Brian Duffy Interview

Watches of Switzerland CEO Brian Duffy Provides A Glimpse Into The Retailer’s Plans For 2020 And Beyond

In their second year of expansion in the US market, the Watches of Switzerland Group CEO gives Watchonista a hint of what’s to come.

By Josh Shanks

2019 was a banner year for Watches of Switzerland. The retailer continued its US expansion with boutique openings in Boston and Hudson Yards. The UK based retailer is taking its development in the US market seriously. From New York to Las Vegas, and perhaps a hint of further westward expansion, Watches of Switzerland is proving they’re here to stay.

During a recent visit to New York City, we had the chance to sit down with Duffy at Watches of Switzerland’s SoHo boutique. While many associate TWOSG (The Watches of Switzerland Group) with their large multi-brand boutiques, the dynamic group also manages mono-brand boutiques for Rolex, Breitling, Omega, and Audemars Piguet. The group also owns MAYORS, which is a Florida and Atlanta based chain selling luxury timepieces and fine jewelry. All-in, TWOSG operates 23 stores in the United States market.

Interview with Brian Duffy, Watches of Switzerland CEO

Josh Shanks: We’re here today to talk about Watches of Switzerland's plans for continued world domination. Could you give our readers more information on what you have planned for 2020?

Brian Duffy: Yeah, for sure. We have a big new project happening at the American Dream in New Jersey, with an opening scheduled for October. You'll love the whole project, love what it's all about. We'll also be relaunching our online store over the summer. And then mono-brand stores, which we have found to be an excellent direction for us in the UK.

JS: In terms of multi-brand [Watches of Switzerland boutiques], any plans beyond the American Dream?

BD: Yeah, but we're not saying anything until we formally announce our plans because you just never know.

JS: You've definitely brought something different to the American market, even compared to what you were doing in Europe. Watches of Switzerland’s American concepts are different. How did you determine those insights?

BD: It's a constant evolution. But I think the principles of us doing contemporary stores – that have a modern, yet welcoming appeal. Our whole sales approach is non-judgmental, non-intimidating. And we want our stores always to be intriguing, so people don't just come in and buy one thing and leave.

JS: What have you learned over the past few years about the US market that you can take back to your UK stores?

BD: Plenty! We've taken ideas of designs that we've done in Vegas and Hudson Yards, and we're implementing them in the UK. And we've taken experiences we've had here, and even brand experiences we've had, back to the UK.

A few years ago, we'd have said we're really good at selling the big brands but the niche brands we really can't give enough attention to. But with the experience we've had here, Vegas first of all, and New York City, teaches us we can do it.

JS: How are the US stores performing? I understand since Watches of Switzerland is now a public company, you may not be able to divulge specific numbers?

BD: Yeah, I can tell you something, though. Let's look, for example, to our Las Vegas boutique.

JS: For sure, we have visited the boutique many times (read HERE and HERE).

BD: Las Vegas is performing amazingly well. In the first few months after opening [the store] was trading at +40% on the same space, and it's exceeded that since. So, it's been a phenomenal success. And I think the market's been good, overall. It's all combining and working, and it's doing great.

JS: And MAYORS is going through a renaissance at the moment as well, right?

BD: Absolutely, the Merrick Park store (in Coral Gables, Florida), has doubled their traffic since their renovation. I've never seen that.

JS: For MAYORS, it's night and day if you look at the old stores compared to this new store concept.

BD: Yeah, it is! And the traffic was there, but they weren't coming in. But now our stores are working because they're simply inviting. We've got hospitality areas, which we do in all of the stores too, and we're getting people who've shopped with us previously now re-visiting just to have a coffee with our salespeople. Our team is engaging and understanding of what's happening in the client's life.

JS: Your new Audemars boutique in Atlanta is quite rare, right? AP as a brand has recently closed doors that aren’t their own, so it’s refreshing to see MAYORS running the new Audemars Piguet boutique in Atlanta. 

BD: Yeah, and it's the only one in Georgia. I think it's the only one in like a 200 [mile] radius. And the people of Georgia love Audemars Piguet. We've got a great team, and they're getting great clients. So, that's been a great success for us. I'm delighted with all the refurbishments and renovations that we've done. 

JS: Let’s talk New York.

BD: I'm delighted with New York. I think the challenges that people would find in a competitive market like New York just haven't been as significant as we anticipated. I certainly wouldn't say it's been easy, but we've done it, so it's been great. We've built a great client base, which is another thing in this business. You need repeat customers, and you need awareness. We've built a client list from scratch. Our SoHo store has the highest conversion of any of our American stores.

JS: Overall, can you say that the business is healthy in the US market?

BD: Yeah, and we see a double-digit sale growth. The market's good. Rolex is super strong. Patek [Philippe] and Audemars [Piguet] are similar. So, market conditions are right. Typically with acquisitions or mergers, there's a time during which, for whatever reason - you can lose a bit of momentum before you start going again. [Duffy continues] Luckily, from day one, we engaged with the teams we'd acquired, I think. It's a credit to the organization we have here, and they haven't missed a beat. We're thrilled with that. And I think we're proving our investment in this market had huge potential.

JS: What are your thoughts on the health of the watch industry in 2020.

BD: The level of demand exceeding supply is the highest it's ever been. So, I think the overall market is solid. I think the stability of growth in the big markets that we're interested in - the UK and US - is there and is picking up. The volatility, of course, is Asia and Hong Kong. Which we are much less affected by.

JS: I would imagine the Coronavirus crisis in the Asian markets doesn't affect you a whole lot. But affects the industry, as a whole, right?

BD: Yeah, it affects the brands. You know, their expectations and plans. 10% of our business is Chinese, but it's all in the UK. 

JS: Last question, being in this business, you have to be a watch guy. What's the one release you're looking forward to this year?

BD: Well, we've seen some of what's coming up. I think there's excellent momentum with product innovation and marketing. We were in Dubai in the last couple of weeks [for LVMH Watch Week]. I believe where Hublot is headed is good. And the integrated bracelet might not seem a big thing, but it could be a big thing for them. We've seen what's coming from TAG Heuer, and I think that's the right direction as well.

Of course, I have no idea what's coming for Rolex. Maybe you can all have a guess, but I'm sure whatever it is, it will be wonderful. So, I go in with an open mind to all of these meetings, and I'm always pleasantly surprised.

But I think there's a momentum of commercial development and innovation supported by marketing, so I'm naturally positive. But I think the market is in great shape.

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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