In a shaky and unpredictable retail climate, expansion is somewhat of a rarity – but for Watches of Switzerland, a retailer of luxury Swiss timepieces with a long-standing history in the U.K., sights are set on swiftly growing its business throughout the U.S. and strategically shifting the paradigm of traditional luxury sales.
After over 90 years of becoming one of the leading luxury watch retailer in the U.K., Watchesof Switzerland ventured into the U.S. market in 2018 – flash forward two years, four boutiques and five mono-brand showrooms, and the brand is poised for exponential nationwide growth.
For its mono-brand retail expansion, Watches of Switzerland plans to open eight boutiques in partnership with luxury timepiece brands TAG Heuer, Breitling, and Omega, across five key U.S. markets. The brand will oversee the day-to-day operations and management of each boutique.
Brian Duffy, chief executive officer of Watches of Switzerland Group, told WWD, “In two short years, we have been able to successfully open four Watches of Switzerland showrooms, and by year-end, we will have 13 mono-brand stores in partnership with some of our most acclaimed brand partners. After extensive research and best practices developed in the U.K., we were able to confidently enter the U.S. market and prove our expertise and understanding of consumer behaviors, trends, and retail on both a global and regional level.”
Its foray into the U.S. market began with the opening of its SoHo flagship, and its approach to growth has been focused on creating a convivial, accessible space designed for the full spectrum of shoppers. “Watches of Switzerland has aimed to change the landscape of luxury retail not only through its unparalleled offering of leading timepieces, but through the creation of an open space approachable for first-time shoppers and collectors alike,” Duffy said.
Watches of Switzerland owns and operates 135 core brick-and-mortar stores across the U.K. and U.S., inclusive of 22 mono-brand stores in partnership with Rolex, TAG Heuer, Omega and Breitling, in addition to its e-commerce platform.
Its mono-brand retail expansion will begin on the east coast, and includes the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, New York, the King of Prussia mall in Pa. for TAG Heuer and Breitling; and the Palm Beach Gardens mall, Fla. for TAG Heuer and Omega; and the Valley Fair mall in San Jose, Calif. and Green Hills mall in Nashville, Tenn., for Breitling.
Duffy explained that its key partnerships and powerful platform are foundational to its differentiation in the market and overall success in the U.S. “Through exclusive product offerings by leveraging long-term partnerships with the top Swiss watch brands, highly trained personnel and innovative and unexpected partnerships, Watches of Switzerland has created an unmatched shopping experience and welcoming environment in direct juxtaposition to the austere atmosphere often associated with luxury retail.”
And positioning itself as a platform for its partners to leverage has made it a brand favorite. An example of this is its partners’ opportunity to create exclusive co-branded timepieces, alongside co-branded retail experiences – such as its recent “Nature of Time” collaborative pop-up partnership with Grand Seiko.
David Hurley, executive vice president of Watches of Switzerland, told WWD, “Watches of Switzerland’s ability to offer brands its expertise and unmatched platforms makes it an ideal partner. For example, this year, Grand Seiko and Watches of Switzerland opened their Nature of Time showroom in New York City in unison with the launch of their co-designed and exclusive timepiece, Toge Special Edition.” Due to the success of Nature of Time, its run has been extended to the end of the year, the company said.
Its unique approach is a win-win for both brands and shoppers, as the mono-brand model allows partners to tap into its rich expertise in creating engaging, customized retail environments, activations and bespoke marketing programs.
Hurley emphasized that its partnership strategy offers alluring resources and opportunities designed to meet – and perhaps exceed – the needs of modern luxury timepiece brands. “With Watches of Switzerland’s proven success with the mono-brand model in the U.K. as well as the U.S., top Swiss watch brands look to tap into our retail expertise as they look to expand their brand in new markets.”
“While these brands are able to produce the finest timepieces available on the market, many are not able to execute retail operations at the level Watches of Switzerland is able to. In turn, these partnerships allow Watches of Switzerland to operate and manage single-brand boutiques on behalf of some of its top partners, such as TAG Heuer, Omega, Breitling, Rolex and Audemars Piguet. In partnership with the brands, Watches of Switzerland is able to bring to life the brand’s distinct codes and stories through engaging and immersive retail environments, customized marketing efforts and experiential activations.”
But Watches of Switzerland takes a step beyond timepiece partnerships and extends into commercial dealings, too.
Hurley told WWD, “Whether it be partnering with Death & Co., one of New York City’s most influential cocktail lounges, on creating a speakeasy-inspired cocktail bar in the basement ofits SoHo flagship, or an unexpected partnership with leading streetwear authority, Stadium Goods, which involved showcasing an exhibition of pairing rare timepieces with equally sought-after sneakers, or an alignment with the contemporary art world through ongoing partnerships with artists and organizations like Aperture, Marco Brambilla, and Olivia Steele – Watches of Switzerland has committed itself to creating a shopping experience clients will find nowhere else.”
And since experience is everything in retail, Watches of Switzerland is pioneering the idea of“inclusive luxury” throughout its brick-and-mortar operations, which, in the past, was more ofan oxymoron. Watches of Switzerland’s idea of modern luxury emits an aura of inclusivity that seeks to unite both aspirational and traditional luxury shoppers under one warm, welcoming roof.
Hurley told WWD, “We have taken a unique approach to all facets of our company to ensure we are creating an empowering environment that allows our clients to feel as comfortable as they can be. We are constantly evolving with the remaining goal of offering our clients an unmatched experience they can’t find anywhere else. We look at this on a Group level, but also on a store level – each store with an environment unique and intriguing to its consumer base.”
That diversified customer base also includes the vintage market, as the brand acquired Analog Shift, a pre-owned watch company, in September this year after a successful collaboration within its SoHo flagship, enabling shoppers to access a fully operational vintage wing of its business.
“The Analog Shift acquisition is another great example of Watches of Switzerland’s ability to meet consumer’s changing needs and behaviors,” Hurley said. “Noticing the significant unmet demand for certain timepieces spilling into the pre-owned and vintage market, Watches ofSwitzerland acquired Analog Shift, a long-trusted player in the vintage market, to now operate as our in-house vintage and pre-owned wing – allowing us to offer trade-in programs, and unprecedented access to pre-owned and vintage timepieces.”
And continuing to evolve, while satiating its customer, is the path forward for the brand, which takes form in its nimble ability to adapt to change, and advance. In recent months, Watches of Switzerland has expanded its e-commerce offering: In an effort to develop beyond brick and mortar, Watches of Switzerland has made strides towards becoming an omnichannel entity – and that means pushing the envelope for integrated client experiences, customized in-store activations, atypical online/e-commerce offerings, and robust social media engagement.