Although the watch retailer Westime is headquartered in Beverly Hills, Calif., its reach extends well beyond the Los Angeles area. Not only does the company operate four multi-brand Westime boutiques—including three in Southern California and one in Miami—it’s also the force behind a slew of mono-brand stores, including three Audemars Piguet boutiques (LA, Las Vegas, and Miami), four Richard Mille boutiques (LA, Las Vegas, and two in south Florida—as well as an additional store opening this fall in New York City), two Hublot boutiques (in LA and San Francisco), and one Breitling boutique, which opened in LA’s Century City mall in November.
The man in charge of this growing empire is president Greg Simonian, son of Westime founder John Simonian. On a recent morning, he spoke to Robb Report about the watch industry’s obsession with retro styling, the explosion in demand for luxury timepieces in steel, and what distinguishes today’s buyers.
“We’re seeing a lot of sales, but customers are a little more conscious of the resale value of their watches,” Simonian says. “They’re more aware of the market price of the watch. That being said, the money’s there, and the customers are spending.”
What are your clients looking for?
Customers tend to gravitate toward more unique and hard-to-get product more so than ever before. People are willing to wait. There’s more excitement over things that are not readily available. It’s partly because all the information is at your fingertips. You know this model is more rare or more popular, whereas before you’d walk into a store and weren’t armed with this much information.
What trends are you seeing in the market?
Generally, I see a lot more emphasis in terms of marketing to women and more watches made for women—not just smaller versions of men’s watches but a real effort to push those sales.
Emerging from the recession, you saw a lot of safe designs and very commercial line extensions when it came to novelties every year. But now, for the first time in a while, you’re seeing real innovation and brands stepping outside their comfort zones. Of course, we’re also seeing a big return to retro styles—new watches with designs inspired by vintage style. Breitling did that; I see Zenith going in that direction.
Consumers are really enjoying it, too. It’s a nice way for brands to highlight their histories. A lot have very interesting histories, and it’s hard to convey that to the end consumer. But when you have a watch that has elements of what the brand has done historically, you tend to learn more about the brand.
At the spring watch fairs, we saw a number of brands introduce accessibly priced steel models. Are those efforts bringing in new customers?
One hundred percent it’s worked. If you talk about my Audemars Piguet boutiques, I’ve never had such a run on steel watches. It’s an easier purchase, and it’s also what the brands are marketing. You see it with brands that have primarily a wholesale business; it’s a lot less risky for retailers [to invest in steel watches], especially if you’re trying to get younger people into the store.
Which new steel models are you most excited about?
The new Blancpain Bathyscaphe is getting a ton of attention in our store. Traditionally, it’s been more of a classic watch, but the new Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Day Date 70s has garnered a ton of attention. And look at Breitling’s new launches—they’re focusing heavily on steel. They have a gold watch that rounds out their customer base, but steel watches are getting a ton of attention.
What’s been your approach to the tough retail business in 2018?
It’s not retail that’s been tough; it’s brands verticalizing and focusing on their own brands. The major move we’ve done is help the brands in their endeavors to open their own stores. It gives more of an experience to the consumer. When you walk into an Audemars Piguet store, you’re immersed in everything that brand does.
What’s the case for a multi-brand experience like Westime?
What’s unique about Westime is we offer unique products. People walk in and say, ‘Wow, I only see this in magazines.’ We sell unique products that most multi-brand retailers can’t sell. We’re known for being a connoisseurs’ destination. And it’s not just our independent watchmaking selection. Brands do innovative things—chiming watches from Bulgari that don’t get much press—and we make a point of having a unique selection from every brand we carry.
Are any specific styles or models trending among your younger clients?
The trend is there is no trend. Because everything is so available and so easy to browse, people in general are more quick to find what pleases them instead of being guided by a salesperson.
What do you consider to be the ultimate dress watch and sports watch of 2018?
The Bulgari Octo is the ultimate dress watch, and the ultimate sports watch is the Richard Mille RM53-01.
Finally, which models are your top sellers this year?
The 2018 novelties just started coming in. In 2017, our two hottest brands were Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille. That’s what’s really driving traffic. From an aesthetic and technical standpoint, they are what get people excited.