Türler – the pride of Paradeplatz

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May 2013

The Türler family watch retail business celebrates its 130th anniversary this year, having been established as a company in Biel, Switzerland at 8.30am on 5th February 1883.

Today the company has a prime location on Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse, in the shadow of the major Swiss banks on Paradeplatz, as well as two stores and two mono-brand boutiques at Zurich airport. Türler’s main store on the Bahnhofstrasse attracts thousands of visitors each year who come just to see the unique Türler clock, a phenomenally complicated timepiece developed by Franz Türler, Ludwig Oechslin and Jörg Spöring, which was unveiled in 1995.

At the company’s anniversary celebrations, Europa Star quizzed the father-and-son management duo of Franz Türler junior and senior on their business.

Franz Türler senior (left) and junior
Franz Türler senior (left) and junior

Europa Star: Can you explain the background to the Türler clock?
Franz Türler (senior): It came from a vision and from the desire to differentiate us from the competition. If you are no different to the other stores and the brand boutiques then it will be difficult for you. The company needs its own strategy and the clock is part of this, as is our Türler by Mendini collection, our small “Türler man” and of course our show windows and interior decoration. The idea with the clock was also to do something unique that would never be repeated.

ES: How fierce is the competition on the Bahnhofstrasse? Do you have to compete for the brands as well as for customers?
FT (sen.): Just imagine, there are 28 watch shops and mono-brand boutiques... The watch is still the same, whether you buy it in Lausanne, Paris or Hong Kong. The products are exchangeable. You either have to offer a better price with discounts, which we don’t want, or offer the customer added value. You can’t differentiate with the product alone.

ES: You have your own stores and some mono-brand stores such as Blancpain on Bahnhofstrasse, as well as IWC and Omega at Zurich airport. How do you manage the collections between your different stores?
FT (jun.): The mono-brand stores obviously need a bigger collection because it has to be representative, whereas for ourselves we look at our watch and jewellery collection very carefully in order to satisfy the needs and demand of our customers.
FT (sen.): Brands are also producing more and more boutique models because they want to differentiate themselves from their retailers. So we are at the same time partners and competitors. But out of experience we know some customers prefer mono-brand stores, others prefer retail stores.

ES: Up to 95 per cent of the customers in watch stores in Lucerne, for example, are Chinese. How much of your business is with tourists, whether Chinese or other nationalities?
FT (sen.): The Chinese account for 30-40 per cent, but the Swiss account for around 50 per cent. This is because we have a very strong position in Switzerland. We have a large catchment area and over twenty thousand regular customers in our files.

ES: How important is your history for your local customers?
FT (sen.): We have been in Zurich since 1892 so we have fantastic ties with our customers, which we have developed over decades with the different generations of our family. We are members of the sports clubs, the Rotary Club, the guild, I was president of the Vereinigung Zürcher Bahnhofstrasse for 21 years and of Zurich Tourism for 16 years.

ES: Are you looking for new brands?
FT (sen.): We are always observing the development of the brand situation but we are very happy with and proud of our current brand portfolio. And taking on a new brand is not that simple. There’s a huge investment involved. You have to find window space, get to know the brand and the people behind it. You can easily spend up to half a million Swiss francs or more on taking up a new brand and in pure business terms you need to think about the return on investment. What do the brands want? They want window space, sales and training. And the more brands you have, the less you have to spend on each brand.

The Türler store on Paradeplatz in Zurich
The Türler store on Paradeplatz in Zurich

The Türler clock
The Türler clock

ES: How was business in 2012 and what is your outlook for 2013?
FT (sen.): Our sales increased by 20 per cent in 2012. Unless anything catastrophic happens this year we are confident that we will have another good year. Millions of Chinese are expected to visit Europe this year. Millions!

ES: You have service centres in New York and Japan for tourists from these countries who buy their watches from you in Switzerland. You also offer a free check after one year for any watches serviced by you. How important is good customer service as a point of differentiation?
FT (jun.): It’s very important. Most watches come with a 3-5 year guarantee but we write to our customers every year to remind them of the importance of servicing the watch and then we send another letter before the guarantee is due to expire.

ES: How much service work can you do in-house?
FT (sen.): We have four watchmakers and can manage around 50 to 60 per cent of the service work (small services, battery exchange, adjustment, water-resistance checks, partly overhauling) in-house. The remainder is sent to the factories.

ES: And what is your experience with the watches that you have to send back to the factories?
FT (sen.): It’s variable. The main problems are the very long delays. The factories are under pressure, they don’t have enough watchmakers. This is one of the biggest problems at the moment in the watch industry.
FT (jun.): The problem is that we have no control over this but we do have the responsibility. To a certain degree, we depend on the factories to carry out the work.

ES: How much of a problem are the rents on Bahnhofstrasse? With so many luxury shops competing for prime retail space, do you worry about an explosion in the property market?
FT (jun.): The rents are definitely on an upward trend. We have to budget very carefully. We have gone through many difficult times since the founding of the company in 1883 but we managed very successfully.

ES: So how do you deal with this very competitive situation?
FT (sen.): Above all, it is a long-term customer relationship, including trust which you build up over time. You cannot buy it.

Thanks to Messrs. Türler senior and junior for taking the time to speak to Europa Star for this retailer profile.

Click here for more information on the Türler clock.

Facts and figures
Total stores: 5, which include Türler stores at Zurich Paradeplatz and Zurich airport plus own-brand stores for Blancpain (Paradeplatz), Omega and IWC (both at Zurich airport)
Age: 130 years
Employees: 60
Price range: CHF 800 to over 1,000,000
Brands: Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Blancpain, Breguet, Breitling, Cartier, Chopard, Davidoff, DeWitt, Frédérique Constant, IWC, Omega, Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Söhne, Longines, Maurice Lacroix, Rado, TAG Heuer, Tissot, Türler by Alessandro Mendini, Vacheron Constantin and Zenith.

Source: Europa Star April - May 2013 magazine issue