In the last issue, we profiled the after sales service/customer service approach of Piaget. This issue, we take a look at another way of handling service and watch repair, as a third party vendor. Europa Star talked with Ron Stoll, president, founder and owner of Stoll & Company (www.americaswatchmaker.com).
Established in 1982, Stoll & Company provides watch repair services to watch brands, watch retailers and individual consumers across the globe. In addition, Stoll is the North American president of Carl F. Bucherer watch company, and Stoll & Company does all of Carl F. Bucherer’s after sales service.
I caught up with Stoll in his offices in Dayton, Ohio, USA.
“32 years ago, I was attempting to make a living fixing watches, then the company developed from there,” he explains. “There wasn’t a blueprint or plan, it just progressed naturally. I started out with one watch to fix, then one day I had two watches to fix, then it was ten, then 100. We didn’t go out and try to solicit business, we built the business based on our merit and passion for watchmaking, and it grew from there.
“Today, we receive around 140,000 watches a year,” he continues. “We do all types of repairs – we service watches in all price categories but specialise in servicing prestigious timepieces. This allows us to hire people at different skill levels. We have 60 employees. We do individual repairs, we work for retail jewellers and we do authorised warranty and repair work for niche brands like Alpina, Frédérique Constant, Porsche Design, Anonimo and Carl F. Bucherer.”
Communication is key
No matter who the end customer is, managing after sales service and customer service in general is vital. “After sales service and customer service is everything,” Stoll says. “No matter the price of any watch, people purchase watches according to the amount of disposable income they have, and it becomes an important possession of theirs. When something goes wrong with their timepiece, keeping the customer satisfied depends on how quick the repair can be completed and, most importantly, the quality of the service. Communications with customers is critical; you can’t let the people think they have been forgotten. Service has the potential to be a negative, but with efficient communication you can turn it into a positive.”
For Stoll & Company, communication is key. They strive to stay on top of the communications and if there is a problem, or a delay, they update the customer immediately.
“One of things that we have found is that you are better off to staff more people on your customer service side, and invest the money in your IT, to keep adequate communication with the retailer or the end consumer,” Stoll details. “If you are proactive, it’s the least expensive way to address an issue. If a watch is in for a significant period of time, you can guarantee that the consumer and the retailer will contact you. If you communicate well, the phones don’t ring, there is no pressure and everyone is happy. We have always paid particular attention to the communication end of customer service. For example, a regular maintenance service usually takes between 30 and 45 days. If you are upfront with the customer that this is what it is going to take, and if you adhere to it, you won’t have a problem.”
Stoll and Company has a sophisticated RFID system of tracking so that the company knows at any time where a watch is in the repair process.
“We look at a watch coming in for repair as a piece of produce, as soon as it hits our door, it starts to deteriorate,” Stoll explains. “The quicker we can turn it around, the more profitable it is. We try to get the estimates done in 24 hours and communicated back to the place of origin. Sometimes you have to get a special component and check on a price, so that may delay it, but 90 per cent of all our estimates are done within 24 hours.
“We transmit the estimates by fax or email and on the estimate, we give them the number of days it will take to complete the repair,” he continues. “Our computer system automatically schedules the job for when it needs to be shipped, then the system tracks the watch through all the steps. We can control and monitor it so that things don’t fall between the cracks. Over our 32 years, every day there is a different challenge, because something new happens, we acknowledge and respond to these challenges so it doesn’t reoccur again. Every day we try to do better than the day before.”
Stoll has his fair share of success stories. “We had an individual who had sent his watch back to the factory many times and sent it to other watch service companies, and it was never fixed to his satisfaction,” Stoll remembers. “Then he found us and we were able to fix his watch. That made us feel accomplished.
“We also receive timepieces for service which the manufactures no longer support and will not repair.” he continues. “We have a lot of spare parts that enable us to service these timepieces. We aren’t any better than anyone else, what makes us different is that we try harder.”
Even though Stoll & Company is independent, the company still faces challenges when dealing with watches from certain brands. “Some manufactures do not want third party service centres servicing their timepieces and will not sell spare parts. This is a challenge for us, where even some simple repairs cannot be completed due to the lack of available parts.”
Finding the right workers is a challenge for Stoll, as watch repair is very people intensive. In fact, the average number of people who touch a watch during its repair process at Stoll & Company is 15, more for more complicated pieces. “It’s challenging to find the qualified technicians,” Stoll admits. “It used to be that we could scout the world for the finest watchmakers, but it’s more challenging now that immigration laws have changed. At the same time, we receive a large volume of repairs, which allows us to employ people at all skill levels and we aim to hire people that are mechanically inclined, have superb hand-eye coordination and good dexterity and train them internally. We start them with simple procedures, they can then go to the next level and continue to advance. We have an advantage in that we can train the workforce ourselves.”
Counterfeit watches are becoming a bigger problem. “Unfortunately, because of the many similarities of counterfeit watches produced today, we do see watches sent in where the owner is unaware that it is counterfeit,” Stoll says. Stoll and Company will not service any counterfeit products.
Stoll is in the repair business, not the delivery business, so when a repair is done, he depends on delivery companies to handle that aspect. “FedEx, UPS and the US postal system are the three players and we use all three of them,” Stoll details. We decide who the carrier is unless the client specifies who they want to handle the logistics. Everything we send back requires a signature, and our insurance covers the delivery. If you are shipping back a $50,000 watch, you want to make sure it’s signed for by the right person.”
More and more mechanical watches are being sold, so that means that more watches will eventually need to be serviced. All mechanical watches require service at some point, and Stoll feels that consumers need to be more aware of the upkeep that is needed. He acknowledges that it is hard for sales people to communicate about the future need for service when trying to sell the watch. “In the last several years, brands have invested more in their service facilities, thus allowing them to maintain a better relationship with their customers," Stoll says. “Each day there will be more watches to service than there was the day before. Every company’s challenge is finding people capable of servicing watches. Because of production capabilities today and the demand for mechanical watches, these watches will all need service.”
Stoll loves what he does and looks forward to coming to work every day. “There is always something new to learn, a new customer who has an interesting timepiece to service,” he says, enthusiastically. “I love what I am doing. Children have a teddy bear they carry with them to feel secure, my security in life is having a watch in my hand, whether it’s a new watch or a broken watch, that I can then fix. “I love the challenges, and the encounters with new customers. We get a lot of nice accolades from customers about what we did for them,” he adds. “It makes you feel good, it touches your soul to know that people acknowledge what we do. It’s nice to know that you are doing something that people appreciate.”
Facts and Figures:
- Stoll & Company USA
- www.americaswatchmaker.com, 1 800 786 5526
- Number of employees: 60
- Watches serviced per month (average): around 11,000 (140,000 per year)
- Factory authorised service centre for:
- Alain Silberstein, Alpina, Anonimo, B Swiss, Bertolucci, Bucherer, Carl F. Bucherer, Delance, Delbana, Delma, Frédérique Constant, Michel Herbelin, Porsche Design, Xantia and more.
- Price of repairs: Anywhere from $20 to $5,000, wholesale. 95 per cent of all their work is wholesale.
- Total watches serviced: 1.5 million
- Service warranty: 12 months
Source: Europa Star February - March 2013 Magazine Issue