By  on November 15, 2004

NEW YORK — It’s easy to lose one’s sense of time in Las Vegas. Nights seem like days in the glaring lights of the Strip, while days could just as well be nights in clock-less casinos. But that should no longer be as much of a problem now that Tourneau has landed with a mammoth thud.

On Nov. 4, the watch retailer opened the doors to Time Dome, an almost 18,000-square-foot watch emporium at the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where it had a smaller unit. The newest addition to Tourneau’s growing retail chain will surpass its 16,000-square-foot 57th Street Time Machine here as the largest watch store in the world and likely will secure a special place in the “Guinness Book of World Records.”

The Las Vegas opening comes at a time of heavy expansion for the privately held watch retailer, which was founded in 1900, and will count 26 stores nationwide with this week’s scheduled opening of a 1,500-square-foot unit in Alexandra, Va. This week also will see the publication of Tourneau Times, a joint venture with Jason Binn’s Niche Media LLC, publisher of Gotham and Hamptons. Tourneau plans to open stores at The Westchester in White Plains, N.Y., and in Atlantic City, N.J., next year, and build its assortment of private label merchandise, which now includes watches, fine jewelry and sunglasses.

The new Las Vegas store is located in the original Forum Shops (the mall recently added a 175,000-square-foot wing).

“The shoppers that come to the Forum Shops originate from all our markets,” Andrew Block, senior vice president of marketing, said of the decision to open Time Dome in Las Vegas. “They are from California, New York, Florida, Texas, Chicago…areas where we have existing stores.” Also, he added, “The Forum Shops has the highest dollar-per-square-foot sales of any mall. The amount of traffic every day is 50,000 to 60,000, so when we looked for a location for another Time Machine, the only city really could be Las Vegas.”

To give Las Vegas a store worthy of its Sin City reputation, Tourneau went all out. The store was designed like an amphitheater with a huge, 38-foot-high dome hovering above the main floor. There are two levels beneath the mezzanine.“Our challenge was to create a space that looked like Las Vegas, but retained our identity as a retailer and at the same time incorporated the brand identity of our brand partners,” explained Block.

To that end, customers will find brand-specific shop-in-shops by the likes of Cartier, Omega, Rolex, Breitling, Tag Heuer, Movado, Rado, Ebel, Concord, Raymond Weil, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Breguet and Blancpain. Each brand will incorporate its look into a specific boutique with special features. Case in point: The Tag Heuer space offers an Indy 500 racing simulator and a Tiger Woods golf simulator with interactive flat screens — a suitable interlude for the typical Vegas visitor.

“Tourneau’s watch store concepts are really important because of their width and depth,” said Daniel Lalonde, president and chief executive officer at LVMH Watch & Jewelry North America, which owns brands such as Tag Heuer, Christian Dior Watches and Zenith. “Our industry needs a concept like that. In many other sectors, you typically have these types of stores that carry most lines. Here, we can show more facets of our brands.”

Stanislas de Quercize, president and chief executive officer of Cartier in North America, concurred. “This new store is a major store, not only for the jewelry and watch industry in America, but also for the world. This is a very smart move by Tourneau to build the watch market in America, which is underdeveloped. It combines the diversity of the watches, the depth of the assortment and the expertise of the salespeople in a hugely trafficked environment that can convert people to watches. ‘Sex and the City’ has converted America to handbags and shoes — maybe Tourneau will convince America to buy watches.”

Coinciding with the opening is the launch issue of Tourneau Times, a consumer magazine about the watch-owning lifestyle. The 80-page magazine will be distributed to Tourneau stores and mailed to special customers.

“We are bringing the everyday reader a look into watches…who is wearing what with stories on the faces behind the names on the watch dials, like Jack Heuer, Yves Piaget and Raymond Weil,” Block said.

The company also has been building its assortment of private label, some of which is licensed. Earlier this year, it launched a collection of 18-karat yellow white gold, platinum and diamond jewelry in a licensing deal with Dutyfree Holdings Inc. and its FDD Ltd. affiliate. Tourneau also has an agreement with Tura L.P. for eyewear, including sunglasses. Tourneau watches are manufactured in-house.“In the near future, we are thinking of leather goods, fragrance and the possibility of wholesaling Tourneau watches,” Block said. “Consumers recognize the Tourneau name as a brand. If you take a random sampling on the street, they will either think of it as a brand or as a retailer of other brands. Given that strength, it’s an obvious decision to expand upon the brand name.”

Besides the U.S., the watch retailer is making a push into the Caribbean market. The first Tourneau store will open at the Our Lucaya Resort in Freeport in Grand Bahama, Bahamas, in January. Two additional stores are scheduled to open in Barbados in 2006.

“Eighty percent of the people who visit the Caribbean are American tourists,” Block said. “They recognize us, have a vacation attitude and like to spend money.”

Block wouldn’t disclose sales projections or overall volume for the company. Industry sources estimate Tourneau’s sales at more than $200 million. Block declined to comment on the figure, but said: “We are about 25 percent ahead of last year. We anticipate the Vegas store to do twice the volume of the Time Machine in New York. The watch business is pretty strong. The weak dollar has Americans purchasing at home and not spending money overseas. Secondly, the luxury sector is very strong. There is money to be spent and they are spending.”

Early indications underscore Block’s claim. “The Forum Shops open at 10 a.m.,” he recalled of the first day the Las Vegas unit opened. “At 10, we opened the gates and people were already waiting. By 10:05, we had already sold two Fendi watches.”

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