Pranav Saboo, CEO of Ethoswatches.com, tells us about taking the Ethos legacy online, new watch trends and how the Indian customer buys watches.
What are the new trends you saw at Baseworld 2017?
Right now, the luxury industry is going through a bit of a churn, especially in India. It’s important to bring more people into buying luxury. As a retailer, I am looking for more products at entry price points. I am looking forward to seeing how the watch brands have been able to make more aggressively priced products, because that isn’t simply done by cutting prices. If there is craftsmanship involved, how do you get your artists to be able to produce a little bit faster, keeping the same quality? I think you’re going to see this across brands because everybody is in a tough business environment. From the design sense, some of the things that have worked very well in the past three years are what you are seeing incorporated more — like blue dials and bronze products. You’ll see the sizes coming down a little bit. Over-sized watches were great at some point, but not so great business-wise. You’ll see a lot more models in sizes between 38 mm and 43 mm now. A lot of brands are also entering the women’s segment. In India, it’s 75 per cent men and 25 per cent women. I think the brands can do a lot more with jewelry and timekeeping together.
How do you perceive the status of the Indian watch market currently?
The Indian watch market is going through a tough time right now. It is divided between two price points — premium watches priced from Rs 10,000-Rs 2,00,000 and then those that cost more than Rs 2,00,000. For the latter, there are a lot of challenges that come with scaling up in India legally. A huge investment is required for success. The Swatch Group and Breitling have put in that investment, so they will likely see success. Recent changes in laws will have a two- or three-year impact, but it’s good for us in the long run. My hope is that these laws will get the grey market in check, because it has been detrimental to the success of luxury brands in India and hasn’t allowed organized players to invest.
Has the Indian buyer’s taste for luxury watches evolved?
Yes, today Indian buyers are spending a lot more time researching products before they buy them. They want to read credible reports and know about the heritage and craftsmanship of what they are spending their money on. That’s exciting because it means more brands can enter India.
Are there differences in the way people buy watches across the country?
I think there are certain differences, but not enough for us to create completely different retail strategies. The difference is 20-25 per cent. For instance, north India has higher prices than the south and sells more steel than gold watches.
When people come to your store — which stocks the best of luxury brands — what is it that they are looking for, and how do you help them make a selection?
We train our salesmen to first understand what the consumer really wants from his watch — craftsmanship, heritage or just visual appeal — and try to tell them relevant stories about the brands we stock. More than a watch, a consumer picks up a story and the entire world around the watch. Like in the case of the Omega Speedmaster, the Moonwatch has such a rich heritage attached to it. Carl F. Bucherer’s Flyback Chronograph is backed by amazing technology. A brand like Sevenfriday has great visual appeal.
You have set up an online portal to sell luxury watches as well. How is it performing?
We want to give people the ability to compare watches and do all the research from the convenience of their homes and then want to see just the shortlisted ones at their homes or the nearest store. They can even speak to luxury watch consultants to help in their decision. If you are buying a watch for Rs 5 lakh, you will appreciate more knowledge about what you are buying, and it becomes more appealing too. Not enough people are telling the stories behind these watches. An ad in a newspaper creates visibility, but putting up these details creates curiosity. We wanted to fill that gap digitally.
Do people place orders online as well?
Most of them look at the watches online and then come to the store for their purchase. We encourage that. We spent the last ten years establishing a footprint, now and next 10 are about improving our in-store experience. We have many more flagship stores launching, and you will see them very differently. There will be a 2,500 sqft boutique in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi that will focus entirely on the experience. It won’t be simply about buying a watch.
Is online the future for luxury watch sales?
I think people will do their research online but make their purchase at a store, because they enjoy the process.
How many watches do you own? Which one is your favourite?
I own about 15 or 16 watches. I would have to say that the Carl F. Bucherer TravelTec is my favourite at the moment. It’s a triple time zone chronometer. It’s got a disengaging hour hand. It always intrigues me that they have been able to make this and manage all of it completely mechanically.