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Have the brand sponsored boutiques changed the customer service experience?

by Jordan Ficklin

Way back in June 2011 Nichols Hayek Jr told Joe Thompson of WatchTime magazine in an interview that U.S. watch retailing was amongst the worst in the U.S. He proposed a change in the customer’s experience with more knowledgeable sales people and fewer discounts in brand sponsored boutiques.

This week I am in Las Vegas where there is no shortage of brand boutiques and I set out to find out (a little bit by accident) whether this has changed any at all. My first stop was a Breguet boutique. The first thing I noticed was that all the watches were running and set to the correct time. I was impressed and I mentioned it to the sales staff who assured me they wind them each day because they pride themselves in their timepieces and they strive to take proper care of them. I took the opportunity to find out a little bit about their repeater. They had a beautifully skeletonized repeater on display and I asked to hear it chime. I was told the watch was in Platinum and only $239,000. They invited me into one of their little salons and brought the watch to me. I activated the repeating mechanism and was surprised by it’s tiny and ‘tin’ny sound (hopefully because the whole thing was still covered in protective plastic.)

I turned the watch over and began to examine its components. The first thing that jumped out at me was that this “platinum” watch was stamped .750 (Strike 1 – the watch is 18K, not platinum) The finish of the components seemed questionable to me so I asked for a loupe and was provided one. I may have high expectations, but for $239,000 I expect flat polished (mirror polished / black polished) screwheads and steel components for that price. Not so, the screw heads had an “ordinary” polish. The steel components had a line finish but even that seemed somewhat inconsistent and many of the small springs had no beveled edges whatsoever.

The bridges were all hand engraved and I wondered if for this price maybe they were in precious metals so I asked what material the bridges were made of. The sales person had to go ask another who said that the bridges are usually made of brass because it protects against corrosion. (Strike 2 for my ‘ambassador’ / Plus 1 for the manager)

Intrigued by my experience to this point I decided to inquire as to what caliber was found in the watch that most appealed to me, the Chronographe Classique with a beautifully printed snail tachometer on the dial. Once again the salesperson did not know, neither did the manager so they pulled out the catalog (caliber 533.3, FYI). Well, this was strike 3. Even with a single brand and only a handful of watches the sales people still can be quite easily stumped. I had to return to the Internet to find out what I really wanted to know and that was that the 533.3 is based on the Lemania CH 27 as I had suspected it might be.

Mr. Hayek, you have your boutiques, but you don’t have your customer service yet. I propose you put some real watchmakers who are passionate about the art in your boutiques, or choose retailers who have passionate watchmakers who can speak intelligently about your product. It is a miracle we can sell these watches at all. There can only be 2 kinds of buyers: those with so much money they must have the latest, greatest, and most limited timepieces, and those who have done enough research on the Internet that they need not rely upon the sales people to answer their questions.

My next boutique experience was in a Rolex boutique, sponsored but not owned by the brand. The sales person there knew which models were new from Basel this year but unfortunately couldn’t tell me what calibers were to be used in the new Cellini models although she did know they were going to be automatic. A google search reveals multiple confirmations that they will be built on the 31xx architecture and so are only partially “new.”

My best service experience of the day: In an independently owned retail shop with a multitude of brands from many different companies where the sales people genuinely seemed passionate about watches and not only knew about the product but volunteered to tell me all about it even after I had disclosed that I wouldn’t be purchasing anything today.

Has the experience changed. I don’t think so. It seems highly unlikely that the boutiques will provide any better experience for the consumer than the independent retailer did. Oh, and as for discounts . . . I was in no position to buy but I have heard many individuals tell me that you can get a discount at the boutiques. Sorry, Mr. Hayek, I hope the boutiques are generating a better profit because they haven’t delivered on your promises.

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  1. Posted May 30, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    The new Cellinis are indeed based on the 3130. The time only model houses a 3132, the date model is a 3165, and the dual time model is a 3180. A brilliant move on Rolex’s part in terms of ensuring longterm reliability and serviceability.

  2. Posted May 31, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I found similar shortfalls in knowledge when I was there, also. The staff at the Chopard Boutique were not even aware of the names of some of their models, or the history. The exception was Tourneau, where the staff was knowledgable and the service excellent.

  3. Michael
    Posted May 31, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I would like to know what their answers would have been if you’d asked the boutiques, “How often should the watch be serviced?” and “How many months would it take?”
    We all know the answers, but I’d like to know what the salespeople wold say.

  4. Kyle S.
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing your insights. I had a couple similar experiences this past weekend. I would say that the watch enthusiast (who can go deep on the details) who also happens to be a watch salesperson is still a rare occurrence here in the US. Most are just salespeople who know enough to get by and close the deal with the average watch consumer.

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