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  • Jean E. Palmieri

Hodinkee CEO Jeffery Fowler Sets Growth Plan for Watch Company

Plans include the opening of the company's first store in New York's SoHo as well as the creation of international hubs.

Jeffery Fowler has a rich résumé when it comes to the luxury e-commerce business. He was president of the Americas for Farfetch and also held leadership roles at Louis Vuitton, Tag Heuer, Cartier and Tesla.

So when he was tapped to take the helm at Hodinkee in March, he already had a game plan mapped out: to expand the commerce arm of the company by enhancing its product offering, add international hubs in key markets around the world, and open the company’s first physical store.

Fowler, who spent six years at Farfetch, said he’d been watching Hodinkee from afar for more than a decade.

“I had known the company for close to 10 years back when I was working in the watch industry and saw the outsized impact that it had on the industry, how much it had evolved and its potential,” he said.

The backstory on Hodinkee, whose name derives from the Czech and Slavik word for “wristwatch,” dates to 2008 when the financial crash prompted investment banker Ben Clymer to seek a career change. He always had an affinity for writing so went to the journalism school at Columbia University. But in addition to writing, he also had a love of watches, which started with an Omega Speedmaster that he was gifted from his grandfather.

Clymer merged the two and started Hodinkee, a blog for all things watches and horology that was intended to make the world of watches more accessible and inclusive.

“He wrote from the perspective of an outsider who was fascinated by all things related to watches,” Fowler said. “It caught the attention of the industry and quickly got noticed.”

Jeffery Fowler

For the first several years, Hodinkee focused exclusively on providing content that was entertaining and easy to understand. It took on everything from historical references to modern horology.

In 2012, Clymer took the plunge into commerce — slowly at first, selling watch straps on his website. Today the Hodinkee Shop sells new and vintage watches from 46 top brands, Fowler said, ranging from Omega and Tag Heuer to Breitling, Hublot, Patek Philippe and Rolex.

Hodinkee, which generates yearly sales of around $100 million, closed on a $40 million series B funding round in 2020, led by TCG and a number of bold-faced names including LVMH Luxury Ventures, quarterback Tom Brady, singer John Mayer and GV, or Google Ventures.

Clymer, who now serves as executive chairman of the business, used the funds to beef up its editorial offering, both online and in print, and also acquired Crown & Caliber, an online retailer of pre-owned watches, for an undisclosed amount.

“They had established a reputation for being at the high end of trust, authenticity and quality,” Fowler said of Crown & Caliber. “It was a perfect fit. And we are now one of the preeminent sites in the world for watch culture.”

The company offers lifestyle products as well as rich content for watch fans.

In addition to its editorial products and new and pre-owned watches, Hodinkee offers limited-edition timepieces and has partnered with some 15 brands to create exclusive products. These numbered editions “draw lots of attention” and sell out almost immediately, Fowler said. “It shows the power of scarcity,” he said. The newest partnership is with Leica, the camera brand, which launched in November.

Fowler realizes that luxury watches are the ultimate discretionary purchase but he also knows that the collector or aficionado is passionate about their love of the category. Hodinkee capitalizes on this by providing both an education and an opportunity to score some unique pieces.

The company just hired five new editors, not just technical watch geeks, but also people who can offer tips on the “intersection of fashion and style,” he said, to “bring a new perspective to the site.” That content is being offered on social media and other channels.

But the real future of Hodinkee will be centered around the commerce end of the business. “That’s what pays the bills,” he said.

He will apply the skills he learned during his time at Farfetch to continue to build the digital business at Hodinkee and will also institute some changes to further engage the company’s customers. That includes starting a loyalty program. Fowler said Hodinkee has “mind-boggling open rates” on its emails and the goal is to engage them even more by encouraging them to take advantage of everything the company has to offer.

Part of this effort to build an even stronger community is the opening of Hodinkee’s first brick-and-mortar location. Fowler said the company has actually had the lease for the location since late 2019 but the pandemic forced the delay in the opening.

The store, in the former Supreme location on Lafayette Street in SoHo, sports a Hodinkee brand campaign in its windows to drum up interest before the planned opening in the second half of next year.

In addition to selling watches, the store will create a space where like-minded individuals can get together and interact.

“There’s an immense potential of continuing to connect sellers and buyers in a variety of different ways beyond simply buying and selling the product ourselves,” he said. “There’s no need for another retail watch store. Therefore, what can we bring to the market that will be different? That’s been our guiding principle for a while.”

Fowler said there are no plans to add other retail stores immediately, but Hodinkee will use the SoHo unit to determine its future retail strategy. “We’ll watch and evaluate in time,” he said.

He also plans to expand Hodinkee’s reach outside of the U.S. He said that more than 20 percent of the company’s sales are international, but they’re “passive sales.” That means that buyers from overseas can make transactions, but there are no inventory hubs outside the U.S. so the purchaser has to pay duties and higher shipping costs.

“It’s not usually the best experience so the opportunity is there to remove the friction,” he said.

He pointed to Canada, the U.K., Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Japan as markets he would target initially.

He said for the company as a whole, Rolex, Omega, Breitling, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet are the bestselling pre-owned brands, while Omega, Tag Heuer, Breitling and Grand Seiko are among the most popular new pieces.

As Hodinkee continues to expand its reach, would the company consider going public? Fowler, who was with Farfetch during its initial public offering, didn’t rule it out.

“I think there are a lot of fundamentals of the company that, with the right level of execution, over time could make us a really nice candidate for a market offering. But I don’t think that’s the be-all and end-all of our strategy. We could continue to grow and scale on our own or be a candidate for a strategic acquirer, whether that’s in the world of media, luxury or e-commerce because we do a lot of things that are at the crossroads of those worlds. The options are many and I think it’s good to actually keep the options open as opposed to just going down one path of wonders.

“The potential for Hodinkee is huge and it feels like this is just the beginning of the story.”

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