Betting On The Great American Consumer-------
All the talk in retail these days is of China, India, and Brazil, but Omega feels it has discovered another emerging market: the good old U.S. of A. The Swiss watch company is opening nine new stores here over the next few days in locations both obvious (L.A.; Chicago, pictured) and perhaps less so (Pittsburgh, Hackensack), and there are plans for 15 more in the first half of 2011. Why the bullishness? In New York en route to last week’s Chicago opening, the brand’s CEO, Stephen Urquhart, said he believes there are plenty of untapped American customers for watches in the $5,000-$10,000 range, the same consumers who will invest in a flat-screen TV. He added that he has been impressed by both the quality of the retail spaces his team has scouted in the U.S. and the caliber of the sales staff that the company has been training. Wry and engaging are not the first characteristics you might expect to encounter in the chief executive of a venerable watchmaker based in the Swiss town of Biel/Bienne, but Urquhart is both. Showing a reporter his pink gold Seamaster Aqua Terra and explaining its annual calendar function, he jokes that the date is the most important thing on a watch, as you don’t necessarily need it to tell the time—you can use an iPhone for that. Conquering America is just one of Omega’s current tasks—they are expanding in Asia, of course; they just launched their new Ladymatic model along with a Peter Lindbergh-lensed campaign starring Nicole Kidman; they’re looking forward to the next installment in the Bond franchise slated for 2012 (don’t be surprised to see Daniel Craig modeling the company’s wares again at some point); and last but not least, they’re getting set for the 2012 Olympics in London. Omega will once more serve as the official timekeeper, a feat that involves a team of 450, 150 of whom have already started work on the technical preparations. But in many ways it’s the U.S. push that is the most interesting development, and no doubt other luxury companies will be watching their progress closely.