How long have you been with the Watches of Switzerland Group?
Just over five years. Five year anniversary was in January of this year.
Where were you before that?
Ralph Lauren. I was the President of Ralph Lauren for Europe and the Middle East prior to that.
What’s on your wrist today?
A Ref. 5140. It’s platinum, with a 240Q movement. A Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar with blue dial. Something I love particularly with a blue jacket. (This model has been discontinued and replaced by Ref. 5237.)
How has the SoHo WoS store progressed since it opened in November 2018?
First of all, everybody loves the store. Everybody from you guys in the press, from the brands, even from the competition. We’ve heard nothing but compliments. How thoughtful we were in the design of the store, and the overall atmosphere of the store, and so on.
Business-wise we’re doing okay. We’re slightly behind the plan that we set for ourselves. We’ve since learned that SoHo is quite seasonal. More seasonal than we expected. And that the months of January and February, are, for the entire shopping area in SoHo, known to be quiet months. So we didn’t really know that, as much. So we’re very slightly behind what seems like an ambitious plan.
But we are projecting to be a success for our first year and to make money.
We made a big statement. Bringing an interesting mix of products that are selling, inevitably, Rolex and Patek Philippe are selling very well, as they do always, everywhere. We’ve had really good success with brands like Grand Seiko, where there seems to be real interest. Analog Shift’s doing very well. And, of course, we’re doing very well with the other big brands like Cartier.
Speaking of the WoS SoHo store, it continues to be featured in the news, especially the gorgeous Death & Co cocktail bar which got featured in GQ earlier this week. What is your favorite drink or cocktail?
I’m going to be boring but I would always have a beer. But I think cocktails are great. If we’re talking about a cocktail it would be something with gin and lime. I’m a beer and Bordeaux guy. Cocktail-wise I would always prefer a gin cocktail to a whisky cocktail.
How many stores does the WoS Group currently have under its management?
124. In the whole portfolio, WoS is the biggest in value globally, then Goldsmiths is next, then Mayors, and then Mappin & Webb.
WoS is on pace to do what few other multi-brand luxury watch retailers have achieved: hit the billion dollar mark. Will this happen in 2019?
Yep. It will happen in 2019 for sure.
Will WoS list on the London Stock exchange this year?
Don’t know, honestly, don’t know. We have Apollo Global Management (which has owned WoS since 2012) always following the markets, there is a lot of uncertainty in the UK, with Brexit, so I honestly don’t know.
With Goldman Sachs, and so many other companies relaxing their dress code, and the general trend towards less suits and ties, how do you see this affecting which types of watches sell best?
I think it’ll be interesting, I think there’s a real trend towards guys buying different watches for different occasions. If it’s the watch you want to impress people with in business is one choice, and then when you’re relaxing on the weekend, you know socializing and whatever, it can be another. So certainly casual dressing probably does open up the opportunity to wear different watches in business situations.
Also, it will be interesting to see how casual Goldman Sachs really goes.
Yeah, I think the trend towards accessorizing and thinking about the watch that you’re actually wearing according to what you’re doing and how you’re dressing is definitely an important one. And one that is good for the watch business overall.
The retail experience across almost every consumer category is changing at a rapid pace, thanks to Amazon and countless other disruptive digital companies, how does WoS plan to compete digitally?
We are very very active digitally. We have a great online business in the UK, so we have online sites for WoS, Mappin & Webb, and Goldsmith. We actually have a bigger share of online than we do at the store level.
We’re very active on social media. Particularly on Instagram and Facebook. And now progressively more on Youtube.
We’re also very active digitally, communicating with our database of clients. With Calibre magazine, which we do newsletters, we do regular emails of news and updates, we do podcasts. People listen all the way through our podcasts, which I was amazed by.
Digital is a big part of our success.
Amazon specifically is not a competitor, and I don’t think ever will be in the world of luxury watches. But I think it is very important that you’re responding to how people are living today. How they are getting the information, and that is through the internet.
What we find is very successful is the combination of internet and stores, the whole multi-channel experience that we really drive a lot of our marketing and activity towards.
The biggest benefit we think online is for consumers to do research, and for sure we find that consumers today come in a great deal more informed because of the internet. But again we see that as positive. It really helps decision making.
As far as experience, Material Good, AP House, and even Hodinkee (coming soon) are offering these unique apartment style hangout-stores, what are your thoughts on this?
I think it’s good. Overall I think it does show it’s a very considered purchase when you’re buying an expensive watch like an AP or just about anything that we sell.
In principle, we do the same thing, where we have hospitality in all of our stores and a lot of space where people can sit and relax.
We clearly use desks which we use to present product and interact with the customer. So we do our version of that. And I think the best example of that is SoHo.
In principle, people want to be relaxed, interact with the salespeople where we totally subscribe to and do our version of it. But we are retailers at the end of the day, so we’re never going to move to dedicated lounges.
Now that Hudson Yards is almost open for business, can you please tell us your thoughts on this latest store and the importance of being part of the largest private development in US history, not to mention one of the most innovative, and how it complements the WoS strategy to capitalize on the hot US luxury watch market?
We’ve loved this project from the beginning. Actually, it was the first deal that we signed in the US. We loved the scale and ambition of the project, that was more than the just the mall, the building that we were in. It clearly was what I describe as the creation of a new city on the West Side of Manhattan. A part of Manhattan that you only ever drove through before. It’s now become something really magnificent. So we loved the scale overall and saw it as a wonderful opportunity to be involved and really make a statement in New York.
So we did sign early on and we wanted to make sure we had the most prominent location here, which as you can see we do.
The whole concept of it is fantastic — I don’t know where else you could come and relax for a day — you can come for breakfast, or brunch, or dinner.
A lot of really captivating areas, I love the use of space and materials, very modern but yet very inviting, not intimidating, I think it’s the perfect modern mall.
I think everybody will enjoy visiting, New Yorkers and tourists alike.
And then when you see what’s outside the mall it’s magnificent, the sculpture, that we’re looking at here, the Vessel (it is literally right outside the window of the Rolex area we’re sitting in), the scale of what they’ve done with the Shed, the whole landscaping of the area. I love overlooking from here the trains that are there.
We’ve loved it from the beginning, but to actually come here yesterday and see it, it’s not often that the reality is so far ahead of your expectation. But for me, it has been. I just absolutely love it. I think it’s the biggest thing in my generation — and that’s a long generation by the way — that’s happened in New York.
What’s next, American Dream Mall in New Jersey, and I’ve even heard of a store coming to Boston?
Yep, so there are a few things next for us. American Dream, yes we’re opening there, it’s another flagship space that we’ve liked from the beginning. Amazing what they’ve done, kind of like the mall of America. Really looking forward to it.
When exactly that will open — the latest indicated time is before Christmas.
We are opening in Boston in the new Wynn Casino. That will actually happen sooner. That’s scheduled to happen end of June, this year. So that will be our first statement in Boston.
Alongside that, we’ve got three stores that are under renovation for Mayors. So we have a new flagship in Atlanta, in the Lenox Square mall. A completely new store design. And the designs for all the Mayors store are by the same architects as we’ve used for here, so they came up with a beautiful new design for Mayors. Merrick Park in Miami is under construction as well, it’s a reallocation of an existing store. And we’ve also got major renovation going on in Miami international. So three significant upgrades will happen by the end of May.
Photography by Luke Marcus Rosen.