The strong Swiss franc, brand relations, consumer behaviour: Vevey-based retailer Julien Meylan takes us behind the scenes of a multi-brand watch store.
With their two boutiques in the town’s main square, overlooking the lake, they are masters of the watchmaking scene in Vevey.
These days it is virtually impossible to buy a watch in the picturesque town on the Swiss Riviera without visiting their premises. Welcome to the domain of the Meylans, watchmakers for six generations. Originally from the Vallée de Joux, they moved down from the hills to Lausanne, before setting up shop as watch retailers in Vevey in 1990.
- Julien Meylan
Europa Star had lunch with 32-year-old Julien Meylan, who runs the family business with his brother Yannick and their father Lionel, who opened the first Vevey shop, and whose name is on the door. “He began by having a look around the town; he noted all the brands that weren’t in the shops, and went to Baselworld to order them,” recalls the young manager.
Last year the retailers, who have been a fixture in Vevey for 25 years, allowed themselves an extramural adventure, and opened a third shop at Glacier 3000 in Les Diablerets. Their efforts were richly rewarded: since last December, Rolex and younger sister Tudor have joined the Meylan fold.
“We run everything as a family. The fact that there are three of us is an advantage; each of us has a slightly different perspective. We all help to take things forward.” Interview over a paella.
Julien Meylan: It is true that some brands do contact us spontaneously (laughs). In the case of Rolex, we have wanted to sell their watches ever since we opened our retail operation in Vevey, back in 1990.
They came to us last year. They appreciate the region that we cover and the way we run our shops, as well as our level of expertise. It is a welcome reward for our work!
Who are your clients?
JM: We’ve always worked mainly with local clients. We are fortunate to have loyal customers who really know about watches.
These days we also attract Chinese, Indian, Russian and British tourists, mainly at our Glacier 3000 boutique at Les Diablerets. But our core market is really local.
How has client behaviour changed over the last decade?
JM: Thanks to the internet they are far better informed, and they really know what they want. Before, they would come in to buy ‘a watch’.
These days, when they come into the shop they already have a very precise idea of the model they want, even the exact reference number.
Sometimes, our clients know more about a particular model than we do ourselves! But such cases are rare, I assure you! (Laughs.) Our sales staff are equally qualified to show you a Victorinox or a Breguet.
So how do you actually train your sales staff, with a catalogue that grows every year?
JM: When I come back from Baselworld I give them a presentation of all the new products from the show. Ideally, I would take them with me, but we have to keep the shop open...
Watchmaking brands also organise training courses for us, which usually last a day. More for Rolex: for them it’s two whole days in Geneva. And for our watchmaker, three weeks!
Has brand behaviour also evolved over the same period?
JM: They clearly want to have more control over the sale of their products. The brands have greatly reduced their points of sale in recent years; they have dropped some retailers and at the same time opened their own boutiques around the world.
There has been a ‘shakedown’, and in some cases this was probably necessary. But the need for control sometimes goes too far. Luckily, given that we are active in the Swiss market, we are close to the manufacturers, and we can communicate with them easily.
We are known for our seriousness, and also for our honesty. When we don’t like a given practice, we let them know.
JM: Some brands produce limited editions just for their own boutiques, to bring customers in. We don’t appreciate being treated as ‘half agents’: when we are an agent for a brand we should have access to all its products.
Because of that some of our clients miss out, because they can’t get to the brand’s own shop.
Do you think this apparent lack of interest by the industry in its retailers is cyclical, or is it something you’ll have to get used to?
JM: I think the brands will come back to the retailers, provided that the chain of value is preserved right up to the final client. When a brand representative has to come and announce to a Swiss retailer that they can no longer sell their brand in his shop, I can tell you it’s really heart breaking.
But professionals must have a thorough knowledge of watchmaking, expertise and contacts. Don’t forget, single-brand boutiques don’t generally target the same clientele as retailers. When a client comes to you, even if they have a specific model in mind, they appreciate being given a choice, sometimes from among different ranges of the chosen brand, sometimes within the same family of complications.
As retailers, we are complementary to the single-brand boutiques. Things are different in other countries, however: retailers are perhaps harder to manage than an own-brand boutique.
