An Unprecedented Situation And Opportunity For The Watch Industry No corner of society will remain untouched by the spread of Covid-19 by Rob NuddsMarch 25, 2020 MIN READAn Unprecedented Situation And Opportunity For The Watch Industry
We live in interesting times. How many times have you heard that over the last few weeks? If you’ve been under a rock/in Space/in a coma, I have some shocking news for you. The world (and watch industry) is being swept by a life-threatening pandemic. If you are crawling out from under you rock/acclimatizing to Earth’s gravity/in the process of making sense of your current surroundings, allow me to summarize: It’s bad.
Don’t worry. It gets better from here on in. I thought I’d get all the doom and gloom out of the way in the first paragraph. That doesn’t mean I’m going to shy away from confronting some very dark possibilities in this article, but I’m approaching the situation with a positivity born of curiosity. Yes, we are facing a terrible situation, but it is, for want of a more sensitive word, interesting.
Could I have lived my entire life without ever seeing a global pandemic and been happy? You bet. Would I wish this whole thing into oblivion if I could? Of course — too many real people are suffering because of it, losing loved ones, living in fear, surviving in pain. It’s awful. But it is happening. And so rather than drive myself (and you) crazy with the injustice of it all, I’d like to take a look at what it might mean for us going forward. And when I say us, I mean both the watch community and humanity in general. That’s not a sentence I thought I’d ever find myself writing in a professional capacity, at all…
Looking back on pre-Corona times, it’s easy to see how good we had it. It is easy to see how much we took for granted. It’s also almost comically easy to see how few people realized the outside world existed and that it’s always been open for exercise. If there is one immediate upshot to advised isolation, it’s that everyone suddenly wants to run a marathon.
But looking back, it is also obvious how powerful a hold the status quo had on us and the watch industry. For years, globally-recognized watch fairs (few more so than Baselworld) have been on life support. With more and more major brands and groups dropping out over the last couple of seasons, it was clear that something had to change. But the change never seemed likely to come from the fairs themselves. The changes made have amounted to little more than post hoc marketing spin. They figured out a way — however unsatisfactory — of communicating the “new” format to the industry. In the process, they just about justified their continued existence while ensuring the pockets of organizers remain lined.
A necessary evil
For brands that don’t have the backing of a group or the private funds to branch out on their own, Baselworld and the rest of the watch industry fairs seemed like a necessary evil. Year on year, brands would pour a significant portion of their annual budget into attending these fairs and making the best of it. You can bet that these brands asked themselves if they were doing the right thing on more than one occasion. Many a CEO experienced many a sleepless night every time the fair season rolled around. Brands don’t plump for the kind of investment we’re talking about here without a huge amount of consideration.
…a step into the unknown.
But the problem they all had is that to exit a global fair is to take a step into the unknown. If there is one thing that watch companies and/or their investors hate more than throwing good money after bad, it is throwing money at something that cannot be justified by existing ROI figures.
Getting a watch brand to take a flyer on a new way of doing things is like getting blood out of a stone. Every account manager wants to see evidence of prior success. It is, of course, a catch 22 situation. I’m sure any bright young spark with an idea of how a brand could better and more cost-effectively communicate its new wares to its key-audience is plagued by feverish recollections of what it was like to be a young, aspiring kid in this (or any) industry trying to get an opportunity to prove themselves without any experience to their name.
To get any job these days, you are asked for previous experience, which is impossible to come by if no one is willing to give you a shot in the first place. In this industry, nobody wants to be first. Ironically, that is exactly what every brand should be falling over themselves to be…
Coach Bill Belichick
I’m a fanatical sports fan. My favorite sport is football of the American variety. If you’ve never heard of Coach Bill Belichick I compel you to learn about this fascinating individual. I won’t bore you with his career stats here (buy me a pint if you’re struggling to sleep and I will send you off to the land of nod faster than you can say “New England Patriots”), but there is one thing Belichick lives by that ensures his teams are always hungry and fresh.
It regards his personnel decisions. Belichick believes it is always better to get out a year too early rather than a year too late — that is better to jettison a player that might have one or two good seasons left in them in favor of a new, albeit untested replacement that is at the other end of their career and still has a lot to prove.
A time for change
Very few brands accepted that this has been a time for change for quite a while. When Bremont shirked Baselworld in favor of its Basel-on-Thames event, eyebrows were raised. The storming success of that, however, saw most eyebrows resettle in their normal position soon after. And now, three years removed from that masterstroke, the decision looks even better. Why? Because not only did it show other independent brands how to create an on-brand event that generated far more unique clicks than its presence at Baselworld would have done, but it also established the brand as a leader.
…a standing start to global recognition in little over a decade…
Bremont has never been shy with the cash when it comes to marketing. It is — and I mean this in all seriousness — one of the best things about the brand. Remember, this is a brand that went from a standing start to global recognition in little over a decade (and not the easiest decade in which to have done it). Say what you like about the products themselves, but when it comes to getting the word out, more brands should follow the same strategy.
