Children’s watches might not be on every retailers’ shopping list, but they are a boom area – especially character watches. Kathryn Bishop takes a closer look at the market and growth opportunities in the UK.
When it comes to children’s watches, there appears to be three golden rules of design: colour, character and functionality.
This trinity of time telling is something that has helped to make the children’s watch sector a £10.9 million market in the UK last year, according to retail analyst GfK; a figure that will no doubt give the watch retailers yet to build a serious kids’ offer food for thought.
And for retailers already tapped into the children’s market, there is good news. According to data from GfK, 906,000 children’s watches were sold in the UK in 2012. While unit sales of children’s watches fell 5% in 2012 compared to 2011, sales remained notably robust in comparison to an overall watch market decline of 9.4% in the same period.
At retailer The Watch Hut, children’s watch sales have shown an uplift, particularly during the gifting season. “From around 0.5% of our daily sales in January  being children’s watches rising to around 2% during the Christmas period, there has been a slow and relatively small growth, but this could be down to our increasing range,” explains The Watch Hut’s Chris Derrer. “This year does seem to have been the first year that watches have become popular presents for children.”
David Stokes, head of UK sales at Condor Group, maker of the Cannibal children’s watch line, agrees. “We have certainly noticed an upswing in sales of children’s watches and I’d say that watches and jewellery are generally becoming a bigger part of children’s gifting,” he explains. “This is true of both the UK and overseas markets. That inevitably means there will be more focus on this consumer demographic from industry suppliers, leading to further investment in new product development.”
The Next Big Things
But what exactly do children want from their watch? Evidently it is an area of the market where evolution is appropriately constant, to ensure that children’s timepieces are innovative and captivating, and to make them the most desirable they can be.
Peter Ashfield, business development manager at watch manufacturer and distributor Peers Hardy, says that more so today, children know exactly what they want on their wrist. “Children are definitely becoming more brand savvy and wish to emulate the latest trends in the market,” he says. “Ice-Watch will be embracing this demand by introducing Ice-Mini later this year [while] brands such as Hello Kitty also have a strong following across several age ranges, and so designs in 2013 will be in keeping with the latest high street trends.”
For children in the younger age bracket of about five to eight years old, character watches remain the boom area, a sector that is also shaped by constant reinvention as new characters become hot property and others cool off.
Indeed, as figures from GfK show, character watches are a must-have. Jonathan Hedges, global product manager for watches at GfK, explains: “The character license market [is] based on watches branded to match children’s favourite TV and book characters. Sales of these types of watches have grown by 29% in volume and 42% in value over the past 12 months.”
While growth has been modest, The Watch Hut is increasing its children’s watch offer. “Moshi Monsters look to be one of the trends for the start of the year, but whatever the next big thing for kids is we expect that to take over in the popularity stakes,” says Derrer, commenting on the fickle nature of what is hot in the children’s licensed goods market.
At Zeon, its licensed range of character watches totals more than 20 lines, mostly based on characters from children’s TV shows, films and books such as Star Wars, Octonauts, Doctor Who, Peppa Pig and Ben 10.
Zeon character watch designer James Robinson-Todd talks through its current kids’ developments: “We have moulded interchangeable characters on the watch face, or the watch may project the time, have flashing lights or play sounds.”
Children’s watches should also be able to withstand wear and tear, something that Lorus senior brand manager Graham Turner says will become more apparent in children’s watches in 2013. “Watches need to be tougher, to cope with more active lifestyles,” he offers. “Water resistance is becoming essential as well as illuminated dials.”
Peers Hardy licenses several character timepieces, including Mr Men – a recent acquisition – and the aforementioned Moshi Monsters range. It has noticed a rise in bold timepiece design. “3D dial and strap detail has become increasingly popular and so we will be including this in several of our designs for 2013,” explains Ashfield.
Such 3D dial and strap details can include dials that open up to reveal a digital time display, or bright coloured silicon watches that feature pop-out silicon charms that can be attached to the strap, allowing children to get creative with their watch and design it in their own way. The charms are also available to buy separately for just a few pounds.
Trends for Tweens
For children aged between eight and their early teens, a watch will rarely involve telling the time with the help of Cinderella or Thomas the Tank Engine. Instead so-called tweenage watches are designed for a more fashion conscious set of watch wearers.
Stokes talks through the kind of watch that older children are shopping for. “If Cannibal sales are anything to go by its all about colour, functionality and fashion, at great value for money,” he says. “In our teens range we have some really funky designs with neon clock faces, and other designs that have pretty embellishments. Girls are keen to be fashionable and will look to teen magazines and their favourite pop and TV stars for inspiration [while] with older boys it’s more about being cool and sporty with as much technical functionality as possible. Bright colours are very appealing to girls.”
