e design and produce our own jewels, and in 1998 we also took over the oldest watchmaker-jeweller’s in Amsterdam, called Spyre.
Then in 2000 we opened a fashion store with brands like Guess. But we’ve closed it since, because we didn’t want to turn into a chain and because fashion, by definition, is short-lived. So we preferred concentrating on the high end of the market, specifically training our teams for that niche, for example.
In 1998, we also set up our first website, launching our e-commerce in 2007. At the time, no brand wanted to go with us! So we did it on our own. IWC was the first brand to give us an official e-commerce mandate, in 2008, under George Kern.
Today, our physical boutiques and our online boutique have separate divisions and teams. I’ve always believed in the strength of omni-channel watch retail. They have to fuel one another. But I’m convinced that as a watchmaking boutique, you can’t survive without a quality internet platform as a corollary. And it’s easier to do it in Europe than in the United States, even, because European Union regulations prohibit brands from preventing the creation of e-commerce platforms without their official consent.
What’s more, it’s a goldmine of data on current and potential customers. But we really had to fight to launch our e-commerce platform! Today, we already make one-fifth of our sales solely online. E-commerce offers a number of advantages, especially that of being open seven days a week and available anywhere via the mobile network. We update our e-commerce platform every two to three years. The future of retail, even though it’s become a cliché to say it, is all about experience.
That’s why we renovate our boutiques from top to bottom every seven years or so. You have to be able to find the same cosy, lounge atmosphere as if I was welcoming customers to my home. But that calls for huge diplomacy, because the brands always want to impose their design and their shop-in-shop. So we’ve separated our boutiques into two areas: one mixed area and one shop-inshop area. The greatest challenge is maintaining our identity – not to end up like any other boutique by simply rolling out the brands’ design. We’re a brand in our own right!
It’s also healthy – and it maximises turnover – to find a balance between independent brands and groups, as well as between Swiss, German, Japanese or French watches. We don’t have one top brand, but five. Nomos created a limited edition just for us... We want to avoid being the same boutique you find on every high street in every city. One important point that needs underlining is that all the brands we offer are available both in our physical and our virtual boutiques.
The great uncertainty of the future is, what are the brands going to do in relation to retailers? When I hear Zenith’s new CEO, Julien Tornare, announcing that he doesn’t intend opening his own boutique, that’s music to my ears! I think Jean-Claude Biver knows that a mono-brand boutique could never do better than the multi-brand retailers. Customers don’t want to deal with people with tunnel vision. They like to compare and be accompanied for a long time. Today, we’re between two stools, to some extent. We want to grow and we can grow, especially as lots of smaller retailers in Amsterdam have had to shut down; but at the same time we’ve never wanted to develop into a chain. It’s the brands themselves who are asking us to open new outlets. We nearly opened one in London. Now we’re looking to Belgium and Scandinavia. Where does the right balance lie, what’s the right size? We lack space and we’re thinking hard. In any case, we’re not dependent on a tourist customer base, luckily, for example on Chinese tourists, who are volatile. Instead we have a strong European customer base: the Netherlands and neighbouring countries.
The disappearance of independent brands is bad for the whole watchmaking ecosystem. Monopolies are never good for the consumer. The global environment remains complicated, between mono-brand boutiques, the grey market and high stocks... I salute the moves by brands such as Cartier, who announce that they will take back unsold stock to avoid fuelling the grey market. Basically, we want to work first and foremost with brands with whom we can build a sound relationship, free from arrogance and with respect and good values. We’ve just introduced Ulysse Nardin and we’re very satisfied. We don’t force anybody to work with us and we’re lucky enough not to depend on any brand in particular.”
Nom: Ace Jewelers
Launch date: 1975
Category: Haut et moyen de gamme
Brands represented: Baume & Mercier, Bell & Ross, Breitling, Breitling for Bentley, Bremont, Bulgari, Franck Muller, Frédérique Constant, IWC, Longines, Montblanc, Omega, Oris, Parmigiani Fleurier, Rado, TAG Heuer, Ulysse Nardin