The hand of time

By The Drum, Administrator

April 2, 2004 | 11 min read

Never let it be said that time isn’t money. In a world where the rat race dominates our day-to-day life, we’re consumed by schedules that dictate where we go and what we do. And it’s hard to imagine how we’d function in this mad world if we didn’t have the convenience of having the time strapped to our wrists. Since the birth of the watch, whether in pocket or wrist form, it has been a product of desirability and the craft involved has made it as much a fashion accessory as a tool for everyday life.

And so, enter Rotary marketing director, Victoria Campbell, who has kindly invited Adline to the firm’s plush Regent Street headquarters in London for a one-to-one chat about what makes this 109-year-old watch brand tick.

Before launching into her own role at the company, Campbell walks Adline through a potted history of the firm, and, wastes no time in dropping in Rotary’s Swiss heritage. \"Rotary was founded in Switzerland in 1895, which is perhaps the thing that is most well known about the company, and it’s also featured in the logo. Perhaps what isn’t as well known about the brand is that we’re still owned by the founding family. And that’s one of the lovely things about this brand – to have a fourth generation member of the family who’s currently our chairman is a tremendous advantage.\"

Said family member, Robert Dreyfus, took over the firm from his late father and, with the help of a team of about 150, is looking to consolidate Rotary’s position in the market. Campbell says: \"I think that for many of our customer base, who are independent jewellers and are also family owned, there’s a real emotional connection. I also think that in a business where many other watch companies have been bought out by large groups, what it gives us is an enormous amount of independence to run our business the way we want to run it.\"

And Campbell has been a key cog in helping Rotary to operate like clockwork. Having joined the firm in 1997 as marketing manager, Campbell was appointed to the board two years later and has played a key role in the firm’s development during this time.

\"In the last six years, the whole business has gone through a complete change. A lot of time’s been spent on the product range to really inject a lot more style, so we have a lot more contemporary watches coming through. Although we do still have the traditional part of the range and it’s because our customer is quite a broad church,\" Campbell comments.

Four years ago, the firm moved from London’s jewellery quarter in favour of its new address, which is a short stroll from bustling Piccadilly Circus. Around the same time Campbell hosted a pitch for the firm’s creative account. As Campbell reveals: \"We work with a small agency. We’ve worked with them for about four years now, and they’re based in Leicester, called Ratcliffe Fowler. I came in to change virtually everything and we brought them in. They’ve performed time and time again and they understand what we are trying to achieve.

\"They produce all creative, including our catalogue. We’ve found that they have a very good understanding of photographing watches and they handle all our communication programme.\"

Campbell’s arrival at Rotary has had a major impact on the way the company does business. \"I’m a firm believer in big spends for marketing communications. When I came on board here, marketing wasn’t really an essential function. Progressively since then, spend has been increased. I think it’s had a huge impact on the way that customers and consumers perceived the brand, because the external face of Rotary has changed quite significantly, and the way we’ve done that is to gradually evolve into what we are today. We are very committed to being a marketing-led organisation.\"

Rotary’s decision to choose an agency outside of London is one that Campbell can easily validate. \"We’re all about value for money – and it makes perfect sense to get value for money from our marketing budget. There are agencies out there that have the right skill sets to match what we are looking for, so why spend more on someone with a London address?\"

It’s this reasoning that helped Communiqué PR pick up the firm’s public relations account at the back end of 2003. \"It’s the same for websites,\" Campbell says. \"We will often opt for a new media agency that’s in the provinces for specific web tasks.\"

Discussing the firm’s creative approach to marketing the brand, Campbell states: \"We are reluctant to change things too radically but what we aim to do is punch above our weight. While we do business in the middle market, we want to look, behave and produce marketing collateral that is perceived to be very luxury, very top end and with all the fine details.\"

She adds: \"Photography is really one of the most important aspects of marketing the watch range for Rotary. It’s all in the detail and we believe that the watches really sell themselves. We hold focus groups with consumers twice a year and time and time again we hear that they’re advertising-aware and don’t like to be patronised, so we let the products speak for themselves, with sumptuous photography.\"

Campbell has sought consumer advertising to appear in national newspapers and magazines, pushing more towards men than women. \"We currently sell more watches to women than men. There’s not a major difference, but we are trying to redress the balance with the consumer ads.\"

But it’s not all consumer advertising that is moulding the brand into the sculpture of a modern and exciting watch-making company. \"The lion’s share of our total marketing budget goes on trade marketing,\" explains Campbell, clearly proud of what she feels is a unique approach to marketing.

