Friday, December 27, 2019

The Ayn Rand School of Watch Retail

Shamelessly borrowed from the world-wide info-web
In fairness, I am still a relatively new transplant to the Metro-Boston area, but I like to think that I am a pretty quick study. There is one thing that I am fairly confident about, it is probably not the ideal city to set-up mono brand watch boutiques, with perhaps the exception of the Rolex boutique that is being opened in partnership with a large, regional jeweler.

Boston welcomed the opening of the Richard Mille boutique on Newbury street with all of the pomp and circumstance of a damp fart. A friendly note to the folks financially backing this venture, you might want to actually, I don't know, engage with the people you are hoping to attract into your store. On a side note, I passed by again yesterday and noted a somewhat anxious looking sales person, gaze transfixed on the Boxing Day traffic passing by. Now it is, of course, entirely possible that this is not the loneliest retail outlet on the street, but I passed it twice daily when I worked in the city, and let's just say it was not exactly "jumping".

And on my way to Pho Pasteur for a particularly tasty bowl of yumminess (travel tip for you out of towners from your old pal Henki - skip the food courts, and head to China Town for a bowl of the real deal), I came across this curious decision -

And while this could be viewed as another bit of folly, it is at least a potentially more reasonable bite of the real estate pie. AP made the decision a year or so back that they would separate from their former favorite retail partners (you know, the folks who actually helped them build the brand in the US) and move solely to direct distribution.

Which inevitably means that you have to have stores. And for AP this is either going to be a genius move, or a minor bleed. While Cartier, the aforementioned Rolex partner boutique and the Richard Mille monument to Howard Roark are nestled at the head of Newbury street, tucked in with Giorgio Armani, Van Cleef & Arpels and Burbury holding the "anchor" spot, the new AP boutique is somewhat off the beaten path. It is a block over, and another half block down on Boylston street, a stone's throw from Herm├Ęs. It is decidedly heading away from the prime shopping area. If I am not mistaken it is either in the retail section of a hotel, or snugged up right next to one, facing the Public Garden (not to be confused with Boston Common which is right across the street). As gently as I can put this, it would be somewhat easy to miss it.

But on the other hand, my suspicion is that the rent is much more affordable than on Newbury, which is reputed to be the most sought-after, and most expensive retail space in the city. And AP might be an unusual enough choice that its clientele will seek them out. Which again begs the question - why have a boutique?

More than anything else, this renewed push towards mono-brand boutiques begs the question - how often has this REALLY worked in the watch business in the US? (Spoiler alert - it has!)

And where has it worked? Places like New York (sort of), Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and Miami. And where it hasn't worked is a list that would make you scratch your head when considering whether or not these boutiques make sense here in Boston - or in other cities such as San Francisco.

I am somewhat conflicted. I can appreciate that brands have been burned by certain retail partners. By the same token, there are some very fine, very honest retail partners that have been burned by the brands that they have helped to build. In many ways it has devolved into an almost "Spy vs Spy" battle. And while I see nothing wrong with the brand boutique concept, I think that the brands need to try and have a better understanding of the metro areas that they are trying to set-up. Regardless of the economy, that one block section of Boston retail real estate has always been, and always will be, WICKED PRICEY. You have a presence, you will sell some watches, but after everything is said and done it is at its heart a very expensive bit of marketing.

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