What does it mean?
So what does it mean for the future of Baselworld and other major industry fairs? Well, organizers should be quaking in their boots. Every year, brands suffering from Stockholm syndrome queued up outside the fairs and went through the motions. In the back of their minds there surely existed an alternative. Maybe several alternatives. But the fear of flying the nest was too great. It kept everyone in line. Now, at possibly the worst time possible, brands have been handed a carte blanche to do with as they will.
Baselworld would never have given the industry a year off had it not been forced to. It is too risky. It gives everyone a free opportunity to test the water. No brand risks losing out against their competitors that might have decided to stand pat and attend a major fair. Everyone gets the same chance. The question is, what will the brands do with it?
Hopefully, we see a lot of creativity in the watch industry. It is patently obvious that online media is more important than ever. With so many people quarantined or self-isolating, our computer screens have suddenly become windows to the wider world in a more literal sense than ever before. Now is a time to experiment. And rather than being cagey with the cash or concerned by “giving away” ideas to other brands, the industry should just try and have fun with it.
…embrace the change…
We should listen to youthful ideas that are unburdened by generations of tradition. We should embrace the change and do what we can to work together to continue the special relationships forged through our shared love as we move into a new era. And we should not ignore that this whole episode of human history is likely to leave us, and the world itself, very much changed.
Right now, envisaging the future seems tough. Most of us are getting through each day trying not to touch door handles and/or drown in hand-sanitizer. But the Coronavirus will eventually go away. Either a vaccine will be developed (preferable), we will develop herd immunity (also fine but a potentially long process), or there will be no more humans left to kill (only possible if the immune humans murder each other over waning supplies of toilet roll).
The world is (amazingly) starting to heal.
Regardless, this will end. What may also end is a way of life that seemed unchangeable before. How employers can continue to ignore the benefits of remote workers is beyond me. Streets are cleaner, quieter, and safer. There is less traffic on the road and less smog in the air. The world is (amazingly) starting to heal. People have more free time. Suddenly everyone is aware of their health. And all those empty office blocks? Well, with a lick of paint and a government-funded trip to IKEA we could solve the homeless problem pretty quickly.
Removing the daily commute really adds up in terms of free time. So much so, the idea of a four-day working week becomes more feasible than ever. Imagine it: Infrastructure less overwhelmed by bustling crowds, more time at home with loved ones, more free time to spend together, and more money being pumped into the economy by the time created to spend it.
Just like Baselworld and all the other fairs, this kind of social experiment would never have been handed to us. Too many rich and powerful people stand to lose money. Too many little people stand to benefit if some of these enforced changes stick. That’s not how the world has worked. Maybe it has a chance to now.
There are, of course, concerns attached to this rosy future I’m attempting to paint (hooray for optimism). The biggest watch-related worry for me is the future of brick-and-mortar retailers. Just like Baselworld, retailers have been experiencing a drop in traffic and a brutal drop off in sales. These days, people tend to use them as fitting rooms. They do the majority of their research online, head down to their local AD to try on the piece they’re considering, and then return home to buy it online at a discount.
It’s hard to prevent. Brands need to do more to protect their dealers. Because even though brands often treat retailers dismissively (embarrassingly so in my firsthand experience), the retailer provides a valuable step that the online process hasn’t yet been able to match.
They might even have — shock horror — the best products the industry has to offer.
You’re probably expecting me to drop the term “luxury experience” here. I won’t, because I don’t want you to hunt me down and bash in my skull with a Ploprof. No, aside from the champagne and comfy chairs, retailers provide trust. The importance of that cannot be overstated. Brands can have the slickest websites. They can have the sexiest ambassadors. They might even have — shock horror — the “best” products the industry has to offer. But very few people buy without a sense of trust in the brand. And that trust is never better cultivated than it is by a dedicated authorized dealer.
Rest assured, we’re not going anywhere. For us, the lucky ones, little has changed. Yes, we’re all suddenly hygiene experts. And yes, I didn’t realize my hands were supposed to be that color. But apart from that, it is business as usual (without the Airmiles, which makes for a nice change). We will be here, creating content for you to enjoy, talking with brands about the best way for the industry to navigate this crisis, and listening to any suggestions you, our audience, may have about what you’d like to see on the site (and from brands) going forward. This is definitely a distressing time in which to be alive. But it is also a time to reflect on just how good we’ve had it. We have a chance now, to work together for a better, more sustainable future. And, for once, I have faith that it’s a chance we’ll grab with both (thoroughly sanitized) hands.
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About the author
Rob’s first exposure to the watch industry was a part-time retail role for the Signet Group at the age of 17. An obsession with watches soon developed. Following an ill-advised BSc in Archaeological Science, he applied for sponsorship to undertake… read more
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