Bright and daring use of colour is certainly the look of choice for many children’s watch manufacturers. As already noted by Ashfield, Peers Hardy is set to introduce the Ice-Mini range of colourful children’s watches later this year, based on the bestselling Ice-Watch design.
Derrer meanwhile forecasts that timepieces that bridge the gap between children and adult watches will to be big for 2013. “Bright and colourful lightweight pieces at low price points,” Derrer clarifies. “Brands like Casio and Sekonda can easily be branded as teen watches [and] with children seemingly growing up faster and faster these days, some brands may need to introduce more mature designs as well as the youthful ones.”
While Zeon head of character licensing Robert Hughes says older children and teens might look more to their phone as a time-telling device, Robin Kamal, co-director of retailer The Watch Hub, points out that this older age group is an area ripe for opportunity. “In my view the opportunity is with kids aged nine to 12, and the 13-plus market,” he states. “The choice used to be kids watches or basic small adult watches; kids watches tended to be babyish and brands such as Timex, Sekonda and Casio were chosen [by parents] on price rather than style.”
Tuner at Lorus also recognises the potential of the tween bracket and concurs with Kamal that opportunities exist to develop watches to fit this demographic, to increase the chances of them buying back into the brand as they grow up and look for an adult timepiece. “There are definitely opportunities to grow the children’s sector, specifically in the nine to 16 age group,” he muses. “This would be through a widening of product offerings to pick up on trends, colours or styles. We hope that they will take the brand with them when they move onto a grown up Lorus.”
Appealing to Parents
Indeed, it is not just about enticing children and teens with bright colours or cool styling. Just as much of the design should take into account the parents or gift buyers who will be making the purchase.
For Hughes, price has become an ever important factor in the purchasing of children’s watches. “[There will be an] increased emphasis on value for money in 2013 as parents are less frivolous with their spending,” he explains.
GfK’s Hedges notes the average selling price of children’s watches has remained steady. “Children’s watches have an average price of £12, which has not changed over the past 24 months,” he says.
The main appeal of children’s watches will always go back to design, however, and Kamal highlights Ice-Watch as a particularly savvy brand, for tapping into a younger market with a watch style and brand name already well known by adults. “Ice-Watch has exploited this perfectly with its fashionable colours,” he says. “It opened up opportunities by making the same watch in different sizes suitable for small children to adults. They are seen as grown up and trendy watches by children and fun watches by adults.”
Ashfield concurs: “The key thing for Peers Hardy is to remember that just because we are designing a watch for a child at an entry-level price point, there is no excuse for lazy design – kids’ and adults’ watches now [require] fashion-forward thinking and product development.”
A Place for Kids in Jewellery Stores
While some retailers have picked up on children’s watches, stocking them perennially or at boom times of year such as the Christmas or back-to-school season, retailers that might not have considered kids’ watches before are being encouraged to look again at this sector.
Ashfield recalls one retailer’s particularly funny comment when asked why they did not want children’s watches to be part of their offer. “[They said] they didn’t need to offer kids watches as they didn’t have many children come in to their store,” he laughs, but adds that retailers’ opinions of children’s watches are starting to evolve. “We appreciate that for a lot of retailers kids’ watches have often been an afterthought low down on their priority list, however the more strategic accounts have already begun embracing kids’ watches on a larger scale.”
Despite this turning tide, Ashfield does not expect that retailers will want to pump a lot of investment into children’s watches, or spend a great deal of time seeking them out, which is why distributors such as Peers Hardy and Zeon are forging themselves as one-stop shops for children’s watches.
And of course, there is the risk of the fickle nature of children and trends. One season a watch might be the must-have – an item that children beg their parents for – only to be later cast off their wrist onto the bedroom floor, superseded by the next cool design. “Crazes dictate children’s fashion so although some brands will enjoy a strong few months, they will almost definitely see a large slump once the next craze comes along,” warns Derrer. “As a market in general though, from a retailer’s point of view, clever marketing can ensure that piggybacking on these crazes [wins] a decent share of the market.”
But where there is an offer, there is always business, and Turner remains confident that retailers can enjoy success from stocking children’s timepieces in their stores. “Those that don’t make a consistent effort with children’s watches are missing out on the business uplift that can be made from these watches,” he states. “It is not that retailers need educating, they have to balance the demands of their business and select the brands that will suit their demographic best of all, but [I believe] there is scope for growth in all areas of the watch business, not just kids’ watches.”
So whether you are yet to play with children’s watches, or are unsure about how to further develop your offer, bear in mind that the product on offer evolves quickly and that the market is still growing. But most of all, have fun with it.
This feature was taken from the February issue of WatchPro. To read the digital issue online, click here.