In a world dominated by armed-to-the-teeth superpowers like Richemont, Swatch Group and Rolex, it pays to fight a guerrilla war on your own terms, which is precisely what BOMBERG founder and chairman Rick de la Croix is attempting. By focusing on fewer territories and a niche demographics, the unconventional brand is building a youthful and loyal customer base.
Rick de la Croix, founder and chairman of BOMBERG brings an Anglo-Swiss eye to the irreverent watch brand that has promised to stay off the beaten track of conventional watchmaking since it was launched with a bang at Baselworld in 2013.
Unconventional thinking on the design and architecture is carried through to BOMBERG’s striking marketing and brand building, where supermodels and mainstream influencers are eschewed for tattooed stars like the NBA’s Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen, the brand’s first ambassador, Nicky Jam, Claudia Gadelha, and Callum Smith.
Early and enduring success has been based on the disruptive 1968 collection and BOLT-68 family, both inspired by the year 1968, which the brand believes was one of the most significant years of the 20th Century in which Western society went through a seismic shift.
“Our watches and accessories are about attitude – a can-do, hands-on, risk-taking, life-loving attitude of grabbing onto experience and excitement every day. These watches are outsiders rebelling in the world of sameness, they’re timepieces that emanate the indispensable qualities of charisma, authenticity, and passion,” BOMBERG’s website promises.
A clearly defined type of customer has helped BOMBERG generate loyalty that proved crucial through the rollercoaster of 2020, and the business used the time to tighten its focus on ten markets where a combination of direct to consumer ecommerce and partnerships with a network of retailers generate brand awareness and sales.
It was not easy, Mr de la Croix admits, and the company had to adapt fast. “We have used the past six months to ensure our survival and make sure we can continue to service the ten markets where we are strong. We hope to grow in one or two additional markets, firstly through ecommerce. The UK is certainly a strong market for ecommerce, so we are looking at that with great interest,” he tells WatchPro.
Central America has become a stronghold territory for BOMBERG, but covid was particularly challenging in key countries like Mexico there. Travel retail, where the brand developed a concept of luxury consumption on cruise ships and in airports, is another key channel that has been severely disrupted. Its home country of Switzerland has proved resilient because of strong domestic demand rather than a reliance on tourists, and Eastern Europe has been comparatively strong.
“Switzerland for us has been a pleasant surprise,” says Mr de la Croix. “It was always dominated by the major Swiss groups monopolising retailers, so there has been an opening for us on ecommerce there that we have taken advantage of. Hopefully that will be the case in other European markets,” he adds.
Ramping up ecommerce and pressing forward in 10-12 markets improves margins, and allows the company to tailor its mix between wholesale and direct retail from country to country, but it is not without its challenges, Mr de la Croix admits.
“In the wholesale business where you are selling hundreds of watches per week, and you have to adapt to a model of shipping thousands of watches individually. That is a process we are working through today.”
Mr de la Croix shows his British heritage when describes his policy of avoiding comparison and direct competition with the most established watch businesses.
“My mum was English and I was educated in the UK and grew up there until my late teens. The UK is clearly a great market for watches right now. Ecommerce is very strong and customers are prepared to spend two to three thousand pounds online for watches. Our approach is that it is better to be a good team in the Championship than a bad team in the [top tier] Premier League. Rolex, Patek Philippe, Breitling, Cartier are in the Premier League. It is extremely hard for a [second tier] Championship brand like BOMBERG to break into that league. There are huge barriers to entry. As long as those leading brands continue to work through wholesale to their retailers, it will be very hard to break in,” he describes.
BOMBERG’S SIGNATURE BULLHEAD BOLT-68
The BOLT-68 collection from BOMBERG includes a very special edition inspired by Maya art. In a large format, this timepiece features icons typical of the colourful designs created by the Mayans who were builders, savants and artists. Masks representing deities, motifs with skulls or sacred ornaments are open to interpretation. This timepiece bears the BOMBERG signature bullhead at 12 o’clock: this arrangement optimises comfort as the push-buttons and the crown do not press against the wrist. It can also be converted into a pocket watch thanks to a medallion which is available as an alternative to the silicone strap.
The coming year will not be much easier than 2020, Mr de la Croix predicts, because agents, distributors and retailers will want to focus on banker brands rather than taking risks on challengers like BOMBERG.
The strategy is to gain momentum and customers through ecommerce and digital marketing that will make partnerships more attractive to stores.
“What we have seen in 2020 with our ecommerce is that it is easier for us to build awareness and sales that way. I am a firm believer in brick and mortar retail and I hope there will continue to be jewelers and watch stores, but they are going to have to evolve and bring new experiences. Rox [in Scotland] is a great example of a retailer that has created fantastic experiences with their lounges,” he says.
Ultimately, BOMBERG aims to be seen not so much as a watch brand, but as an “accessory to the personality of the consumer,” Mr de la Croix says. “We are more about the quality and design of our products and identifying with particular communities that are not normally rich with traditional watch collectors,” he adds.
“For jewelers, wholesalers, distributors, online retailers, etc, you need emotion, and that is something that society in general needs a lot of to get over what we are dealing with,” he concludes.