To get a sense of what a retailer looks for during the Geneva shows, Europa Star spent some time with Alon Ben Joseph, president of Ace Jewelers in the Netherlands. Though not specifically looking for any new brands, his mind is always open and on the lookout for great opportunities. Ben Joseph flew in from Amsterdam on Monday, January 21, 2013, did the GTE in one day, then spent the rest of his time at the SIHH, visiting with his Richemont brands. I caught up with him between appointments at the SIHH, over a cup of steaming tea.
Europa Star: What kind of commitment does taking on a new brand mean to you?
Alon Ben Joseph: Taking on a new brand is a long-term commitment, as we consider ourselves a true partner of the brand. Although we live in a high pace society nowadays, our industry is far from a fast moving consumer goods industry and things need time to “breathe” and grow. Therefore we take it as a very serious commitment, where hard work from both sides (brand and retailer) is needed. Often even three sides: brand, distributor and retailer.
ES: What are the things you consider when you think about taking on a new brand?
ABJ: First and foremost, we consider if we actually do love the brand. Do we love the brand identity and the products they create? We have to truly believe in the concept, strategy and philosophy of the brand. Then, of course, we need to do some soul searching to see if the brand belongs in our brand portfolio, if we can add value to the brand and vice versa. Then we check what their distribution model is, followed by marketing strategy and last, but certainly not least, what their after-sales strategy and infrastructure is.
ES: What sort of opening order do you make when opening up a new brand?
ABJ: Our father always taught my brother and me not to become a brand collection retailer, but a true partner for the brands. In his eyes this means that when presenting a brand, it should be an above-average collection. But, always making sure that the stock rotation figure is above par. This means tweaking the collection non-stop with the brands.
ES: Can you have two directly competing brands in the same store?
ABJ: This is a very good question, but we find that as a luxury retailer, we are fortunate not to have to deal with this dilemma too often and we believe that watch and jewellery brands are so different in nature and character they do not really overlap and therefore cannot be considered true competitors.
ES: Explain to me how you find these new brands? And once you target a new brand, what kind of due diligence do you do?
ABJ: Besides being passionate watch retailers, we are also private collectors. So, we love reading up on Europa Star, watch magazines and blogs. On top of that we receive a lot of proposals from brands to start partnerships. So, there is no lack of information. When we are interested, several talks follow and that’s where a relationship starts. Then we usually let that relationship grow and evolve over time until the time is right to actually start to do business. Everything is about timing.
ES: What is the risk to retailers when taking on a new brand?
ABJ: What we see as the biggest risk for retailers when taking on a new brand is that the brand does not live up to their promises. We find the biggest risk of underperforming is in after-sales service, especially with brands that offer mechanical watches. This is nowadays one of the most important marketing tools in our opinion. On top of that, according to Dutch Law, the retailer is responsible for the products they sell and not the brands. But if brands do not permit us to repair their products and/or supply spare parts, we are in a catch-22 situation if their after sales infrastructure is below par, which has been the case with many Swiss brands in our region over the last decade!
ES: Have you been burned by a new brand before?
ABJ: Our family has been burned many times over several generations, but we have a positive outlook on life and do not like to speak badly about the past. So, we prefer to leave the past in the past. We think that successful entrepreneurs are people who take risks… When taking risk, one gets burned, right?!
ES: What did you see at GTE this year that got you interested?
ABJ: Moser & Cie is brand that we know well, as one of our customers is a descendant of Moser, the co-founder of IWC, and used to have shares in the watch brand Moser & Cie when it was founded. Now at GTE we fell in love again (and again) with what they do and manufacture. I didn’t make a deal yet, however. It was too hectic at GTE, and their booth was too small to talk privately.
ES: You recently took on the Chinese Time-keeper – can you tell me how you found the brand, how you decided to take it on and how it has done?
ABJ: This is actually a very nice story. Besides having a retail operation, Ace Jewelers Group, we also have a wholesale division, named ChronoTime. One of the brands we represent is Rhein Fils (leather goods) and the CEO is friends with the founder of The Chinese Timekeeper, Adrien Choux. Even before Adrien launched his brand, we were introduced in Hong Kong and became friends. As I loved what Adrien created, we decided to support him and become his first ambassador outside China. And, it has been a success for us. We expected just to sell it to Chinese customers, but the funny thing is we sell it more to local watch collectors than (visiting) Chinese watch consumers.
ES: Many retailers are reluctant to take on new, unknown brands. What advice would you give them?
ABJ: As most of us in this wonderful industry are true watch freaks and emotions are (almost) as important as ratio, you sometimes have to take a chance and have some fun. On top of that, it is very good for your business and brand portfolio to have something unique and different in your showcases. As most retail stores turn into little replica department stores with islands of brand corners, it is nice for customers to be surprised with something fresh and different. Even if you know that the rotation will never match up to what other brands do. Maybe even consider it as a marketing tool...
ES: What are the most successful brands and models in your stores?
ABJ: The most successful brands in our boutiques (online and physical) are: Omega, IWC, Breitling, TAG Heuer, Longines, Baume & Mercier, Montblanc, Rado and Tissot. The top five watch models are: Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean, IWC Portuguese, Breitling Chronomat, Omega Speedmaster and TAG Heuer Carrera.
ES: What brands do you wish you had that you don’t currently have?
ABJ: The evergreens we’d love to have in our store are: Patek Philippe, Rolex, A. Lange & Söhne, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Breguet, Cartier, Audemars Piguet and Panerai. Obviously I forgot to mention some. Then these are brands that also make our hearts beat a lot faster: F.P. Journe, Urwerk, MB&F, Parmigiani, Ikepod, Greubel Forsey and Richard Mille.
ES: How are you going to get these brands?
ABJ: By charming them.
ES: What was your experience like at GTE? What did you see?
ABJ: This is my third year at GTE. I think it’s great that they moved location, it’s a scenic place in the city. There was a good vibe, it was busy and we stayed there late. This fair is for the face time. GTE is accessible and it is great for introductions and to get to know new brands. I liked Celsius very much. I didn’t know the Heritage Watch Manufactory, so it was great to meet them.
ES: What, as a retailer, do you have to tell a new brand about your store?
ABJ: I give them my business card, I tell them our story, I give them our book. The click is often very quick. They are flash meetings, like speed dating.
ES: What do you get out of a successful relationship with a new brand, helping to put them on the map, other than financial success?
ABJ: It’s fun to help a new brand. It’s great to do something new, and it’s the unknown. It’s pushing the boundaries of yourself and your store. It’s easy to take on established brands, but it’s oh so hard to do a new brand. It’s a refreshing challenge.
Source: Europa Star February - March 2013 Magazine Issue