This is the question I seem to keep unwittingly asking myself as I read more and more about the unfolding ‘Save The Time’ saga here in Australia. Since Australian watchmaker Max Schweizer appeared on video decrying the move by unnamed Swiss watch manufacturers to cease the supply of spare parts to independent Australian service centers, the Internet has been rife with rumor and conjecture about who’s involved, the legality of such a move and so forth. No real surprises there but what is surprising (relatively speaking) is the response from the watch industry so far. Or rather, the lack of response.
Mum’s The Word
Ok, admittedly it’s not that surprising. The Swiss watch industry is notorious for being tight-lipped at the best of times and almost operates, to a degree, in a shroud of secrecy. That was until yesterday when Rolex Australia broke the unspoken code of silence to speak to the Australian media about the allegations leveled by the ‘Save The Time’ campaign (click here to read the full article.)
What I do find fascinating however is that all of a sudden people are coming out of the woodwork with stories of their brother’s wife’s sister’s boyfriend who had one unpleasant experience with an Authorized Dealer, or indeed the brand itself, and therefore as a result the allegations made must be true. These are the same people who claim to be devotees of the brand and indeed own one or several of their timepieces already, yet I haven’t really seen any concerted efforts by brands to address these concerns. To some outside of the industry this may be an unfathomable concept, especially in this age of social media domination we currently find ourselves in, but unfortunately it is an all too common scenario.
Which again causes me to ask myself the question; does the Swiss Watch industry have an image problem?
Time To Speak Up?
As an independent observer who is not privy to all the facts I am not in any position to comment on the legitimacy of the claims made by either side. What I can say though is that I think this situation presents an excellent opportunity for brands within the industry to engender some serious goodwill with their customers by speaking up.
I think it’s fair to say that many brands, especially those belonging to the major groups (i.e. Richemont, Swatch, etc.) have been painted with a broad brush, with many taking their silence as acknowledgement of guilt even though they may still be readily supplying spare parts to independent watchmakers.
Conversely, this is also an opportunity to explain to consumers why they have chosen to take that course of action, if indeed they have, as Rolex attempted to do yesterday. For example, is it a refusal to supply all parts? Or is just parts for timepieces made a certain number of years ago? Are independent watchmakers able to gain some sort of accreditation that will allow them to become part of the brand’s authorized network? What is the overall impact on the consumer? What are the benefits of this decision?
Social Media provides an excellent platform for communicating directly with customers.
From what I have seen it does not seem like this issue is isolated to just Australia, however the response by brands does seem to vary Continent by Continent. For example in Europe, Rolex UK General Manager David Cutler has said that the luxury watch brand will continue to work with accredited independent watchmakers in the UK, in spite of the company’s decision not to do so in Australia.
Again, there may be legitimate reasons for making these decisions however the lack of communication ensures that these remain unknown. Whether this will impact negatively on the long-term strength of major brands remains to be seen. To be honest I think it is unlikely however that doesn’t necessarily mean that this opportunity to connect with customers on an individual level should be overlooked.
The Final Word
Firstly, to answer my original question, no, I don’t think the Swiss Watch industry has an image problem. Let’s face it, these are arguably some of the strongest brands in the world, and with good reason. As to the situation itself however, whatever your opinion, it will be really interesting to see how this all plays out and indeed if any meaningful change will be achieved as a result of the action taken by the ‘Save The Time’ organization. Again, as an independent observer I cannot comment on the accusations however I can highlight the opportunity that I think exists here, and I do commend Rolex Australia for at least providing some form of clarification.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I would really love to get a discussion going on this highly interesting topic!
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