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A bit of - British - History

If you consider any industry, you will be aware that between manufacturing and end user there is likely to be a middle man. The IT industry uses its own centralised warehouses, usually in central Europe, fro there they sell their products to a number of authorised distributors. Of course, we are talking of names like, HP, Epson, IBM, Seagate and so on, where, due to large quantities, a sole distributor would be less practical, mainly due to logistics.

In the motor industry we have one major importer (distributor) which sells to dealers. However brands are all well known and little effort is needed to promote their products.

Other industries will a grid of their own offices to distribute their products, hence making it easier for them to keep control and follow any marketing or logistics issues.

To complain that there isn't a wide choice of watch brands in our European shops, one must look at the distribution channels (or lack of it in most cases) of the watch industry.

Watch names that come easily to mind are: Rolex, Cartier, Breitling, Corum, Montblanc, Swatch, Omega, Oris, Fortis, Fossil, Tag-Heuer, Rado and so on. We may add a few more brands to this list of names but I would say that most of us will only be able to list no more than perhaps 40 brands. What about the other 4000 or so brands out there?

Success of the above mentioned brands is based on distribution. Rolex and Breitling are independent makes with their own offices and repair centres. They also do their own marketing and this allows them to deliver a good image with its “feel good factor”.

Brands like Montblanc, Cartier, Omega, IWC, Zenith, Tissot, Seiko and several others belongs to four very big and very rich groups – LVMH, Richemont, Seiko and Swatch Group.

These too, like Rolex and Breitling have their own offices with marketing and distribution.

A few other brands may also have their own marketing and distribution offices in specific countries, these do not necessarily export well often due to poor understanding of local issues.

For what it concerns the other 4000 brands some pop up and disappear from our own market place at regular intervals. The firm finds a distributor, works with it for a few months, does do not give any marketing input and swap and change  distributors at ease at times almost from one year to the next.

These are brands like Roamer, Glycine, Ventura, Certina, Jaguar, Revue-Thommen, Chase-Durer, Luminox and many more. They have all made their appearance into the British market but it has always been a roller coaster ride. Are any of these brands inferior in quality and price to brands like Dunhill or Longines? Are these brands are not as old or do not have a history like Omega or Tag-Heuer?

Some of these brand names can easily go back to 1800, so a brand like Rolex (circa 1924 – depending on which book one reads) is actually quite young in comparison.

Why has not one of the 500+ good brand names been able to make an impact in the British market and the retail shops/chains?

The lack of marketing commitment that has given way to the roller coaster ride – here today, gone tomorrow does not, from the public point of view, provide a reassuring image. This will  bring lack of confidence. Many may remember Lancia cars but not many would buy them because of the image they had of being “tins of rust”. Little did it matter that with advance in technology the cars they produced were as good as any other. The old generation may remember Roamer watches but no one these days would spend more than £20 to buy one.

How is this negative image created?

The Internet plays a big part. A lot of information is found and shared with sites that have Forums often discussing one brand value against the other. Unfortunately these are often not very impartial because behind most Forums there are brands that pay towards keeping such forum alive.

However “new-ish” sites like eBay can also offer us watches at factory prices and this is another problem to the image of these brands. If we can buy a new Roamer watch on eBay for £25, why should we pay £100 for the same watch somewhere else?

A distributor in Holland had an argument with Locman watches of Italy. He had over 150 watches in stock that was now prepared to sell at 70% off their retail price. Unfortunate for him the brand Locman is not so well known and he had difficulties in selling them. The same happened in UK with Wenger (Swiss Army), Roamer, Glycine and many others that carry on swapping and changing distributors. By themselves, these brands are creating a grey market. A grey market that is not giving confidence to end users.

Until watch brands will take marketing seriously and will be prepared to invest in continuity they will be perpetuating the roller coaster of their company image and company fortune.  

There is also another issue – the brand name. Once again the Internet plays a big part on information available to us all. While our grand parents may remember the name Roamer as an old traditional Swiss made watch – these days we can find that Roamer is very much a Chinese manufacture on many aspects. Which brings us back to “why should we pay £100 for a watch that made in China will only cost £10 for a similar model?”

The other problem with the brand name is that it is not any longer what it used to be. Roamer is not the only brand with Chinese connections. Many Swiss brands in the 70s went out of business or were on the verge of bankruptcy. Omega was saved, many others went down. However many brand names were bought by other companies and the original brand name was later revived. Some product’s names, in fact, are just a name and have nothing in common with the original products and its tradition.

In the last 20 years we have not seen any of these brands making a decisive impact in our market place and it will be the same for the next 20 years. If any of these brands will prove to be very popular it may be absorbed by the Big 4 but currently there are none that look palatable enough.

Also many new brand names will be dropped in the next 10 years. As models and prices are looking similar or are copied from each other, the survivors will be those that can provide after sale support and good customer service. Swiss Automatic movements have become extremely low priced and affordable these days (I will let you guess why) and to pay £1000 for a Tag-Heuer or a Tudor watch will become a past fashion as the customer will realize that all they are paying for is the brand name and its expensive marketing and not the quality of the product.