Sell Watches Without Selling Watches
The industry calls you anything from “collector” to “enthusiast” and sometimes if you are lucky, “influencer.” However, the industry does not see you as the mainstream and that is because you generally are not. The mainstream these days sees the watch itself as the secondary reason to buying a watch. For them, it is about status, fashion, art and lifestyle. You can disagree with me all you like, but just visit your local department store and see what’s for sale in the watch department.
The fact that watches don’t often sell watches actually makes it easier for big brand names and events to sell timepieces. Fashion brands often need only to put their name on a timepiece, and an event can associate itself with a limited edition watch and sell it to fans. But what does a small start-up brand do to sell watches to the mainstream? You can either be innovative and original (difficult), or structure your product offering to make it seem like profits are going to a good cause (much easier). This latter technique has been growing in popularity lately to the point where it is almost an established business model unto itself. One recent company approached me and their technique was so textbook that I felt it was important to discuss as applied to the overall watch loving experience.
Let me first say that making a new and original watch using innovative materials, technology, or design is extremely difficult and expensive. Producing a new watch requires years of work and a steep initial investment. While Asian production has helped keep costs down, it still isn’t anything to laugh at given the rather extensive list of suppliers and engineering work. What is easier and much cheaper is going to an established watch maker and having them act as an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) or white label producer (where they put your name on their watch). Having recently visited the Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair (see article here), I can say that it merely requires a visit to a show like that and a keen eye for who you want to make your watches for you.
What entrepreneurs do is visit the show and work with one or more suppliers to produce “their watch.” These are often designs that the Chinese manufacturer developed, but are making slight changes to or producing just original dials for the “brand.” The brand is then able to sell them in the US and other countries at inexpensive prices and still make a profit because they aren’t really developing anything new.
The majority of new “fashion” brands we see fit this mold. The watches themselves can be fun or stylish, but aren’t anything to dedicate a cool technical article to. So how do people sell them aside from just their looks and price? Often they associate the watches with a cause. I have seen a number of these in the last few years being associated with everything from environmentalism to providing watches to doctors in third world countries. The latter company made the amusingly wild suggestion that “thousands of people are dying each year because of lack of watches.” Boy, if only that were true it would be a real industry boom, no?
A lot of these guys verge on the point of consumer manipulation. Or at least are so disconnected with their “cause” that their philanthropic angle is speculative at best. It is a general rule that most companies claiming to have a charity angle should be investigated by buyers with their “caveat emptor” hats firmly placed on their heads.