Saturday, January 18, 2014

Priming the Pump for the Hunger Games

And with the holidays over, we take a collective breath and gird our loins for the sprint towards July.  SIHH is now underway, in two more months many of us will fly "cattle class" with itineraries for Zurich and destinations south east for BaselWorld.  And then for those of us in North America we will enjoy Memorial Day, then head off to Las Vegas for the JCK show.

Each year at BaselWorld I learn a lot.  And if I am really, really honest I am not really learning so much about the industry or the new watches that will be revealed.  What I am really learning about is human nature.  While we are all excited about the new watches, there is a whole other layer of reality that is going on.  

Brands are scrambling for customers.  Like ducks on a pond everything looks nice, calm and controlled on the surface.  Of course, if you could see underneath the surface you would see the feet going a mile a minute.  Brand managers and sales representatives are being told that if they can't bring in 10 new potential customers for appointments they should cancel their travel plans - and the subtext of that is that they might want to freshen up their resumes.  

Distributors are out on the prowl, not unlike the predators who stalk the Port Authority of New York in search of the next big thing.  

And BaselWorld's version of "Rick's CafĂ© AmĂ©ricain" is the lobby of the Ramada.  This is where perhaps the majority of real deals are being made.  If you want to know how a brand is really doing, and you see one of the senior members engaged in lengthy discussions in the lobby of the Ramada you can conclude that either things aren't so good and they need an investment, or that a pretty big deal is about to go down that needs to be kept "out of the booth".

The retail partners, and "partners to be" brace themselves for a week of "speed dating".  And this is not just about getting new brands, it is also in many ways a week of "couple's therapy".  Retailers are pissed off at brands for a multitude of reasons.  And this is one of the funnier parts of the dynamic.  The retailer will essentially read the brand the "riot act" over a litany of failings - "You've opened too many doors", "you don't advertise enough", "you're not giving me enough product", "you're giving me too much product", "you don't love me anymore".  Now what the brand is feeling is pretty similar - "you don't really push the product", "you discount the product beyond belief", "you dump product on Ebay".  And one that is near and dear to my heart - "you don't pay your f&*^ing invoice even after you've sold the watch!"  But the sharp brand manager will keep these feelings to themselves, they will take the abuse from the retail partner and then if they feel it is a losing proposition, they will quietly "close the door" (i.e. end the retailer's agreement).

As with any truly good drama, there will be winners, losers, heroes and villains.

And like I said at the start - there will be some new watches ; )

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