After nine months of closure, Patek Philippe’s Salon on London’s Bond Street reopened at the end of 2014 bigger and better than ever before. The Luxury Report spoke to Salon Director Ed Butland about a different approach to retail.
The reopening of Patek Philippe’s Bond Street boutique in December represented a long held dream of former brand president Philippe Stern, father of current president Thierry Stern.
The brand has been represented in London on Bond Street since the early 1980s with Watches of Switzerland but suffered, like many, from limited space.
“We were under the umbrella until November 2005,” explains Salon Director Ed Butland “when the MW Group were taken over by Aurum and Mr Stern took the opportunity to purchase the salon [15 New Bond St]. We were in a very small, confined space [85sq m] and we always knew we needed more space but, as anyone in the retail industry will tell you, finding new space on Bond Street is impossible.”
“Philippe Stern has always had a dream to have this location, for 25-30 years, and it was only in 2013 we were able to obtain the lease on this building, so we then had the opportunity to take 15 and 16 [Bond St] and join them together to have one unit and giving us 420sq m.”
The opportunity to secure the lease of 16 New Bond Street arose as Aurum Holdings-owned Watches of Switzerland looked to develop its ‘Landmark’ 155 Regent Street flagship store. It has previously been reported that Patek Philippe paid Aurum £10m to secure the lease, enabling it to join 15 and 16 New Bond Street and increase its footprint from 85sq m to 420sq m.
“Aurum Group had a magnificent opportunity to create landmark at 155 Regent Street. Obviously they wanted a Patek presence in there and they have a Patek retailer on Bond St, so it basically worked for everybody really, really well. We got the location we’ve always wanted.”
The design is a careful balance of light airy space, perfect for viewing watches and the privacy and security needed when dealing in small, high value items.
“A client’s first impression is the exterior of the building and the window displays that we present to them. Gone are the days – at least I hope so – of seeing hundreds of watches on a flat surface, we don’t put a lot of stock in the window. We want the client to be invited in, to sit down with us. They’re not obligated to buy something because they walk through the door; we’re here to assist them. I think that environment has been created where they can move around and feel free and happy and uninhibited.”
One aspect that visitors to the London Salon may or may not notice is the absence of any television or computer screens on the main floor, it has been Patek’s aim to slow down the pace of modern life when entering the Salon and create a more human relationship with prospective clients.
Butland explains: “In Geneva and Paris it’s not something we’ve really done; we use a lot of technology don’t get me wrong, but for me an experience is a human thing. It’s very easy to shop these days, you can’t buy a Patek Philippe on the internet through a registered agent. We designed the experience to be a comfortable one. Technology can be a wonderful thing but I don’t think there’s any substitute for physically handling, seeing and trying a piece on and within the salon we have the ability to do that.
“But our sales consultants are the ones we rely on to give the client the experience. Catalogues are beautiful things, we use them. iPads? Technology can often cause a barrier. It’s nice to have a conversation without clients without being interrupted.”
Downstairs at the Salon, Patek has created a fully equipped service centre with two watchmakers carrying out servicing up to Level Two, or on watches with manual mechanical movements and automatic mechanical movements with a date. Butland states that the Salon will be employing a third watchmaker, and most likely a fourth.
“Anything above that we currently use our UK workshop, where we have a lot more watchmakers trained at different levels. The volume of work is increasing and I think that’s testament to the way the sales consultants present customer service to clients, its testament to micro-sites on customer service, articles and editorials that inform that this isn’t something that’s wrong with the item, it’s just [servicing] like you would with a car, it’s in its best interest.
“I’m pleased to say that a lot of good watch companies are, like ourselves, focused on the fact that customer service is paramount to our business and the volume of work increasing as a result of that.”
While retailing at this level of luxury involves a great deal of thought and attention to detail, POS receipts might not immediately spring to mind as an element requiring much change to the established norm. Butland disagrees, to the point that the entire Salon team were sent on a calligraphy course to make sure their freehand was up to scratch.
He explains: “When you root around in the loft and find things or are left something by a relative, when you open that box and you find a receipt there’s so much history and information you may not have known about. A PDQ slip for me, in 60 or 70 years time when a grandchild opens that box, is not going to have the same romance that a traditional sales invoice would have.
“From a heritage point of view that information, and how it’s presented, gives the owner generations down the line something to treasure. When they open that box and they see that, in a traditional script with the date on there, exactly what was purchased and perhaps who the sales consult was and where their grandparents lived at that time. It’s just a beautiful thing and something we’ve always done in Geneva. All of the three salons have sent members of their team on a calligraphy course. So there is a big effort to make sure that when people receive that it is beautiful, it reflects the effort that went into the watch.”
A steady hand is needed for the task as any certificates that are spoiled through a mistake must be sent back to Geneva for presentation and destruction before a replacement can be created.
“You have to be a little careful. Of course it’s happened, we are human beings and we are not infallible. Whether it be the watchmaker, the administrator or me; nobody’s infallible, we all make the occasional mistake, but we endeavour not to.”
The two-floor Salon is now more than four times the size of its previous incarnation, but despite such colossal investment that doesn’t mean Patek Philippe intends to alter its retail strategy.
“Patek Philippe has always worked very closely with retailers in every country that we have a presence in because they know the market, they know the laws and rules and regulations, they know their client base, they know the culture. It makes it a very agreeable partnership because the client gets the best of the deal. Speaking to Thierry [Stern, Patek Philippe president] the other day, we have no plans to make more than three salons worldwide.”
Patek Philippe operates three Salons worldwide; the first on Geneva’s Rue du Rhone, the second on Paris’ Place Vendôme and the third on London’s Bond Street.
Butland, who began representing Patek Philippe as sales manager for the brand’s previous MW Group-operated boutique in Harrods in 2003, explains that, as well as the commercial and marketing roles of these boutiques, they also have a role in supporting Patek’s network of independent retailers, saying: “When Mark Hearn [UK managing director] puts on a function for his retailers, I attend. I meet them all in Basel, we have regular conversations. If they need help, if a client needs to view something which they don’t have in stock, they’re always welcome to bring their clients here, they come with them. It’s not in our interest for the salon to be vying for business with our own retail network. I know it happens in the industry as much as people deny it, it’s not something we will ever want to get involved in. Our retailers are hugely important to us and, as a Salon, it’s our job to support them because they’re all Patek Philippe clients. We are one company with a global client base.”
Butland believes that Patek’s close connection with its retailers is preserved by the commitment of the brand’s senior management and the Stern family itself.
“It’s definitely driven because it’s a family business and the family visit all of our retailers. Whether it’s Thierry Stern [president], Jerome Pernici [commercial and marketing director], Claude Peny [CEO] or Philippe Stern, all spend a lot of time with our retailers maintaining these relationships and supporting them. We had a financial crisis in 2008 and at the moment the Swiss Franc is doing some strange things. But we’ve been in business for 175 years and the Stern family has owned Patek since 1932, there have been ups and downs during that time; we know the most important thing to do is support our retailers, because they support us.”