10 years ago Watchfinder dared to take pre-owned watch retail online and now it has opened its first bricks-and-mortar store, WF&CO. Kathryn Bishop meets store manager Simon Moody to talk business and brands.
By opening its first bricks-and-mortar store earlier this year, previously online-only pre-owned watch specialist Watchfinder did the opposite of the traditional retail process of adding online only after the high street.
But Watchfinder has always dared to try something new. The watch retailer was founded back in 2002 as an internet-based company, rising from the debris of the dotcom crash to prove that luxury watches could be traded through an online platform and, most importantly, that such a strategy could be lucrative.
It now has 30 members of staff based at its recently upgraded service centre and headquarters in Maidstone, an office in London’s Mayfair for private client consultations and now its first offline store within London’s Royal Exchange called WF&Co.
Figures show that Watchfinder has sold more than £79 million-worth of pre-owned watches since its inception, with an average of 12,000 visitors a day to its website. The stats for its online business are impressive, and it would seem that offline could yield similar successes with 15 watches sold in the opening week at WF&Co – not bad for a shop at which the average ticket price of a watch is £3,500.
The store itself, as you would imagine of a boutique in the plush Royal Exchange, is a luxury space designed to appeal to the type of high flying clientele who stop off at the indoor shopping arcade in the capital’s financial district to browse in neighbouring boutiques from the likes of Cartier, Boodles, Bulgari, Watches of Switzerland and Omega.
Winding through the window shoppers and the large cache of suited and booted types relaxing over a post-work cocktail, WatchPro makes its way to the WF&Co boutique where we are greeted by the store’s manager Simon Moody.
As a former Watches of Switzerland manager, Moody is a seasoned watch retailer and as such lends a steady hand to assist the first steps of a very modern company into to a very traditional world, and location.
WatchPro: The Royal Exchange is known for its luxury brand stores. How does a pre-owned watch company fit in?
Simon Moody: You only have to look at the clientele passing through here. From my experience within the watch industry, a lot of the guys that work in City do so because they like to trade and that also applies to their watches. Here in the middle of the City you’re a 15 minute ride from Canary Wharf, 15 minutes from the West End, London Bridge and Canon Street are also nearby, so we’re very lucky.
WP: Tell us about the store’s first week. How many watches went through the tills?
SM: About 15. With the WF&Co name [that the store is operating under], we’ve been mentioning to everyone that comes in that we’re part of Watchfinder and in that first week we didn’t have a single person who didn’t know what Watchfinder was, which was brilliant. For us it means they know the site, they view the site, use it for info, for pricing, for a guideline if they’re going to purchase a watch from eBay or something. We know it gives them a good idea [of the pre-owned market] and we know other people use us in the trade for guidelines on pricing.
WP: How does the price structure work?
SM: A lot of the pricing is done by the purchasing department. The final price is a lot about how much it takes to get the watch back into the selling condition we want the watch to be in. If we buy a watch for £1,000 but then £500 of after sales work is carried out, then you’ve got to build that in and it’s got to be reflected in the price. That’s why sometimes we have the same brand and model but they’re different prices.
WP: How are you marketing the store?
SM: Through magazines like Square Mile and through the trade, like yourselves. We also have our own personal contacts and clients, as well as watch collectors. We’re also going to do special events for people working in nearby banks and on trading floors such as masterclasses with our watchmakers from our Maidstone head office. You can go anywhere and see a selection of watches but [events] give everyone a better idea of what’s involved. The greatest accolade was that we did trade events at IJL and with the CMJ last year and people thought they were new, which was testament to the quality [of the watches].
WP: How often do new watches come on to the WF&Co shop floor?
SM: Daily. Every time something is ready from aftersales.
WP: Which is the most popular brand with pre-owned customers right now?
SM: Rolex is the most popular brand in terms of interest. We’d like to get more technical pieces in, again because of the store’s location and the educated clients [passing through]. IWC is an interesting brand. We’d also like to get some Audemars Piguet, some Hublot. Zenith now do some really interesting pieces – it is up and coming in the UK, still a little underrated, [the brand is] not yet recognised for what it does.
WP: Which brands are bestsellers at the WF&Co store?
SM: Here in the store it will be IWC when we get the full collection up here. Definitely Rolex, while TAG Heuer and Breitling are also close in partnership. Cartier because of the environment – men buying gifts for women.
WP: Is pre-owned led by trends?
SM: The watch industry is always changing. If you sat here seven or eight years ago and talked about Hublot, people said ‘who?’. There are always brands that go up and come down. Price changes can also affect us. If you spend £10,000 on a new watch on Saturday and on Monday its worth £9,000, it can be difficult as we have invested in these products and we might have to bite the bullet and lower our pre-owned prices, or ride it out.
WP: Is price the main driver of pre-owned?
SM: I’m not sure price is always the deciding factor. You can buy an identical watch two or three years older [than a new model] but it may be 50% cheaper, so more value for money. The Rolex Submariner is a prime example of something that has been updated with a ceramic bezel, hour markers in blue, but gents want a classic one and so many customer have a watch in their head and have to make a conscious decision when is the right time to by it. Is it a special year? There are a lot of collectors that know exactly what they’re looking for. You do get them asking you to keep an eye out for a particular model, to finish a series or if they are missing a colour of metal. Some people do [collect] them in sets. So there are a lot of reasons why people buy pre-owned. It’s not just price.
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of WatchPro. To read a digital version of the magazine in full online, click here.