Welcome to the aftersales revolution


By Rachael Taylor & Kathryn Bishop

Aftersales services have long been hidden in the workshop but as mechanical watches gain popularity, brands and retailers are striving to educate shoppers about servicing, as well as using it to get them across the threshold more regularly. WatchPro reports.

The watch industry is famed for the razzle dazzle it builds around brands to drive sales, but what happens after the deal is done and the watch is strapped on? That’s only the beginning of the relationship, and an increasing number of brands and retailers are bringing servicing and aftersales initiatives out of the shadows and into the limelight.


To date watch repairing and servicing has been a skill practiced behind closed doors, and certainly not something to be brought up at the point of sale. But it would seem that these attitudes are shifting as leading watch brands bring servicing to the fore of their PR strategies and retailers bring aftersales into the sales pitch.

But just how educated are consumers about the care and attention that watches need? Those within the watch industry will often liken watches – in terms of best practice – to the car business, and again this is a model that suits for aftersales.

A car owner will regularly service their car and expect that there will be times when break pads need replacing or tyres need pumping up. With watches, the level of knowledge and acceptance is not the same and after saving up for the watch of their dreams some shoppers are less than happy to discover that it might well carry costly servicing needs.

Retailers are working hard to change this attitude, and many are using the car analogy to help customers to grasp the need for regular servicing of mechanical watches.

“The best analogy for a watch service that we use in store is that a watch has as many, if not more, working components than a car,” says Scott Donovan, store manager at Charles Fish’s Canary Wharf branch in London, which has recently held pop-up shops for Zenith and Bell & Ross. “You [might] drive a car for a maximum of two or three hours per day most days and you are happy to service that car annually. However a watch is on the go every second of every day all year round so servicing it at regular intervals of maybe three years is actually very good value for money.”

Donovan says that because of this education process the majority of its customers are aware that watches need to be serviced, although some do wait until there is a specific problem rather than coming in for regular check ups. “We always advise our customers of service intervals at the point of purchase and also when they bring a watch in for straps or any general question,” he adds.

It is not just retailers pushing up the knowledge of watch servicing; watch brands and watch repair workshops are getting involved too.

Patek Philippe has ventured into digital advertising to promote its servicing offer, teaming with creative agency Leagas Delany and media agency Initiative Media to launch its ‘Service’ campaign that encourages owners to have their watch professionally maintained at an authorised service centre, which in the UK includes Hettich Jewellers in the Channel Islands, the Patek Philippe boutique in London and Rhone Products, its UK distributor.

The watch brand has created a video that charts the progress of one of its watches through the servicing process, documenting how long each stage takes – six to 12 weeks for a servicing, 45 minutes for initial case cleaning, 90 minutes to dismantle the watch, up to 20 hours to reassemble the movement, and so on.

The concept of the video is not only to educate its customers about why servicing is necessary, but also to convey the amount of work that goes into servicing a Patek Philippe watch in the hope that this will help them to understand why the process takes so long and why it costs so much – servicing costs are elastic governed by each watch but can run into hundreds, with the average price for a basic service on a chronograph about £740.

“For Patek Philippe customer service there is different missions,” says Patek Philippe customer service director Laurent Cantin. “The first is to ensure the customer is able to give their watches to the next generation and in order to have this commitment we have to have a very strong customer service, not only in Geneva but around the world.”

Patek Philippe has 57 service centres around the world, employing 200 approved watchmakers, and recommends that its customers get their watch serviced every three years for grand complications and non-waterproof timepieces, or every five years for simpler movements. A key concern for the brand is that local servicing if its watches is done to the same level as it would be at its Swiss HQ.

“We are investing a lot of energy to be sure that those [external] service centres respect the guidelines and the recommendations, to make sure that the watchmaker has been trained by Patek Philippe,” says Cantin. “We ensure that within our network you are going to have the right watchmaking, tools and procedures to make sure that the quality will be respected.”

