Girard-Perregaux North America
Watch industry veteran Ron Jackson has overseen tremendous growth in the United States for sister brands Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard. Now the U.S. CEO is overseeing the opening of GP’s first boutique in North America in a prime spot on New York’s Madison Avenue. Recently Elite Traveler President and Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan and Associate Editor Jennifer Sembler joined Jackson at Nello across the street from the new boutique. Over bellinis the conversation ranged from the challenges of opening in a down market to Jackson’s current quest to raise money for a charity founded by Patrick Dempsey.
ET: Let’s start by talking about the new Girard-Perregaux boutique opening this fall on Madison Avenue. With everything that’s going on right now, it’s an interesting time to be opening a new retail store.
Ron Jackson: Yes, it is. It might have been better to open a year ago but when you’re an independent company many things you invest in don’t have a short-term return, especially for true Manufactures like Girard-Perregaux. Everything we do seems to take 18 months to three or four years for the true investment to pan out. On the other hand, we have the exact location we want for the boutique and are building the store we’ve dreamed of. We’re confident the boutique will be the right step to achieve our long-term goals. We did a lot of research beforehand and decided on a very specific range of city blocks for the boutique’s location, so when the space became available we went for it and signed the lease last October. We’re very excited and for us it’s a way to underline that we are a long-term company and are optimistic about the future. It may be tough for another six months but after that, it’ll be better and we’re a company that is scaled to deal with that outcome.
ET: So in retrospect, it might be a really good time to be opening the boutique if we’re nearing the end of the recession?
Ron Jackson: I think so. New York is a great place for us to establish a foothold. It’s hard for us to control our position with retailers, such as displays, placement in the store, etc. so in the scheme of what’s going on it’s made having our own boutique a more comforting prospect. We are looking to establish the boutique as a resource for existing retailers, acting as an “embassy” for them to send customers who would like to see the brand’s full assortment of products. The new boutique isn’t meant to compete with retailers but rather complement what they do and facilitate a positive customer experience and ultimately lead to sales—wherever that may be.
ET: You just mentioned having control over your product and position. How do you want to position Girard-Perregaux as a brand?
Ron Jackson: Well GP is just one of a few brands who is a true Manufacture. We manufacture the entire range of movements—the main components—and we do it via our own infrastructure. We have our own research and development team, our own tools and machines, etc. That’s the basis for how we see ourselves. There are very few companies out there who have those skills and resources. Many companies have movement manufacturing divisions but they go to outside suppliers. We handle it all and in doing so are able to exert more control over the product through our diversification—and the boutique is another extension of that. It’s hard to control all of that through retailers. The average retailer has 40 brands in the store so for them it doesn’t make sense to carry every watch from every brand they sell. But brands certainly have a vested interest in seeing all of their collections displayed.
ET: So why don’t you tell us a bit about the concept behind the new boutique?
Ron Jackson: It’s based on a style and design concept. There are no real showcases or tables or typical watch and jewelry store set-ups. It’s a unique cross between a gallery and retail store. Each individual watch will have its own display so its subtleties and nuances can be appreciated by the customers. At the same time, the boutique will have a very warm and inviting feel to it. It’s going to be very interesting.
ET: And you are going to have a watchmaker at the store, correct?
Ron Jackson: Yes, we are planning on it. We just felt that if you are going to spend all this time and effort on the boutique, you want someone there who really knows the product personally so we’re going to have an in-house watchmaker. It’ll be really helpful because when we get a watch from a customer, we can work on the product right there and then, and with someone who intrinsically appreciates the product. It’s also a point of service. We can do anything in-house, whether it be changing a strap or bracelet or performing repairs. A lot of times when a customer drops a watch off for service, the repairman doesn’t necessarily know what needs to be fixed and doesn’t have any information about the product other than “this needs to be fixed.” But here the watchmaker can really find out what’s going on and discuss the repair with the customer. It’s about exceeding customer expectations from the time they drop off the product until they pick it up. It’s also helpful because the watchmaker, from talking to the customer, will really know what the mechanical situation is with the watch. Most stores today don’t have skilled watchmakers on-hand, and this gives us the ability to really enhance our level of customer service.
ET: When I first started visiting watchmaking factories in Switzerland and was able to see the process up close, I really started to appreciate mechanical watches. It seems that having a watchmaker on-site is a good opportunity to impart knowledge of the mechanics of the product on customers who are interested.
