To say that watch distribution is no longer the same is stating the obvious. Own-name stores, online retail and a growing second-hand market are just some of the developments keeping head offices on their toes in recent years. As the traditional watch-buying public ages, and is replaced by the oft-touted Millennials whose expectations differ, brands are looking for ways to diversify and take full advantage of the various channels. With the emphasis on service. In an age where instant gratification and experiences are valued over effort and ownership, leasing stands out as a good way to drive business. Despite this, initiatives are still slow on the uptake with only a handful of watch leasing companies in Europe – none of which are in Switzerland. The concept has, apparently, yet to convince brands.
Borrow from the automotive sector
TAG Heuer, Richard Mille, Rebellion, Hublot, Blancpain… Each year, more and more watchmakers are joining their automotive partners at motor shows. As the Geneva International Motor Show gets under way, we can legitimately ask whether they shouldn’t be sharing more than automakers’ values of performance and some high-tech materials. Both industries have a reputation for prohibitive prices. Both sell non-necessities. The car industry has countered these obstacles by throwing in extras, offering free servicing or through attractive financing deals.
The majority of financing by Lease a Watch falls within the €3,000 to €8,000 bracket. Revenue doubled between 2016 and 2017.
It’s this last point that set Grégoire Bardon thinking. After a career in car sales, this watch collector became one of the first in Europe to adapt the financing options that have long been a fixture of car-buying to luxury watch sales. Lease a Watch, the company he set up in 2012, is now the number-one credit and leasing service for watches in France. As Bardon explains, its two main lines of business are a standard loan service for the general public, and a leasing service for corporate clients. Most of the financing falls within the €3,000 to €8,000 bracket. Bardon says revenue doubled between 2016 and 2017, without going into detail.
Brands are still reluctant
Lease a Watch, whose tagline is “Une certaine valeur du temps”, has offices in Bordeaux and Paris, and does business all over France. It operates independently of watch brands and is distinct from distribution networks. In addition to financing, its portfolio includes theft insurance, a rare watch finding service and, given its line of business, the opportunity to purchase pre-owned watches from lease returns. “Customers come to us through the website,” says Grégoire Bardon. “We then work with authorised retailers who supply the chosen watch.”
The idea of working directly with brands has been on the table for a while now, says Bardon, “but it’s hard to get things moving. Brands still think of us as detrimental to their image. They’re not ready.” Which seems surprising, given that conditions are ripe: “Prices are high, interest rates are low. And everyone knows that if a customer has to save up for three years, most of the time the sale won’t happen.”
In the meanwhile, Lease a Watch is looking to the next stage in its development and extending its product range. It also has plans to develop a leasing service for individuals, thanks to a new round of funding. This was actually Bardon’s original idea, “but there is a complex legal side to it, and financial partners are hard to convince.” The next step could then be to extend the concept to other luxury products.