which helped create buzz and engagement in the US as well.
As a company how do you value organic (free) versus inorganic (paid) visits to your US website www.watchesofswitzerland.com?
We have been able to build a strong organic client base and as we continue to offer exclusive products and build our brand identity, we are able to convert traffic at higher rates. Both are important to Watches of Switzerland. In the US, especially New York City, we have seen a lot of organic word-of-mouth buzz that is a direct result of the many activations and client events we do in Soho and Hudson Yards.
What impact does scale have on the multi-brand watch retail business when competing against smaller retailers with a few locations or less?
While our scale has helped us forge important relationships with key brands, Watches of Switzerland is focused on our unique approach when it comes to the customer. We emphasize hospitality and friendly no-pressure approach when engaging with customers. At Watches of Switzerland, we strive to be a source of education and steward of the inspiration the watch world can provide which can sometimes be intimidating to outsiders. We still believe the US market is under-serviced when it comes to luxury timepieces and there is room for all to grow.
What is the greatest benefit of offering WOS exclusive timepieces, such as the Grand Seiko x WOS and Hublot x WOS editions?
Watches of Switzerland has always been about offering unique experiences through our product offering, service, and stores. By partnering with brands like Grand Seiko and Hublot on exclusive timepieces, we are able to offer our clients something that they cannot find anywhere else. This has been a crucial element that helps to define our brand and differentiate us from the competition. The response has been phenomenal and we have seen brands grow in the United States with our support. Grand Seiko is a prime example of success in terms of attracting new customers to driving sales — going from a small pop-up in SoHo to now a standalone timepiece gallery in partnership with Watches of Switzerland.
I’ve been impressed by the frictionless sales process at Best Buy, Crate & Barrel, and even Walmart, which all offer curbside pickup. Can you explain the process at WOS?
At our reopened Watches of Switzerland stores, the safety of our employees and customers is our top priority. We are limiting occupancy by introducing our “By Personal Appointment” service which allows visitors to pre-book in-store appointments, over the phone consultations, or in select stores virtual appointments for the comfort of home. While in-store, we are requiring social distancing, masks, and gloves and are cleansing products with a UV sanitizing machine.
Every industry has been affected in some way by the virus outbreak, and in some cases, it has been a boon to sales. For instance, bicycles that are well-priced have been virtually impossible to find, with entire stores sold out in many cases. Not to mention bike service departments are inundated with work. Bike retail is a supply-driven business right now. Can you draw any comparisons to the watch industry, or more specifically to WOS?
During COVID it seems people have doubled down on purchases that hold and grow in value. Rolex continues to be a top perform along with AP, and Patek. In our recently opening Grand Seiko timepiece gallery we have seen a return to classics. Customers are making educated luxury purchases that they view as investments. People are purchasing timepieces that have enduring quality, dependability, versatility, and we have noted less experimental purchase behavior. Lastly, I would say that the pace of new watch introductions this year—which seems to show no signs of slowing down—is also driving a lot of consumer interest.
Are any of the pre-planned WOS store launches still happening this year? What’s the tentative plan for the opening of the American Dream WOS flagship store in New Jersey?
As expected, there have been delays to store launches. We are excited to share that construction has started on Watches of Switzerland at the American Dream and we are planning for a 2021 opening.
Coming off a successful IPO in 2019 does the US division of the Watches of Switzerland Group have any acquisition markets in mind? California, Washington DC, Texas, Chicago.
Since the opening of Watches of Switzerland SoHo, we have been researching and looking into expansion in new US markets. We look forward to making announcements down the line.
WOS is managing mono-brand stores for labels such as Audemars Piguet, Breitling, Omega, Rolex, and most recently TAG Heuer (which is owned by LVMH). Are there any plans to partner with LVMH at the forthcoming Cheval Blanc Hotel Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive?
Managing mono-brand boutiques has been a great development for Watches of Switzerland in the US. We are always looking for new and exciting ways to collaborate with our brand partners.