Recently, watch enthusiast and part-time yoga teacher Sumei Shum shared her favourite brands with me for The Peak’s regular watch collector feature. A fan of artisanal watch brands such as F.P. Journe and MB&F, she has also bought every single model by well-regarded independent brand Ming since chancing on it a few years back.
Aside from the aesthetics of its watches, another reason for her fondness of the brand is the direct engagement with its Malaysian founder Ming Thein, whom she has met several times. She said, “I like that brand founders such as Ming and Max Busser of MB&F are contactable. It’s nice to talk to them and learn more about their influences, plans and ideas.”
Over years of speaking to watch collectors, I’ve been struck by how passionate and knowledgeable they can be about brands they like. Collectors of vintage models by certain brands have given me virtual history lessons while showing me their pieces from the past.
Then you have sociable sorts such as Jaeger-LeCoultre mega-enthusiast Stefan Ma, who started the JLC Passion Facebook fan page after getting into the brand. It currently has nearly 10,000 members, who regularly share photos of and information about the company’s old and new timepieces. A brand’s best salespeople are its customers. It’s time to treat them right.
In a nutshell, such fervent fans can be a brand’s most effective salespeople. They’re knowledgeable, loyal, put their money where their mouth is and, most importantly, love sharing what they know. These enthusiasts may or may not be a brand’s biggest spenders, but they are essential members of the community that keeps a brand thriving.
Now that the pandemic has all but brought travel retail to a standstill, many companies have come to realise the importance of nurturing a solid pool of local customers, rather than just relying on wealthy clients who are passing through. During a chat with Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe during LVMH Watch Week in January, he revealed that despite generally depressed sales, certain markets – including Germany and Russia – had been less badly hit because of a strong domestic market.
I have met several local collectors who choose to buy from boutiques overseas, citing not lower prices (they are not), but the fact that they can obtain certain models that feel impossible to get here. It’s common knowledge that you need to have a healthy spending history with certain brands here to even get on a waitlist for its most sought-after watches. For some of these brands, international border closures seem to have forced a change in direction.
A fan of a major Swiss watch brand noticed an increase in the number of local buyers who were able to obtain a popular model from said brand only after Covid-19 hit – and, presumably, shut down travel retail. Sharing why he prefers buying from one of the brand’s boutiques overseas, rather than here, he says, “Prior to Covid, [the brand’s representatives here] seemed to focus on selling to tourists or expats. I don’t think they allocated for the local community but now with Covid, they have no choice. And it feels like, well, that took you forever.”
Definitely, with limited manpower and, of course, production numbers, it is impossible to expect brands to treat every client or potential client equally. However, they should not just devote the lion’s share of their resources to that handful of customers at the very top. That’s no way to strengthen the foundation of a brand.