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Tourneau, the 111-year-old specialty timepiece retailer, began to implement an overhaul of its image following the appointment of James Seuss as chief executive officer in March 2010. Last July, Tourneau opened a new concept store — a 3,135-square-foot flagship on Madison Avenue in New York that introduced the idea of “counterless” selling for its selection of watches from more than 40 brands that include Baume & Mercier, Rolex, Blancpain, Cartier, Chanel, Franck Muller, Harry Winston, Hublot, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin. And Seuss, whose résumé includes stints at Tiffany, Stella McCartney, Harry Winston and Cole Haan, has even more plans up his sleeve. Below, he details the retailer’s new concept, as well as plans to introduce a collection of entirely customizable timepieces.

This story first appeared in the November 7, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

WWD: You became ceo of Tourneau just over a year and a half ago and implemented a rebranding strategy. What has this entailed this far?
James Seuss:
It covered all of our consumer touch points, ranging from the in-store experience to the communications that our customer can reach through direct marketing. [This included] the rebranding of our logo to online and our new Web site. We have made it consistent and updated and modernized the look and feel of Tourneau both in-store and online. We have a new advertising campaign and the new store concept too.

WWD: Can you explain the new concept?
We hired Eight Inc., the company that has designed, most notably, the Apple stores; we wanted to present a new way to experience and purchase watches for the consumer, a new watch experience. For us, it’s important they discover new watches and new brands and do it in a way that feels modern, accessible and fun and in an interesting environment. It’s an interesting concept — it’s counterless selling, which means you don’t have a backside to the case. And through technology —we have iPads for the customers and video content in the store to display the brands’ messages. The brands have videos where you can learn about the watches and the new introductions, and we also have discovery walls in the back of the store to highlight special collections or new introductions.

WWD: Tourneau has its own collection of watches. What percentage of the business do they represent? Do you plan to grow this category?
We launched our new Tourneau watch collection, and that’s in all stores as of last month. It is a completely new look for Tourneau, as the watches are modern, sleek and customizable. I think that’s something a little unique in the watch world. They can be customized and you can have different combinations in the metals, case materials and the dial. We want to be able to eventually introduce a concept that the customer can design and build their own watches the way other brands have done this —like Nike ID — and you can pick the strap, dial and colors of the hands. We’re working on the rollout of that now, and we have about six or seven different combinations, but we’re working on more options so the consumer can customize further.


WWD: You’ve made it known that digital is a big priority for the brand. Can you detail future initiatives with respect to digital?
Our new Web site launched [the] last week [of October]. The purpose of the site is to allow our consumers to discover the vast world of watches. There are many different brands and many different styles and it should be seen as a place to discover and learn about watches, a comprehensive watch Web site. I can’t think of any that exist now.

It starts off with the history of time: You can learn about how time was kept originally, as well as the invention of the clock and that evolution into wristwatches. You can discover and compare different watches and brands, and you can also make a watch tray, so you can select pieces and move them into your tray. From there, you can send that tray to a friend [through e-mail] and begin a discussion about watches online. There are certain brands you can buy online (over 40 of them), so there’s a selling component too that’s an important part of the site.

A lot of people like to see the watch online [but actually purchase in-store], and you can send those three watches to any store and schedule an appointment to see those watches. If you’re looking at a $10,000 watch, you might not want to press the button to buy right away, but you can schedule an appointment to see the product. There are also some fun features under the “explore” section about some things relating to time, not just specific to watches.

WWD: You showcase and sell so many brands. How do you do this in a way that makes sense for each company?
We spend a lot of time getting the right mix of brands, so its important that we have a variety of price points and product for our consumer. We spend a lot of time really thinking about this, and once we agree on the right mix, we want to make sure the brand is representative. Tourneau stands for assortment, and we want to have the best assortment of anyone. We always have the latest and the hottest, new introductions and [even] the hard-to-get pieces. We make sure we have the best assortment and selection within the brand and then we let the brand express its personality. They spend a lot of money building their brand image and we want to echo that in a Tourneau context and make sure the expression for each speaks out. For example, we did the Rolex boutique on Madison Avenue, which allows for a large brand presence. [Oct. 28] we opened a Patek Phillipe boutique on the mezzanine of the Time Machine on 57th Street. We continue to invest in brand presence as well.

WWD: Have you seen any price resistance from customers due to the rise in gold prices and the strong Swiss franc?
Because of this, watch prices have continued to increase and we haven’t seen a lot of price resistance at the very high end. I think maybe at the entry-level price points — from about $1,000 to $5,000 — some of the Swiss watch prices [can affect the customer more]. [Especially] for the consumer that was willing to spend $2,000 and is now being asked to spend $2,500; they are more price sensitive. For them, if the price goes up 20 percent, this is a big deal to them. But for price points over $25,000 there hasn’t been any resistance.

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