Professional Jeweler Archive: Watches with a Difference

May 2001

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Watches with a Difference

Ben Bridge uses savvy merchandising to establish a watch-selling image all its own


Ah, watches. You sell them. The jeweler down the block sells them. Wal-Mart sells them. And the very watches that lie gleaming in your display case are also available from a gazillion Web sites.

Is there a way out of this box?

Ben Bridge Jewelers of Seattle – described by one watch rep as “one of the best watch merchandisers we’ve worked with” – broke out by promoting models exclusive to its stores. Offering watches customers couldn’t get elsewhere gave the retailer a way to dodge the competing-on-price bullet.

“Basically, we went for unique dial colors or some other feature different from what’s normally offered,” says Steve Davolt, vice president of marketing.

Standing Out

It’s not necessary that all watches be unique, he says, only enough to make an impression. So if white metal watches are ubiquitous, one solution is to show several that are gold or black. When the steel look was beginning to heat up, for example, Ben Bridge featured watches with rose or blue dials that stood out among the white faces.

Unusual combinations are available with relatively low minimums from a variety of manufacturers. Ben Bridge works most frequently with Seiko, Bulova and Raymond Weil.

So strong is the retailer’s watch business that it’s been experimenting with watch-only stores – such as Ben Bridge Timeworks in Honolulu, opened in 1997 – and two store-within-a-store boutiques in the Seattle area.

Up Against the Wall

The Honolulu store allows the company to experiment with presentations that challenge the traditional over-the-counter format. Many of the store’s 27 watch lines are on the wall. “Wall cases are interesting because you work side by side with the customer,” says Davolt. “Selling becomes more collaborative.”

Wall displays also permit better and more graphics. One goal at Ben Bridge, says Davolt, is for customers to know from a distance that a watch grouping is by Gucci or Rolex. “We want each brand to stand out,” he says.

In another attempt to stand out, Ben Bridge decided several years ago to concentrate watch advertising in July – previously a slow month – rather than spread it throughout the year. Now July is Watch Month, and the resulting promotional blitz has made it the chain’s second-largest selling period after the year-end holidays.

Ben Bridge isn’t striving to become a watch retailer. It remains a full-service jeweler with a thriving business in traditional areas, especially diamonds. “We look critically at all areas,” says Davolt. “Our goal is to do 1% better across the board rather than 100% better in one area.” That 1% difference, he says, is enough to change where customers shop.

– by Mark E. Dixon

Jewelers looking to stand out should feature watches that look different from ones readily available in department stores and watch outlets. Skagen watches, for example, are everywhere in icy white metal. But the sleek Danish brand’s models are available in yellow metal too.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications