Picture the scene: you are the owner of a handful of multibrand luxury watch and jewellery stores that have been closed since the last week of March. Some of your people have been made redundant, others have taken pay cuts or been furloughed; you are burning through cash with no certainty when you will be able to reopen and what level of business there will be when lock down is relaxed.
You do your best to stay engaged and active, so the reduced number of new watch launches keeps you interested and there are a number of fantastic collections you know your customers will like. If you could only find a way to sell them.
Many of this year’s launches have been open online to the public. Watchesandwonders.com, Breitling, Zenith and others have revealed collections to the world at the same time as retailers were seeing them.
And some brands say they are ready to supply the watches immediately; a departure from the normal practice of unveiling watches to the trade and press in Q1 and shipping them several months later.
Your customers are tuning into these watch launches online and through social media. They are chatting over Zoom and WhatsApp with their friends about the watches they love and intend to buy. This might not help you as a retailer just yet, but at least you feel there will be pent-up demand when you reopen.
But wait! The phone just rang and one of your regular customers is asking to buy a very expensive watch he has just seen launched online. It is not a boutique-only exclusive model and the brand has announced during its online press conference that the watch will be available to buy at authorised dealers immediately.
So you call your rep with the great news: “I have sold this incredible new watch and all I need is for you to get it to me,” you coo excitedly.
The response — and I assure you this is a genuine example from a retailer who insisted he would not be identified — was that the brand had received so many orders directly from customers that it would not allocate watches to its long standing and loyal authorised dealer until it had fulfilled orders accepted through its own website.
This is a brand that would not exist without the support of its authorised dealers, and it has taken the decision to rob those partners of sales at the very moment they need them most.
My blood boils at the outrageous unfairness and cruelty of this story. If I were that retailer, I would be down in my store with an axe turning this watch brand’s overpriced furniture into firewood.
I hope it is an isolated example from a rogue rep, but — knowing the brand in question — I fear it is common. If you have been similarly affected, I urge you to share your story because there are laws designed to protect businesses against this sort of abuse.
I thought we were all in this together. The world’s wealthiest watch brands think otherwise.