We’ve been counting down the weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds and finally the inaugural London Watch Show is but a stone’s throw away. On July 2 and 3 retailers, brands, watchmakers and journalists will converge at Freemasons’ Hall for the UK’s first watch-only trade show, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
For a start, watches have never been more important to retailers. “As with most retailing we are led by consumer demand, and the demand for watches – and in fact brands in general– has increased considerably over recent years, and so watches form an important part in offering our customers what they want,” says Beaverbrooks chairman Mark Adlestone. “The shift towards the increased desire for watches and brands has enabled us to grow our business during a time of difficult trading in own-brand product. Watches also play an important part in positioning jewellers within the market.”
However, the statistics show that selling watches is anything but plain sailing. Stores not only need to ensure that they have the right watch brands in their business but also that they are getting the support from the brands and watchmakers that they stock.
Figures from retail analyst GfK found that the value of the UK watch market has grown by more than £65 million when comparing sales in 2010 to 2012, but sales have started to slow with an increase of only £9 million in 2012 on 2011.
During this three-year period sales have declined each year and are now 1.4 million units less in 2012 than in 2010.
Key performing price points in 2012 were the middle market, £200 to £400 and over £5,000. These two price points have seen volume and value increases over the past two years and now combine to contribute 40% of the total market value, indicating that people are willing to trade up when they purchase but perhaps purchase less often as a result of spending more. This was also supported by figures released in April by The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, which revealed that demand for Swiss watches in the UK jumped 48.2% with watches at higher price points continuing to exhibit strong export values.
The indications are that watches are helping retailers through rough economic times, but that retailers need to make savvy decisions about the watch brands they stock. As such, industry insiders are adamant that support and the opportunity to network and assess what is available in the market has never been more called for.
There has been a glaring gap in the watch world’s calendar for some time now. While BaselWorld has the international, high-end watch exhibition scene covered and later in the year Salon QP provides UK consumers and watch enthusiasts with the opportunity to marvel at the latest horological triumphs, a dedicated UK watch fair for the trade has been distinctly absent. It is an omission that has not gone unnoticed by watch retailers and one that WatchPro and the London Watch Show hope to remedy.
“The UK is spoilt for choice when it comes to gift and jewellery trade shows, but for some reason everyone’s tiptoed around the idea of hosting a proper trade exhibition dedicated purely to the UK watch industry,” says Daniel Malins, commercial manager for WatchPro and event director for London Watch Show.
“I think that retailers – both multiples and independents – will love the chance to attend an event in London where they can either have a second and more detailed look at some of the big brands they saw in Basel, or see a lot of these brands for the first time. And to be able to do this at a fraction of the cost compared with attending Basel is a very appealing prospect.
“Our intention is to put on a real spectacle for the UK watch community for two days in the summer. Visitors will not only get the opportunity to meet all the watch brands exhibiting at the London Watch Show, but there will also be a unique and diverse seminar programme taking place simultaneously. Throw in the inaugural WatchPro Hot 100 party, which will bring all the leading lights in the watch industry together on the first night of the London Watch Show, and you’ve got yourself a two-day carnival of watches for the trade.”
The option of travelling to an international watch fair is not always viable for retailers who would have to take time out of a busy working week, and it is often simply too costly while times are tough. This makes it hard for them to attend international fairs, even though for those retailers that sell a combination of watches and jewellery, watches tend to make up the larger percentage of the business’s turnover.
For other retailers, the opportunity to attend a UK trade watch fair represents the chance to be able to support the watch industry and to reassert the importance of the UK within the larger, international watch world.
“We will be attending the London Watch Show and are very much looking forward to it,” says Alex Rose, managing director of retailer Beards in Cheltenham. “A trade show is vitally important for UK retailers as it reasserts that the UK is as crucial to the watch market for UK and overseas clients as Switzerland is. Just because watches are made in Switzerland, it doesn’t make it the best place to buy them.”
For those who do make it out to international fairs, their limited time is often completely monopolised by pre-booked back-to-back appointments, often with brands the retailer already stocks. Noel Coyle, chief executive of Anthony Nicholas Group, which owns multiple retail chains Fraser Hart and Fields, says that at BaselWorld there are often limitations on how much retailers can do. “From our perspective, when we go to Basel we tend to focus on the key brands that we deal with all the time and the ones that we trade with most of the time and it doesn’t leave enough time to look at newness or something that might be different or might be a little more edgy,” he says. “A show like this might provide that opportunity. A show like this that’s more focused and maybe more niche could perhaps provide a different time frame, just to assess the potential of a brand. I think it could work on a couple of levels. Firstly, for people who don’t get to Basel and secondly those that do but are focused on the stronger or higher-end brands. It will be interesting to see what the show turns out to be.”
The opportunity to meet with brands and individuals from the watch industry who aren’t able to shout as loudly as others is also a reason why Craig Rebuck, managing director of retailer WatchWarehouse will be attending. “Because watches are the key component of our business it is important to be open to new opportunities that we don’t always get to see,” he says. “Smaller or niche manufactures have an opportunity to grab our attention and explain why we should work together.”
Burrowes has specific ideas about what he wants to see at the UK-based event. “[I would like to see] open-minded dialogue recognising that retailer and brand are a partnership to the consumer and acknowledging each other’s skill sets for the common goal of sales.”
Tom Milner of Leamington Spa retailer Tustains believes the London Watch Show will be a relaxed environment for the watch industry to meet within the UK on a yearly basis. “Our brands won’t be represented at the show, but as I am involved in the watch industry, of course I am interested in a watch trade show in the UK, especially when it is new,” he says. “There’s no good reason not to go. All information is good.”
Among the many considerations when creating an industry and UK first was finding the right environment. While easy transport connections were a priority so too was finding somewhere stylish enough to do the brands and timepieces justice. Freemasons’ Hall at 60 Great Queen Street in Holborn provides the ideal proposition in terms of location, setting and comes seeped in history.
The headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England and the principal meeting place for Masonic Lodges in London, The Grand Lodge has been in Great Queen Street since 1775 and the present Hall is the third building on the site. The current building was constructed between 1927 and 1932 as a memorial to the Freemasons who died in the World War I. A beautiful Art Deco building, the Freemasons’ Hall is Grade II listed internally and externally and will be an apt environment for the watch brands and watchmakers, whether established, starting up or looking to gain traction in the UK to present their collections to the gathered press and retail audience.
The location ensures any and every kind of amenity is at hand, including some fantastic hotels and eateries. Under the one stunning Art Deco roof, retailers will be able to not only see some special timepieces but also meet with key industry individuals, something that Kyron Keogh, managing director of Scottish retailer Rox, believes is vital. He says: “In attending the London Watch Show we can get a true feel for the brand and the timepiece, which is unique and is something more in-depth than looking at a product online. The London Watch Show will allow us the valuable opportunity to meet face to face and build on those very important relationships.”
Bringing retailers and other key watch personnel from the UK watch industry together in a social setting will be another exciting first. The presentation of the glossy WatchPro Hot 100 book and a first look at those who made it into this prestigious list of the British watch industry’s business leaders will take place at an invite-only party on the evening of the first day of the show.
The London Watch Show marks a number of exciting firsts. As the first dedicated watch-only trade show in the UK, the two-day event promises to offer its retailer and journalist visitors the chance to see a range of new watches from both established companies and newcomers, while also networking with the great and the good of the UK watch industry who are dynamically driving it forward. Make sure it’s penned into your diary.
To register for the London Watch Show, click here.