She adds: \"Our success has a lot to do with our trade marketing behind the scenes. We’ve built up so much trust and confidence and we have so much know-how, dating back to 1895.

\"We have a team of five dedicated trainers covering the whole country, who offer group training sessions for retail staff. We see it as an investment. When people go into a jewellers to buy a watch, they\'ll have a style and price in mind but they’ll often ask staff for recommendations and advice and, because of the relationship that’s built up and the training, what happens nine times out of ten is they’ll recommend a Rotary watch.\"

While at first glance this approach may seem a little underhand, Campbell assures us that it is as much about the confidence in the brand as anything else: \"They know we offer great value for money and a great after-sales service. So there’s a lack of fear on the part of the staff – they have no concerns about selling a Rotary.\"

Throughout the meeting, the running theme is Rotary’s key brand values. \"First and foremost, it’s our Swiss heritage, our quality and our value for money. It’s fair to say that we want someone to pick up a Rotary watch, understand the features they’re getting, then ask the price, and for them to get a shock and, then, to ask, ‘Is that all?’\"

Campbell also has the facts to back up her impressive claims. Research firm GFK has identified Rotary as being the number two in the watch market when it comes to value for money – the number one being Rolex.

\"To be number two in this market is remarkable when you consider that we are essentially still a small family business. The GFK data gets even more interesting if you look at what our core business is. Most of our product range is priced at £100–£200, whereas the total market takes into account watches that are under £50 and above £1000. So we are actually the market leader in the middle priced segment of the watch market,\" Campbell enthuses.

It’s this middle market that Rotary dominates, with brands such as Seiko, Citizen and Tissot also vying for a bigger market share. \"The average spend on watches is £50, so a Rotary watch, priced between £100 and £200, is quite an expensive purchase for people in the UK, and is still very much an aspirational purchase. But, compared to price points in different ranges, we know we have this surprise and delight factor in the value for money.\"

While Rotary’s position in the market is secure, Campbell is aware of the changes that the watch industry has and is going through.

As well as what Campbell describes as a \"strange\" 2003, she cites another tremor on the market’s surface. \"The watch market is increasingly fragmented – recently we’ve seen a huge amount of new brands enter the arena, particular brands that would fall under the sports or fashion sector. And that’s caused, what I would call, turbulence.

\"Luckily, it hasn’t harmed us – largely because you either want a long-standing serious watch brand or you want a designer label watch and so, while it did make everyone sit up and take notice, it hasn’t really hurt the big watch brands.\"

So, with almost every industry welcoming the glass-half-full 2004 that’s taken over from the barrel-scraping 2003, Rotary and Campbell have big plans on the horizon. The strength of the brand in the UK has given the firm the confidence to venture onto foreign shores.

\"It’s only in the last few years that we’ve really concentrated on international markets, and the way that we’re growing the brand outside the UK is strictly by third party distributors who’ve been carefully selected. We’re now in about 30 countries worldwide and it’s really our Swiss-made range of watches that is spearheading the growth in these international markets.

\"It’s early days but we certainly have high hopes for the US market. Interestingly, we are doing well in English speaking countries – we do well in South Africa and have just taken on a distributor in Australia, which we’re very excited about.\"

And, as Campbell and the Rotary team relish their foreign onslaught, the plans don’t stop there. She adds: \"What we’ve been best known for is spearheading and changing the way the industry works. The work isn’t totally done in the UK – we have built and launched our trade website, which is password protected and the only one of its kind in the UK industry. Of our independent customers, 50 per cent are now using the site. In terms of turnover last year we actually took over £3 million of business through the site. We have genuinely created a new way of doing business with us. And that supports our relationship building, confidence and trust that makes up our brand values.\"

Rotary’s dedication to this unique style of personalised marketing may seem like a slightly obscure approach but the facts speak for themselves: the number one in its core market, Rotary sells about half a million units a year and has scooped prestigious accolades as a result.

Campbell states: \"At the UK Jewellery Awards, run by the Retail Jeweller magazine, we’ve won the watch supplier of the year for the second year running\"

The awards, along with Rotary’s impressive reputation, bode well for the future. To use one last pun: Watch this space. N

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