Jon Vincent, an independent watch repairs workshop based in Hamilton, Scotland, is also bringing what it does within its workshops out into the open through a series of educational videos. The company is a fellow of the British Horological Institute and an authorised service and repair centre for a number of brands including Junghans, Edox, Alpina and Welder, and its six fully trained watchmakers work with 1,500 retailers including Goldsmiths, Harrods and Beaverbrooks.

Tom McCulloch, marketing manager at Jon Vincent, says that there is a need for consumer education in the watch servicing business as many people still expect a watch to last forever without the need for due care and attention.

“A guy came to us with a Junghans watch from eight years ago and the component was burnt out,” recalls McCulloch. “He said ‘I paid £300 for this watch, it should last for more than eight years’ and his expectation was that because it is German made it should last forever. I always say to them to pretend it’s a car. If you had a quality car how many times would you service it?

Think about the mechanical moving parts and how they are under strain. It’s very similar. You wouldn’t go a year without servicing your car, not you have to service a watch every year, we recommend every five years, but what I’m saying is that if you don’t look after your watch then you know what to expect.”

The first Jon Vincent watch servicing video is now live on YouTube, starring McCulloch who takes viewers through an example of a watch repair that it carried out for a Mrs McGlumphiits who had inherited a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date-Just with diamond hour markers from her father and wanted to give it to her son for his 21st birthday. The problem McGlumphiits had was that the watch had been dropped and the case smashed and her son’s birthday was just four weeks away.

After approaching Rolex and other watch repair workshops she was left distraught with the thought that it would not be repaired in time – Rolex had told her there was a six-month waiting list – but a friend recommended Jon Vincent, which managed to repair it in just three weeks.

This is a key advantage that independent workshops and jewellers have over Swiss-based brand headquarters – speed. “It’s the first thing that retailers ask me,” says McCulloch. “Do we do it in the UK or do we send it abroad?”

A major issue facing independents carrying out this work in the UK is access to parts. Swatch Group has said this year that it still intends to reduce access to its watch parts, something that has sparked controversy – including widely reported protests by independent watchmakers in Australia – and will make it increasingly difficult for independents to deal with repairs for Swatch Group brands as well as work on general movements or parts controlled by Swatch, such as ETA.

It is something that McCulloch says poses a huge headache for the industry. “The big problem that you come up against is access to parts,” he says. “We can repair any watch, as long as they [manufacturers] supply the parts.”

Despite the difficulties facing the industry, carrying out servicing and repairs in the UK is still a popular option.

Charles Fish will normally send watches for servicing directly to the manufacturer but it also works with an independent workshop, should a customer come in with a timepiece by a brand that it does not retail.

“We also offer access to our own independent workshop facilities as either an alternative, or as a way of helping customers whose watch brands we do not retail,” Donovan explains. “Our independent workshop is one of the largest in the UK and is owned by two watchmakers who used to work for Rolex and Cartier.”

A member of the Charles Fish team is focused solely on servicing and chases daily outstanding jobs to make sure they are returned as quickly and efficiently as possible, with customers kept in the loop throughout. “Most issues with clients that are repair-related can tend to stem from lack of communication on the part of the retailer and we make strenuous efforts to avoid this,” Donovan states.

At John Pass Jewellers in Crewe staff recommend customers get timepieces serviced at key intervals, normally based on a brand’s recommendations; a Rolex, for example, should be serviced every three to five years, while some Omega timepieces have service intervals of up to eight years.

To facilitate this servicing calendar it similarly offers two options. “We offer to send all watches back to manufacturer for servicing as we don’t have an in house watchmaker, though we do use an alternative watch repairer called Mistal,” says Christopher Cotter, watch manager and assistant buyer at John Pass Jewellers. “Customers with older watches tend to go for this option as it generally works out cheaper for them.”

