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Jewellers need to embrace new opportunities in the watch category

Consumer behaviour has changed due to COVID-19, writes CATHERINE CRANER, who advises watchmakers and jewellers to adapt and take advantage by focusing on watch services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all. Although my business, The Battery Man, continued operating during the lockdown period, sales were down approximately 80 per cent in April. Yet – like many other businesses – sales have begun picking up since the beginning of May, with many jewellers telling me about an emerging trend among their customers.

People are coming in after cleaning out their cupboards and drawers while being locked down at home, and finding old and cherished watches that need to be fixed. 

One jeweller said he’s had customers come in with up to six watches needing to be fixed. It’s quite lovely really, with some finding a forgotten family heirloom or their favourite watch as a kid.  

My father used to say that when times were tough, we would get busier as people could not afford to buy new watches; rather, they would choose to have the battery changed on their existing watches instead. 

These days, unfortunately, people have another alternative: buying low-quality watches that cost less than a battery change at their local $2 shop. 

Yet, if the last few weeks are any indication, I would say the trend for replacing batteries on high-quality older watches will continue. 

This is backed up by the type of battery that’s been ordered lately. Alongside the usual 626sw/377, many other types are being requested which fit into earlier models. 

It’s good business for the watchmaker and the bottom line, as changing watch batteries helps pay the rent or the
junior’s wage.  

Servicing watches is something jewellers should focus on during this period of lower trade, just as many have already been focusing on jewellery repairs and cleaning.

"Another opportunity for jewellers looking to increase sales, post-COVID, is pre-booking a customer to have one-on-one browsing time in the store. Watch battery changes are a great entry point for this"

Consumers can buy anything on the internet, but when they need a watch repaired or a battery changed, they
must go to their local jeweller/watchmaker to ensure the job is completed to a high standard. 

The other option is to go to shoe-and-key repair kiosks, some of which charge $30–$35 for a ‘basic’ watch battery change. Unfortunately, these kiosks are not specialised in watch repairs, so customers end up going to a jeweller/watchmaker anyway to fix the mistakes made by the key repair staff.

Many of our customers, especially in country areas, are family businesses that started out working from the
spare room in their home, just like our family business. When the business grew, they moved to a local store in
town and they are still an essential part of the community. 

That is another aspect which jewellers can promote in their marketing strategy during this time, as consumers are looking to support businesses that also support the community.

When it comes to batteries specifically, one jeweller recently helped stock the local hospital with batteries for nurses’ watches and hearing aids.

Promoting community ties also helps to overcome people’s perceptions that jewellers don’t need trade because they “have lots of money” – independent jewellers need to emphasise being a small family business and turn that into a strength.

Another opportunity for jewellers looking to increase sales, post-COVID, is pre-booking a customer to have one-on-one browsing time in the store. Watch battery changes are a great entry point for this – while the customer is waiting for their battery change, they can enjoy the one-on-one service and look around the store.

Some battery changes take 10 minutes, while many others, especially larger watches, can take much longer.

When it comes to encouraging customers to have their watches repaired at a specialist jeweller, it can be a matter of “faking it ‘til you make it”.

By that, I mean that I encourage shops to first try and look the part. When I think of a watchmaker, I picture a master craftsman in a little store in Zürich. 

In order to look like a watch repair specialist, I recommend getting a white lab coat and perhaps wearing a peaked cap, which fits with the expectations of potential customers.

And finally, this down time represents a great opportunity to invest in education.

Many jewellers have been repairing watches for decades and I would encourage them to consider training for watchmaker qualifications. TAFE, for example, offers recognised prior learning, where practical experience is treated as course credit. That means study time is significantly shortened.

I’ve also recently had the opportunity to apply to the Watch & Clock Association of Australia, which I would highly recommend, especially to apprentices and trainees, to ensure our watch industry keeps on ticking.

Name: Catherine Craner
Company: The Battery Man
Position: Managing director
Location: Central Coast, NSW
Years in Industry: 26

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