onsultant and instructor Gianfranco Ritschel is one of the most knowledgeable insiders in the watch business. A veteran of Rolex, Bucherer, Piaget and Sowind Group, this independent trainer in watchmaking knowledge and sales techniques shares ten pieces of advice to help retailers improve returns in the current market turmoil.
1. Spotting new brands with strong potential:
It is wise to be on the look-out for new opportunities beyond the basic brands in your portfolio. Engaging with a watchmaking start-up means taking a commercial risk, but if it sits just right in a properly diverse portfolio of brands, it can raise turnover and profits thanks to better margins. Let’s not overlook the fact that customers’ buying behaviour is changing all the time and so are their expectations.
2. Choose between range breadth or depth:
By limiting your portfolio of brands to a strict minimum, you are sure of total mastery of each brand and their models and will be able to present them to your customers correctly. Your range will therefore have depth for each brand. With breadth of range – lots of brands, in other words – you will probably attract some additional customers, but it will make the task of your sales staff much more difficult, as they have to assimilate all the special features of every model. Also, it is difficult to have a representative offering for each and every brand: you will be pressurised by the brands, who will not tolerate the fact that you restrict yourself to the best sellers, with the result that you’ll become less important for the brand in question.
3. Accept and make the most of your role of “filter” for the customers:
When I go to a good restaurant, the chef makes sure he tells me that he went to the market himself to select the best ingredients. All too rare are the retailers who really regard themselves as what they are, “curators”, with choices that they stand by and defend: “I did not take this model because it did not correspond to my aesthetic criteria or to what I want to offer my customers.” These biases have genuine value and you have to know how to put them across to stand out from the crowd. They make every boutique interesting and unique.
4. Customer service as a source of profit:
Customer service as a source of profit: It costs less to make turnover with an existing customer than to find a new customer. And the way to do it is through the type and quality of the service, which should pay off in the form of a worthwhile customer relationship. We have to get away from the notion that “we’re there to put problems right”. Who, today, notifies their customer when it’s time for a service, supplies replacement watches or keeps a maintenance logbook – the tools of a long-term service strategy? Who helps customers to log and photograph their watch collection? Who offers insurance policies, warranty extensions or other services that go beyond the simple selling of watches? In my opinion, there is a multitude of ideas to be developed, along the lines of the automotive or IT sectors.
5. Social media – an opportunity to communicate for next to nothing:
Many retailers are still at the stage of sending out an annual newsletter to their customers. But social media and digitisation have changed consumer expectations. Instead of communication, we have to think in terms of permanent interconnection. That’s an opportunity for creative retailers, because this new kind of communication is much cheaper, as well as being fast and dynamic! Customers are so interconnected today that they have turned into information hunters. We have to stimulate that curiosity.
6. Winning the battle of boutique design:
There will always be a deep schism between the retailers’ desire to manage their own space and that of the brands, who want their universe to be recognised. There is no right or wrong, everybody has to find their own solution depending on the goodwill of the different parties involved. But pay attention to the evolution of experiential marketing, which introduces the notion of stage-managing sales to generate a feeling of well-being and stimulate customers to buy. Learn how to surprise your customers with a unique atmosphere.
7. Find out about your customers, not what they want to buy!
In the past, the salesperson tried to find out as quickly as possible what the customer wanted to buy. The smartest among them achieved their end by posing a series of open questions to channel the customers’ choices. Today, we tend to say rather: “Find out about the customer and you will know what he or she likes.” That calls for a fair amount of emotional intelligence and tact on the part of the sales staff, but it is far more effective and interesting. It enables you to sell better, more, and more often.
8. What are the things that the internet cannot offer?
Clearly, more and more watches are being sold over the internet, and the high-end brands can no longer stand in its way. Even worse, they are themselves preparing for online sales. This competition with conventional retail is worrying and requires action. We either start selling online too (in a way that is compatible with distribution contracts), or else we take advantage of what the internet cannot offer – the “touch and feel” that is so important for wearable objects with an emotional impact, and for the immediacy of purchasing.
9. Replace “price” with “value”:
Customers are negotiating prices more and more, and that is becoming virtually the only point at which the sales advisor plays an active role. That is a serious mistake! First of all, try to understand why the customer is asking for a discount: is it a cultural habit? Does she want an unbeatable bargain? Does he not understand the value of the product? Then, apply a very simple rule: the sales advisor should take pains to raise the “perceived value” of the product instead of lowering the price. With the right arguments, customers’ perceptions can change and sales be brought to a positive conclusion. Incidentally, that is why the sales advisor should never use the term “price”! By using the term “value”, you can mould it and raise it in the customer’s eyes. Whereas a price is written in figures and is immutable.
10. The way you treat customers can be more important than the choice of product!
If you compare experiences in restaurants, planes or hotels, it is easy to see how crucial ceremony is. The little attentions paid by the staff, empathy, sensitivity and the ability to tell a story are essential factors. Has your mouth never watered at a waiter’s poetic description of the evening menu?