August 2014

Tourneau is one of the world’s biggest retailers, with 33 stores scattered throughout the US. During BaselWorld, we had the opportunity to sit down with this famous retailer’s chief executive officer, Ira Melnitsky, to talk watches, retail and the watch industry in general.

Ira Melnitsky, retailer's chief executive officer of Tourneau
Ira Melnitsky, retailer’s chief executive officer of Tourneau

Europa Star: How was BaselWorld?
Ira Melnitsky: We saw a lot of grey dials, and we saw a lot of traditional pieces. We saw pieces from brands reinforcing their identity, which is really good for us. I think the introductions on the whole were very exciting for our business. Our largest brand partners, like Rolex and Patek Philippe, had really great introductions, the type of product that our team gets enthusiastic about. We are fueled by the excitement from the teams in Basel and by the time we return to New York we are already receiving emails from our clients in the US, asking about the new product.

How is business?
IM: Business is healthy. We had a very strong March, and it was a good 2013 for us. We are optimistic. The timepiece business is good for us. We gained market share within the United States and the start to 2014 has been stronger than last year.
At Tourneau, the presentation and importance of the larger brands is more important than ever. A key Basel piece is well known around the world via social media, so retailing is so much more important because the consumer has already done a great deal of research before they walk in the door. We have a very educated customer right now, which is wonderful because we sell watches exclusively and the more our customer knows the more enjoyable our conversation with him or her will be.

The TimeMachine in NYC
The TimeMachine in NYC

“Every year we introduce some new brands to our stores, as part of the discovery that people want when they come to Tourneau.”

What is Tourneau’s secret of success?
IM: We have a very talented team of real watch lovers and our focus is on timepieces. We call ourselves the “watch authority” and that is all we do. That focus, with a talented team, really makes the difference.
If people have never been in a Tourneau store, how do you describe it? IM: I’d say it’s a great place to come to get educated about watches. In the TimeMachine, our store at 57th and Madison in NYC, we have four floors of timepieces, and we can take people through whatever brand, price point or complication they are interested in. We can educate them about movements or sell them something that appeals to them aesthetically.
In the TimeMachine, on the concourse level we have brands that are a couple of hundred dollars and we go up to a million dollars on the third level. We have two huge flagships, the TimeMachine and the Time Dome in Las Vegas, where we are able to showcase a larger selection than in our stores in other markets. In those smaller locations, we are more focused on the $2,000 - $100,000 range. As an aside, both of the flagship stores, NYC and Vegas, were recognized as the biggest watch stores in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.

How important is training to Tourneau?
IM: Training is one of the most important initiatives we have. We intensified it last year by bringing in a dedicated team, and launching the “Tourneau University.” We want to make sure our people, over 800, are as educated as possible about timepieces in general, and specifically on the timepieces we carry. After Basel, for example, we will publish the Basel report about everything introduced at the show. Every week, we have a new training module. In the last year, Christel Chaunsumlit and her team have completed more than 100 videos, as well as training modules and reports.



“We have certified through the Fédération de l’Horlogerie more than 100 people already and will have more than 250 people FH-certified by year’s end.”

The most important thing is that when a customer comes to the store we can speak watches with them. Some people want to be educated, some want to purchase and others just want to talk watches. All our people have to be exceptionally well trained. Retail training is something I have always focused on and emphasized. We focus internally on how Tourneau does business, we partner with all of our brands and we have partnered with the Fédération de l’Horlogerie (FH) to participate in their training. We have certified through the FH more than 100 people already and will have more than 250 people FH-certified by year’s end. Our program where we certify our people is called the Client Experience Education Program (CEEP). The client experience is what we talk about, it’s not transactional by nature. A lot of customers come in to speak about watches and that experience in and of itself could lead to a transaction, or it might not until the fourth or fifth visit.

What do you like about watches?
IM: I don’t consider myself a serious watch collector, but I am a fan of Tourneau. I have been in retail for 20 years, I have always gone into Tourneau. I have about 20 watches and I love mechanical items, so whenever I had the opportunity to go into a Tourneau, I always found my way into the store to look around.

The Time Dome in Las Vegas
The Time Dome in Las Vegas

What is your favourite watch?
IM: I have a few watches that have sentimental value, for when they were purchased and who gave them to me, so they mark a memory. Every appointment I go to I find a new favorite watch. It’s hard not to appreciate what goes into these incredible timepieces.
Watches are one of the few things for men that makes an everlasting statement about themselves. It’s not a fleeting fashion item, these brands have decades and hundreds of years of history. A watch just gets better with age. Men don’t have anything else that we can say that about.

What gets you up in the morning? What do you enjoy about your job?
IM: I have the dream job. I am lucky – I get to work in retail and I get to combine it with some of the greatest brands and greatest products in the world, and I have a talented team to work with.
In retail, I like that every day is a new day and every day you can be better than the day before. It is measurable and immediate. I like being able to ask myself how can I and we do better and take action to make those changes. I very much like hearing from satisfied customers, which often comes in an email or a letter to my office, which is great.

Is it important for you to be on time?
IM: I am punctual to a fault. I like the precision of it, but it drives my family crazy. I am always wearing a watch. If I wasn’t, I’d be looking at my wrist all the time.

How would you describe your management style?
IM: I trust people, number one. I believe in doing the job to what right looks like. I think people know what right looks like and I like helping them achieve it. If you are working with talented people, there is no reason in the world to micro-manage them. I like to win and I like to be surrounded by people who like to win. Most of all, I think I lead by example. I was raised with a work ethic, from my father who was a neighborhood pharmacist, and it has never left me.

How do you determine whether to take on a brand?
IM: Every year we introduce some new brands to our stores, as part of the discovery that people want when they come to Tourneau. We look for products that are unique and stand out, and that’s what piques our interest, be it design or product innovation.
Once we return from Basel, we sit around as a team and we always add some brands each year. We sent product experts to Basel, our blog editor, our sales team and others, so we make the decision as a team.

Have you recently cut any brands? Why?
IM: Large stores always have space for product introductions, and it sometimes comes from attrition. We always evaluate every brand in every store. We add two to three new brands and they probably replace the same number.


"After sales for us is our pride. We maintain a facility where we employ 100 people, including 40 watchmakers, and we perform 100,000 service operations a year.

What is your opinion about after-sales service?
IM: After sales for us is our pride and joy. We maintain a facility in Long Island City where we employ 100 people, including 40 watchmakers, and we perform 100,000 service operations a year there. We have started our own watchmaking school, for the basics of service, and we have just completed our second year of the school.
It’s a 13 week programme and we put 12 or 13 young people through it. I believe that we maintain one of the largest independent service facilities, still certified by the brands to do the work. We cross train our people with many other brands.

Facts & Figures

Founded: 1900
Number of stores: 33
Sizes of stores: from 1,500 to 16,000 square feet
Biggest store: 16,000 square feet
Price range: $150 to $1,000,000
Brands carried: More than 100 brands including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Cartier, Omega, Breguet, Blancpain, Tudor, etc.

Source: Europa Star August - September 2014 Magazine Issue