As you read this message, you are most likely being asked for those special requests to finish that rush job just before the holiday season—we all know how that is. In my experience, December is always an exciting and busy time with sales and service quite often taking precedence over each other, and things can get quite blurry.
Having said this, I will again discuss a topic I have discussed on many occasions since becoming president in August 2012, and that is quality of workmanship and price structure. By now, many of you who have followed my messages have come to realize my leadership is focused on workmanship of the highest standards. However, standards are hard to define if you cannot also show a clear example of them in practice. Regardless of the number of words printed on this and other pages, the written word cannot compare to a close-up picture of the item in question.
Last month I discussed the use of the binocular microscope for the watchmaker at the bench. While for many this is a rather exotic item to have at or near the workbench, for others it is a standard item to have at the bench. The human eye has its limitations in viewing small objects, and since we live in the world of miniature items, a good microscope with a range of 20 to 50 power magnification, with several sources of powerful yet cool lighting, can be a great advantage in ensuring high-quality work and can help with troubleshooting. Once you experience the advantage of using the microscope, a whole new world of better work will be opened to you—but you will not know it until you try it.
Of course, the usage of the binocular microscope has an initial effect of lowering productivity as the technician sees more things that can be potential problems. With sufficient practice and experience, a watchmaker can learn to set up the microscope in a convenient location where time is used efficiently, and only key areas of the movement are verified.
Having touched upon the above where quality workmanship is truly being scrutinized and standards defined, let us talk about what keeps the lights on—the business aspect of the profession.
With higher quality being expected, more time is spent on a task, and, therefore, less is accomplished each day. However, better-quality work lasts longer and therefore you have fewer premature comebacks. The customer wins, the watchmaker wins, and the retailer wins by gaining a better reputation. This reputation is goodwill, which in turn translates into higher sales, the initial reason the retailer opened the retail store, right?
The following line is an interesting concept:
A service center does not necessarily have to be a profit center as long as it is a profit generator.
To explain further, it basically implies a service center is designed to support the sales of merchandise; therefore, a high quality of workmanship is always required, and it is expected the service center should at the very least break even or at most make a profit of approximately 20–30%. This age-old formula has worked relatively well for service centers for a long time.
Upsetting this formula is unfortunately quite easy, as many managers/retailers like to increase profit margin. However, it comes at the dear cost of quality. The higher the net profit margin, the higher the probability that shortcuts will be taken. It’s easy to take shortcuts, and the most susceptible target is the watch movement itself, which is hidden from the customer’s view and, therefore, it is hard for many watchmakers to assess since they mainly use one eye and a loupe of about 4x magnification. When the façade or the exterior of the timepiece is made the main focus, it becomes easy to cover up questionable workmanship.
If there is always a shortage of good quality horologists, perhaps it is because their highly valuable skills and knowledge are not always properly remunerated. What is a fair price to charge for a good watch repair?
As friend and AWCI member Matt Hritz, CW21, said to me last year, “What if we were to ask the client, “How much does it cost to get a haircut?” With that in mind, we calculated that if one got a haircut on average 10 times a year at an average of $20 per basic haircut, that would translate to $200 per year. Over five years it would translate to $1,000 spent to maintain one’s hair. The price, I am told, is much more if you visit a “hair stylist/salon.” If today’s water-resistant mechanical watch functions five years on average between services, the haircut analogy could be used, and it is something many clients can relate to. Now, let’s think of what a barber invests in education, tools, and equipment versus what a watchmaker does, and it makes you think about your pricing structure all over again.
As a closing message for this year, I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season enjoyed with your friends and loved ones with continued health and success for the upcoming year. It is my sincere wish that all of you continue to work while striving for the unattainable—perfection. Tools, equipment, workshop setup, education, and training are only a few parts of the equation.The ultimate goal is the final product, and isn’t that what really matters to us?
Manuel Yazijian, President AWCI