The London Watch Show, which opens its doors on Sunday, is, by a considerable margin, the largest business-to-business exhibition for the watch industry, and the only exhibition dedicated solely to watches in the UK.
In the course of selling and promoting the London Watch Show, we are constantly challenged to explain the importance of the exhibition, and why it is needed by watch brands and retailers in the UK. After all, we are reminded, the industry rubbed along OK before the London Watch Show was launched in 2013.
My answer is that the global watch industry is evolving at breakneck speed – driven by changes in consumer behaviour that could not have been imagined five years ago.
The most significant is the inexorable rise in the power of web sites and other digital platforms to influence consumer purchases. Some watches are bought and paid for immediately on e-commerce sites, others are researched and compared online before customers head to their favourite shops to make the purchase.
Ten years ago, the only shop space that promoted and sold watches was in stores. You could measure it down to square feet if you took the trouble to add up the space up and down the country.
Today, the retail space devoted to watches is infinite. There is no limit to the number of watch brands that can be promoted on an e-commerce store. No limit to the size of the collections. No need even to devote warehouse space to stocking the watches.
Amazon, John Lewis, Debenhams, Asos, Ernest Jones, Watch Hut, Watch Gallery, Watch Warehouse, Dezeen Watch Store and myriad others can now offer hundreds of brands to customers that until recently could choose from dozens.
The barriers to entry for international watch brands are being eroded – they are not collapsing, and the UK’s biggest brands remain formidable operators – but unlimited shelf space has created room for small to medium-sized brands to stake a claim in the UK market.
The line up of brands at the London Watch Show reflects this changing world. Some of the UK’s biggest brands – Casio, Bulova, Festina and ToyWatch are there to ensure they remain uppermost in the minds of the retailers that already stock them. Fast-growing brands like Elliott Brown, Kennett and Jorg Gray are hoping to accelerate their growth by reaching out to new retailers.
A great many exhibitors are almost brand new to the UK. They are using the London Watch Show as a gateway event to speak to agents and distributors, to catch the eye of consumer watch journalists that are attending the exhibition, and to plant a flag in the map and tell future associates that they are ready to do business here.
So, the simple answer to the London Watch Show matters is that the UK industry needs a meeting place where new brands can break through and established brands can defend their turf. There is no shortage of retailers looking for exciting and innovative new watches, and no shortage of international brands hungry to supply them.
In just its second year, the growth of the London Watch Show is proof enough that the industry agrees. With 50 watch brands exhibiting, and over 1000 business professionals expected to attend, the London Watch Show is fast establishing itself as an unmissable opportunity in the international watch world’s calendar.
Rob Corder, editorial director, ITP Promedia