Watches of Switzerland is continuing its grand expansion into the U.S.
The publicly traded company is the U.K.’s largest luxury watch retailer and is quickly swiping up retailers, in addition to establishing its own name-brand boutiques, in the U.S. It currently has 158 stores across the U.K. and the U.S., as well as 46 mono-brand boutiques in partnership with Rolex, Tag Heuer, Omega, Breitling, Audemars Piguet and Fope. In addition to its own Watches of Switzerland-branded stores, it also owns Mappin & Webb and Goldsmiths in the U.K., as well as Mayors in the U.S. Its latest acquisitions stateside, announced on Tuesday, include Betteridge, Ben Bidge and Timeless Luxury Watches.
This is the largest expansion move from WoS since it entered the American market in 2017. Betteridge boutiques in Greenwich, Connecticut, as well as Aspen and Vail, Colorado are now a part of its fold. So is the Ben Bridge store in the Mall of America outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota and Timeless Luxury Watches in Plano, Texas just north of Dallas.
“Our intention from the beginning was that the U.S. market was hugely underdeveloped because of a lack of investment in retail, which I think we have proven to be correct,” the company’s CEO, Brian Duffy, told Robb Report. “We went public in saying that we have a plan to increase our U.S. business between 25 and 30 percent per annum for the next five years.” He says the focus will, not surprisingly, be on Rolex distribution. And they seem to have no trouble unloading Rollies to their clients. When we visited the WoS boutique in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood (they also have a store in Hudson Yards), just four watches remained in Rolex’s glass vitrines in the boutique. The SoHo business, according to Duffy, has been a runaway success and it appears he has a strategy for the rest of the U.S. unfolding.
The company set its eyes on Ben Bridge not only because it was a Rolex-based store, but also because it was underperforming. Duffy sees it as an untapped opportunity to infuse the boutique with Watches of Switzerland’s vast marketing and investment resources. As for Luxury Time Watches, he says, it is positioned in a great mall, Legacy West, and happens to be the only watch retailer in the building. “We’ll have the exclusivity on watches there and we pre-agreed that we’ll have Rolex come in there, so we’ll have a good business in Dallas, Texas,” says Duffy.
Betteridge, however, comes as a bit of a surprise. Former owner Terry Betteridge has been a longtime fixture in the watch industry, having grown the business after taking over from his father in the ’70s. You can often find him being courted by luxury watch brands, (we last spotted him in Tokyo with Grand Seiko), and is known as a top purveyor of Rolex and Patek Philippe. While the deal offers Watches of Switzerland a few retail outposts in tony luxury locations, the family will keep the Palm Beach, Florida store under its control with Betteridge’s son, Win Betteridge, leading the business. He will take on an advisory role, primarily to aid in the company’s jewelry sales.
It’s a deal that brings Betteridge, in a sense, back to Britain. The family traces its roots to the 1700s in Birmingham, England. John Betteridge was a silversmith who made snuff boxes and match holders for the English gentry. His descendants eventually landed at Ellis Island in New York in 1892, and A.E. Betteridge Sr. ended up settling in Meriden, Connecticut, where he ran the International Silver Factory. The first Betteridge stores opened in the early 1900s on Fifth Avenue and Wall Street in New York City and, eventually, the Miami Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
“We’ve known Terry and we have an association that suits everybody,” says Duffy. “He felt it was right to stay part of our group and continue to be with the business. We’re going to keep the name but, obviously, it will become part of a much bigger group and we can give them our technology and our marketing some investment as well. Betteridge has a great reputation in Connecticut and Colorado and we want to take advantage of that.” As a result, Watches of Switzerland plans to keep the Betteridge name.
The news of the acquisitions follows a recent 10 percent spike for WoS on the London Stock Exchange. The company generated a revenue of £586.2 million (approximately $792.4 million) for the first half of the fiscal year ending on October 31, compared to £414.3 million (approximately $560 million) for the same period the previous year. The addition of the boutiques will bring the conglomerate’s total number of American stores to 36 across 12 states.