Today you have around thirty brands in your catalogue. Is this a way of ensuring your independence?
JM: Yes, our assortment is well diversified between Swatch Group, LVMH, Richemont and independent brands. For us, the main thing is to be able to offer our clients an interesting and varied selection.
Nevertheless, there must be some pressure on you for shop window presence. How do you manage this placement diplomatically?
JM: Brands often want the same thing: if it were up to them, we’d have just one window, and they would have it all to themselves!
When choosing what goes in the window we try to ensure a regular turnover, to keep everyone happy. You can always find a solution through dialogue.
What was 2014 like for you?
JM: It was an excellent year. We are growing. The icing on the cake was the arrival of Rolex and Tudor. And we always reinvest our profits. Brands appreciate the way we work.
We’re not content with simply selling watches, these days that’s not enough. We organise special events and experiences around our sales.
JM: Whenever a client buys a Breitling watch, my father, who is a pilot, takes them for a trip in his plane.
They’re not so keen on coming with me. I’m a parachutist! (Laughs) There is also significant added value in the visits to manufactures, which we regularly organise for our clients. The Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture, for instance, is very interesting, as you are not behind glass and you can observe the work of the artisans up close. Omega is equally interesting, although very different. There you see the whole industrial, ultra-modern side of watch production.
And finally, our shops have their own workbenches where our own watchmakers are constantly at work. We offer introductory courses in watchmaking and gemology. It’s useful, because not only do our clients understand how their watches work, they also get why it can sometimes take a long time to service them...
After-sales service has been described as a ‘ticking time bomb’ for the industry (Read our article in previous issue, ES 1/15). You are in the front line. That must sometimes put you in the firing line of your clients, too.
JM: Information is key: if we simply say, “We’ll send you an estimate,” clients assume that it will take a couple of days.
If we warn them that it may take a bit longer they are more ready to accept it. Uncertainty is the hardest thing to deal with. Today, for the most responsive brands, a quotation will take around a week, and servicing itself takes an average of four weeks.
Clients who have suffered shoddy servicing, or who have had to wait a long time, can be very disappointed. These days, after-sales service is our best marketing tool. Some brands have made significant investments upstream, to capture sales, and not enough downstream, to ensure efficient servicing.
It bears repeating: information really is key. Sometimes, a client will change the date on their watch at the wrong time, and is shocked that no one warned them this could cause problems. After-sales is choking on these kinds of cases. And clearly, there are more and more mechanical watches on the market worldwide, which require a great deal of maintenance, and investment in consequence.
2015 has opened with the problem of the strong Swiss franc. How are you reacting?
JM: It will inevitably create both a slowdown for the market, and also an increase in prices. But we are less affected than retailers in cities like Lucerne and Geneva.
There, tourists will shop around to find the cheapest watch. But we rely on an established, loyal and local clientele for whom price is not the only purchase criterion.
Another pressing concern for Swiss retailers is shop security.
JM: Indeed. We were robbed back in December 2008, at the worst possible time. We found ourselves with empty shelves at our busiest time of the year.
The perpetrators were never found. Unfortunately, the people who carry out such burglaries are very seldom punished.
The sanctions are far too light. And in our country, private security guards may carry weapons if they have a permit, but only as a deterrent. They aren’t allowed to use them: they could be prosecuted if they actually shot anyone! We need a firmer policy.
What’s new for 2015?
JM: First of all, some new brands are joining us, including Cartier! There will be more surprises over the year. The cherry on the cake is the LaPendulette, which we will soon begin selling under our own name.
I created my first table clock when I was at the watchmaking school in the Vallée de Joux. We took the idea further, and we now have a prototype in the shop.
Omega, Hublot, Breitling, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget, Longines, Chopard, Tudor, Girard-Perregaux, Dinh Van, Piero Milano, Michel H, Oris, Victorinox, Rolex, Breguet, Zenith, IWC, Bulgari, Corum, Ulysse Nardin, Pomellato, Serafino Consoli, Morganne Bello, Sevenfriday, Tissot, Frédérique Constant, Alpina, Cartier, Hermès, IsabelleFa
Source: Europa Star March 2015 Magazine Issue