Ron Jackson: Yes it is. The idea is to have someone who is really customer-oriented but is also a really skilled watchmaker. It really helps too if people are in town for a short time and need a repair because we can turn repairs around in 24 to 48 hours. Sometimes when you send in a watch for repairs, you lose 24 to 48 hours just in shipping. So it’s good to have someone there who can really talk to the customers and find out what they need. We haven’t found anyone yet but we’re looking in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland [where Girard-Perregaux is based] to see if we can bring someone from there, someone who really meets the qualifications.
ET: So for our readers who aren’t that familiar with Girard-Perregaux, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the brand, and also JeanRichard, which is owned by the same company?
Ron Jackson: We are structured under the Sowind Group who owns two brands—Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard—and also a movement and watch manufacture [Sowind Manufactures], and a case and bracelet manufacture [Ateliers Bautte]. The supply side of the company works with the brands as supplier. Having both sides under the same umbrella company really helps us put out an expertly-finished product. It also gives us the ability to be a retailer, distributor, manufacturer, supplier—so we have expertise in a full range of departments. We have full diversification and collaboration so we end up being an all-over better brand, as well as an independent one. We do have a minority shareholder, PPR, which helps us in a lot of different ways, especially with opening the boutique. We can tap their expertise in other areas such as security for our new store, group insurance, shipping and transport platforms, etc. But as far as day to day, we don’t have much contact with them. Sometimes if a brand has an outside owner it can become engulfed by them and doesn’t maintain its own character. Fortunately that’s not the case, so we really have the best of both worlds.
ET: So right now we’re mid-year between SIHHs. Is there anything new you’re working on or any new key products?
Ron Jackson: Well right now for the holidays, what will be key is what we introduced this year at SIHH. We have a new Vintage 1945 that was totally redesigned. The 1966 line continues to be a great performer. The WW.TC is great for both men and ladies. These are probably the most anticipated. In the high-end category, there’s the Vintage Tourbillon, which is an exciting piece. The real advantage to the market right now is that tourbillons are more readily available. It used to be that if a customer wanted to see a tourbillon, it would take two years but now more of those are available for purchase because they are less consumed. So that’s actually really nice for the customer.
ET: Switching gears just a bit, I know you’ll be participating in an upcoming charity bike ride. Why don’t you talk about little about that?
Ron Jackson: Well it’s called The Dempsey Challenge and it’ll be on October 4th up in Maine. Patrick [Dempsey] had called me about two years ago at Christmas because I was into biking and he was looking into buying one. So I gave him some recommendations and once he started looking, it really elevated his interest and from that came Patrick’s passion for riding. As a result he started The Dempsey Challenge, which will raise money for his foundation. Being a friend of Patrick’s I got involved and have been training for the 100-mile ride. We also now have three different retailers associated with the ride and each is generating funds independently that are being donated to the challenge. Other associated friends—bike riders, doctors, etc.—all got involved as well. So far we’ve raised almost $17,000 as a group via individual donations. So it’s really grassroots and a wonderful cause. Dempsey’s foundation [The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing] is focused on providing resources and services for those suffering from cancer as well as those affected by it. It’s really a holistic approach to the situation. There are now 3,500 riders and I’m currently the leading individual for generating funds.
ET: If someone wanted to donate, how could they do that?
Ron Jackson: They can go to www.dempseychallenge.com to donate. If they click on JeanRichard Swiss Watches under the teams nav bar, they can donate to my team and help us reach our goal, which is to raise $20,000. I’m optimistic though that’ll we’ll go above that. This challenge is a great way to combine people who are passionate about sports while also helping those suffering from cancer. It’s a really great cause.
ET: Great. Well is there anything else you’d like to talk about or mention?
Ron Jackson: I think, other than what we’ve talked about, it’s important to mention that when you go through what we’re going through right now, you can either embrace it or run from it. We, as a company, are choosing to embrace it because we can’t change it. We’re keeping our focus on staying true to the brand’s DNA, trying to make logical steps forward while staying focused on long-term goals. It’s a challenge but we’re staying calm and positive. We’re just going to continue to work hard and be optimistic that by doing the right things the clouds will clear and we’ll be on our way to recovery.
The other thing that’s also true in these times is you find out who your real partners are and who really stands by your product so we appreciate all those people who support us and our brand.