Monday, April 2, 2012

So How Was Your Day?

Newsletter archive | 2nd April 2012

He runs a small watch repair shop located inside the smallest mall of the smallest country town, north of Bundaberg. He gets home late because that chiming clock is still missing its last quarter chime and he’s just too tired to watch the footy.

"How was your day?" she asks.

"It was good. Eight Seiko and Casio batteries, three watchbands, and Mrs. Smith collected that pocket watch I finished in October. She was too busy to collect it earlier, but it's all good.
It was a good day of trading."

But he knew perfectly well that the trade was not even close to 'good'. With $217 dollars in the cash register he could barely afford to pay their bills and the rent. The only reason why it was good was because most of the other business were doing far worse after yet another flood, or was it a drought?

The business had not been good for years, actually since the cheap battery operated watches replaced mechanical timepieces. The change of technology meant that his skills were no longer required; cheap battery operated watches were too cheap to service and even cheaper to replace. He tried to 'diversify' into the clock trade, apparently everyone else was doing well in clocks. He invested in a bushing tool, main spring winder and even a second-hand Myford lathe which cost a fortune.
Yet deep down in his heart he knew that fixing clocks was not really what he was trained to do, what he wanted to do.

When clock collecting collapsed in early 1990’s (by then he had repaired all 17 clocks in 75 km radius, including that Church clock which went silent after the War, free of charge of course), he was told that "money is in vintage watches". Apparently everyone was trading on eBay.
But he was not a trader. He did not have the money to invest in stock, was not sure how that eBay thing really worked, and was too honest to sell a broken watch to someone half way around the globe.

"It was a good day" he kept telling her every night.

Of course, some of his friends were doing OK in the watch business. Every now and then one of them would stop by that small shop to show him one of their latest acquisitions: a vintage Rolex, a nice Longines, and then there was that fancy 1980s two-tone Cartier.

"Is it genuine?" The visitor would ask.
"Yes, it is."
"So if I need a battery replacement, can I bring it to you?"
"No, I’m sorry, I can’t replace the battery in a Cartier because I don't have a case seal for it".

But he would love to do be able to do so. A battery replacement for that fancy Swiss watch is something he could easily charge $35 dollars for. A couple of those per week would mean an extra $280 per month, or exactly $3,640 per year  - enough to buy a "new" Ute.

That was all he needed to make a breakthrough - two fancy Swiss watch batteries per week.
And if he could perhaps get a new winding crown or a plexiglass for that vintage Rolex, he could make a small fortune; that would be an easy $450 repair too!

Unfortunately he knew all too well that he would never get access to Swiss spare parts.
He knew the phone call to Richemont will be answered with "Sorry no parts.
We don't sell to independent watchmakers. Actually we don't supply parts to anyone anymore, we do all of our repairs in-house. And please, stop calling us."

No parts. All he needed is a $2 rubber seal so he could seal the case after the battery replacement.
No parts. Not a screw. Not a seal.
No parts.

For some time he kept dreaming; a $2 dollar rubber seal from Cartier could make all the difference for his small business.
A $25 steel crown for that vintage Rolex would mean he could earn a small fortune. With access to Swiss parts he could even take in an apprentice! Maybe he could expand, advertise online?

He was not interested in competing with the Swiss monopolist. All he wanted to do is what he was trained to - make an honest living repairing watches that Rolex had already rendered as "too old to be repaired".
That really would be a good day!

Unfortunately, his services were no longer needed. No parts meant a slow and steady decline for both his business and his pride.
The closure of the last small watch repair shop located inside the smallest mall of the smallest country town, north of Bundaberg, was not even news for the smallest local papers.

So how was your day, Rolex? And how was yours, Richemont? Have you had a good one?

*** FACT:
  • A watch battery replacement is a simple job, yet even the most experienced Australian watchmakers and jewellers are unable to perform it due to the restricted supply of spare parts from Swiss watch brands to independent repairers.
  • Many thousands of high-grade Swiss watches owned by Australian people are no longer repaired in Australia, by Australian tradesman. Instead, those repair jobs are 'outsourced' to Switzerland.
  • Ironically, while many IT and financial sector jobs are being outsourced to developing countries, resulting in lower service costs for the consumer, exactly the opposite is happening with the outsourcing of Swiss brand watch repairs to Switzerland.
  • Outsourcing equates to higher repair costs for the Australian consumer, with no return on capital back into Australia.
---------------------------------------------------- The monopoly on the supply of spare parts for brand-name Swiss watches will mean the death of Australian independent watchmakers.

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