Did you hear the one about the Scotsman and the Irishman? It’s not a joke, Brian Duffy (Scottish) and David Hurley (Irish) happen to run the Watches of Switzerland Group, the UK’s largest prestige luxury jewelers and timepiece specialists.
They operate in both the UK and US with brands Goldsmiths (UK), Mappin & Webb (UK), Watches of Switzerland (UK and US) and Mayors (US).
In March of this year, Watches of Switzerland unveiled a watch megastore at the newly developed Hudson Yards, New York, the largest private real estate project in American history valued at $25 billion.
Then yesterday came the news that Watches of Switzerland Group (WOSG) has gone public and joined the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange. With a market capitalization estimated at £647 million pounds, it’s being heralded as a major success for the company and a strong sign for the watch industry overall.
Watchuseek spoke to Group Executive Vice President David Hurley to find out more about Hudson Yards and their approach to selling luxury watches on both sides of the pond.
WUS: David, for the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with the relatively recent entry of Watches of Switzerland (WOSG) into the US market, please tell us a little about the concept.
DH: The Watches of Switzerland Group entered the US Market in October of 2017 with the acquisition of Mayors in Florida and Georgia and followed that in taking over the Watch retail in the Wynn Las Vegas and now most recently opened in Soho & Hudson Yards. The concept itself is consistent across our group. We look to present independent advice on the best luxury watch brands in a contemporary environment. We want all of our stores to be welcoming, inviting and non-intimidating. The consumer should get the same luxury / wow experience across all our stores.
WUS: What’s your formula for making bricks and mortar watch buying still exciting and relevant in an internet prevalent 2019? How do you make WOS a must visit for watch lovers in this era of armchair shopping?
DH: Firstly, we believe in the internet as well and see it as complementary to our store offering rather than competition. Across all luxury product, the internet is the first place for people to research and we have a significant presence with our wos.com and mayors.com websites. In terms of our stores as a destination – again it comes down to the environment, staff expertise and the welcome. With each of our store renovations or openings, we challenge ourselves to improve the experience. With Soho, for example, we collaborated with Death & Co on the Bar & Analogue Shift on a curated vintage collection. We are always looking to improve what we do and some of that can only be achieved in working with external partners. I think the first stores we have opened in Las Vegas, Soho, and Hudson Yards are raising the bar for luxury multi-brand retailing.
WUS: What is the customer experience at WOS? How does it differ from the smaller more intimate watch boutiques?
DH: Well, we are fortunate to run intimate watch boutiques or mono-brands for certain brands as well as the multi-brand stores. Again, we want the experience to be the same across our store network. We are already hosted customers in our NY stores that shopped in our Las Vegas multi-brand store. The same friendly welcome and level of service is what our customers should expect. Obviously, what you get with a multi-brand is the breadth of assortment.
WUS: While the new WOS store in SoHo, Manhattan is magnificent, Hudson Yards has to be the most exciting retail development in New York City in decades. Please tell our readers what they can expect?
DH: Hudson Yards is a fantastic retail development, but I think the reason it is successful is almost as a consequence of everything around it. You have the traffic from the highline, the Thomas Heatherwick Vessel sculpture, the Shed (6 floor curated arts center), new residential & new office space. And then you have the retail. Our store anchors the luxury ground floor with 120 feet of frontage facing the Vessel sculpture. We see it as a major statement for luxury watches in such a highly trafficked location.
WUS: Here at WUS we have recently discovered women. In fact, the campaign I would like to see running nowadays is ‘Hello Girls’ rather than ‘Hello Boys.’ Would you back my assertion that women are becoming significantly more interested in watches in general and in mechanical watches in particular? What are your findings in this regard?
DH: The advertising campaign you are referring to was actually created by Brian Duffy, who is our company CEO. Small world isn’t it? I have only been in the Watch business for the last 3 years and women have always been a significant section of our business. We also see women heading some of the luxury watch brands and that can only be good for the industry.
WUS: What other areas of growth and preferences have you noticed among watch buyers in the last decade or so? Would you agree the market has changed significantly even in the past 5 years?
DH: Well the internet has changed everything. The consumer is now significantly more informed before crossing the threshold of a store than they were five years ago. People have a lot more choices in terms of how they spend their time and hard-earned money. Luxury across all categories, including watches, is a capital-intensive business. If you don’t continuously invest in your stores, people and the overall experience then the customer will see it very quickly.
WUS: For many years now, Swiss watch brands have been trawling their back catalogs for inspiration and reintroducing models that are contemporary re-editions of what has gone before. Do you feel we are seeing enough relentless pursuit of the new in Swiss watchmaking?
DH: I think there is a healthy pursuit of new in Swiss Watchmaking and we see that from both the major groups as well as the independent brands.
WUS: As WOS has a growing presence in both the UK and the US, what is the like-for-like growth for luxury watches in both markets?
DH: Well I’m sure you get all the market stats from the Swiss federations. What I will say in comparing both markets is that the luxury leather goods and luxury jewelry markets are over 7 times larger in the US than the UK. With regards to luxury watches, it is less than 2 times larger and we see that as an opportunity.
WUS: What, if any, are the differences and service expectations of a UK consumer as opposed to a US consumer?
DH: I don’t really see any major difference in service expectations. We are at all times trying to exceed that expectation.
WUS: As you will know, in 2020, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva (SIHH) will be held from April 26 to 29 in Geneva, followed immediately by Baselworld from 30 April to May 5. Do you feel two major shows in two weeks will be too much of a horological headbanger?
DH: No. Luxury watches need a major annual moment. This is going to be it.
WUS: What watch you are wearing today?
DH: A vintage Tudor Submariner I bought it in one of our UK WOS stores.
WUS: And finally, and equally importantly, what kind of drinks can visitors expect to be served at the SoHo or Hudson Yards WOS outlets?
DH: Well, I’m Irish so along with Champagne and a curated list of cocktails we will of course also serve Guinness.