Like Charles Fish, John Pass Jewellers has noted that timing is most certainly an issue. While Patek Philippe and Jon Vincent have gone down the route of educating customers to help them understand why it takes so long to service a watch, others, such as John Pass Jewellers, have found a way to help customers pass the time more pleasurably with the concept of courtesy watches.

“Historically we have always loaned out courtesy watches from our second hand [range],” says Cotter. “This wasn’t brilliant for us as it meant a lot of our stock was out of the store at times and wasn’t available for sale,” Cotter explains. “So we have introduced a range of specific loan watches for our customers. We invested in a selection of ladies and gents’ Tissot PR100s and engraved each one with ‘loan watch’ on the case back.”

Hublot has also started to offer courtesy watches at its boutiques. It has timepieces coming for service from around the world, and is attempting to alleviate the distress of a wrist without a Hublot by introducing its Atelier watch – a replacement Hublot sent to customers having a timepiece serviced or repaired.

It launched the Atelier scheme in September this year, and has now rolled it out to 49 of its boutiques, for each store manager to use at their discretion. The Atelier timepiece is loaned without charge to the customer for the time required for servicing.

“The Hublot customer is an integral part of our Hublot family and while his personal watch is being taken care of, we will be very pleased to provide him with an Atelier watch,” says Hublot chief executive Ricardo Guadalupe. “With this, he will remain both physically and emotionally connected to Hublot until his personal timepiece will be returned in perfect condition.”

The black composite watch – which features a quartz movement with date and small seconds, Hublot branding, a black rubber strap and visible screws – will not be for general sale but kept solely for the purpose of providing a courtesy watch. However, at John Pass Jewellers courtesy watches have led to additional sales. “We have had a number of sales of Tissot watches to customers who have had a loan watch and liked them,” says Cotter.

This idea of making money from servicing activities adds a new commercial edge to the concept of promoting aftersales services. “In retail now it’s tough times for everybody and you’ve got to up your game,” says McCulloch of Jon Vincent. “If they are coming to somebody [for servicing or repairs] you need to make sure they are coming to you. Be a one stop shop.”

McCulloch says that this can be as simple as retailers training up a member of staff to change batteries or straps, the latter of which can be used as a way to boost revenue through selling additional straps that allow customers to update watches quickly and cheaply.

Using servicing as a sales technique is also a model adopted by John Pass. Promoting such regular servicing is not just a way to keep its customers’ watches in tip-top condition, it is a prime sales opportunity.

“If a customer comes in wearing a mechanical watch we will actively try and sell a service,” says Cotter. “Often this can lead to a customer actually upgrading their watch for a new one and us buying their old one in as a part exchange.”

Cotter believes that servicing is good for all – it keeps customers’ timepieces in good working order, keeps brands’ reputations in check and allows for retailers to meet and speak with customers, giving them the opportunity to sell to that customer again, be that upgrading their existing timepiece, paying for a service or making a fresh purchase.

He believes this initiative could be taken even further, if watch brands promoted servicing more. “It would be good if some of the big names took a similar stance to the motor industry and offered a free regulation or check up in between service intervals,” says Cotter. “Again this would bring the customers back into the shop more often and give the chance of further up selling to a new watch.”

As we’ve mentioned, servicing is good for all concerned, but there is still much to be done to educate consumers. Regular servicing is a sector of the industry mainly targeted at luxury mechanical watches and it is often assumed that if people can afford to buy a watch they won’t blink at the cost of keeping it ticking, but if prestige brands of the ilk of Patek Philippe feel they still need to justify it to their customers then there is clearly some work to be done.

Consumers have grasped the concept of servicing cars, so there is every hope that they will grasp the idea of servicing mechanical watches, and offering a strong aftersales service, introducing it at the point of the sales pitch and keeping great communications with customers will ensure customers keep returning for regular check ups and could just bring a few additional sales to retailers ready to grasp the opportunity.


This article was taken from the December 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine. To read a digital version of the issue click here.




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