In the year since we launched WatchPro as a magazine, independent of its stable mate Professional Jeweller, it has become increasingly clear that jewellery and watch markets operate very differently from each other, but are increasingly learning from each other.
It is only relatively recently that jewellery manufacturers appreciated that brand building is every bit as important as design. Watch brands have known this for centuries.
It is also a new phenomenon that the most powerful jewellery brands – such as Pandora, Thomas Sabo and Links of London – have become highly selective about which retailers they work with and how their merchandise is presented. This is nothing new to the strongest watch brands.
However, one substantial difference remains between the jewellery and watch markets. While the latest jewellery collections are presented to retail buyers at two major UK exhibitions every year, watch brands only roll out the red carpet to retailers twice a year at BaselWorld and SIHH.
BaselWorld and SIHH are extraordinary events, where most of the world’s greatest brands are presented on multi-million dollar stands to a spellbound audience. The UK’s biggest buyers from the likes of Signet Group, Aurum and Watches of Switzerland, are treated like royalty as a mark of appreciation for their unswerving loyalty; although it has to be noted that equivalent retailers from China and the Middle East are commanding a little more time with the top brass than they used to.
The vast majority of more than 7,000 watch retailers in the UK do not travel to BaselWorld or SIHH and, even if they do, they are not able to secure meetings with many of the brands they would love to stock.
There are a few good reasons for maintaining this status quo. The biggest luxury brands are right to passionately protect the way their watches are sold, and a free-for-all would be impractical and undesirable.
But the world is changing – and fast. Today’s biggest watch retailers connect with the public via TV shopping channels, mail order, websites and mobile apps. Thousands of high street retailers have intimate knowledge of their customers thanks to sophisticated data collection and analysis. These are not retailers that want to be treated like powerless pawns in a game controlled by big brands.
This is the landscape into which the London Watch Show is being launched, and why it is being created as a new breed of exhibition for the UK. Retailers will walk into a show that feels more like a luxurious department store than a featureless aircraft hangar. The choice of venue, Freemasons’ Hall in London’s Covent Garden, brings a peerless mix of style and security to the event. It is also a favourite of glossy magazine and newspaper journalists, who will all be invited to the show.
In its first year, exhibitors will be treated in a new way as well. The show will be carefully edited, with watch brands grouped according to where they sit within the wider market – fine, affordable luxury and fashion-driven zones will be created. Within those zones, all brands will be treated equally with the same sized stands and furniture. This also makes it exceptionally easy for time-pressured exhibitors to take part. They need only to focus on the visual merchandising within their display cabinets, much as they do within luxury department stores.
These stands will also be compact offices where real business can be discussed and orders signed for the stock that will be sold in the crucial Christmas period.
The date of the show – July 2 to 3 – was carefully chosen with these business conversations in mind. Not all brands and all retailers operate to the same calendar, but a survey conducted by WatchPro pointed overwhelmingly to an early July date. 47% of respondents asked for July, more than twice as many as wanted May, June or August, combined.
The survey also revealed how important the industry views the creation of a dedicated watch exhibition. Asked whether they would attend an exhibition dedicated solely to watches, 93.3% said yes.
The London Watch Show will not compete with BaselWorld or SIHH. Its timing, location and format are designed to augment communication between brands, retailers and the media, and hopefully break down historic barriers that have hampered more open discussion.
Over the coming months, WatchPro and WatchPro.com will continue to speak to the industry about how to create an event that genuinely reflects their needs, and we urge you to share your views as this important exhibition develops.
And remember to save the date in your diary – the London Watch Show takes place on July 2 and 3, 2013. We look forward to seeing you there.
This article was taken from the January 2013 issue of WatchPro. To read the magazine online, click here.