History of The WATCH Lab and the UK’s repair marketplace
The company was started by Jonathan Barker in October 2000. Having spent many years covering the UK and Channel Islands in the jewellery trade selling brands like Ellesse, Adidas, Cyma and FILA, Jonathan got to know the watch business very well. He saw how the industry grew and changed.“Not many years ago,” says Jonathan, “there were just traditional watch brands, most people owned just one watch and a ‘watch was for life’. The Swiss brands such as Rolex, Omega, and Longines were all strong at the top end of the marketplace. The everyday priced watches which most people bought were dominated by the traditional watch brands such as Rotary, Seiko, Avia, and Pulsar. Then in the early 90′s came the watches revolution! The fashion brands moved into their marketplace. Started in the main by Gucci, the public began to understand that not just the heritage watch houses could produce beautiful and aspirational timepieces. Fila was the next non-watch brand to follow then Ellesse and the rest I guess is history”.
Jonathan continues, “Whilst dealing with all of the multiple jewellery high street chains and the independent / private jewellery sector, it became glaringly apparent that as more and more watches were being sold, the support and repair sector was just not there. Years ago, jewellers would have watchmakers on their premises but no longer. They were retiring, not being replaced and to make things worse, the watchmaking schools were closing down too. To add to the situation, there was and still is virtually no watch repair training carried out in-house by the multiples such as Goldsmiths, Ernest Jones, H Samuel, F Hinds or Beaverbrooks.
So, watch ownership had gone through the roof, every fashion brand in the world began producing timepieces and the Swiss Houses got stronger & stronger. Online sales are now simply enormous and a multi-watch ownership is the norm. The service sector to support the ever growing watch sales numbers has not kept up. With the exception of the manufacturers themselves (who are usually slow and expensive), there are very few places to visit and receive a decent quality watch repair.”
Birth of The WATCH Lab
Opening its first branch in Liverpool October 2000, the company from day 1 employed a Rolex Accredited Watchmaker to set the standards for all of their watch repairs. They experienced instant success by tapping into a marketplace wide open for someone at last to ‘do-the-job-properly’. Within 12 months the company had opened further branches in Leeds and Preston. After a successful multi-site management career with McDonalds, Jonathan’s brother Jeremy joined and The WATCH Lab to enable growth more easily.
Jeremy’s skills in multi-site management, staff training, systems & procedures, staff morale and retention helped the business develop into what it is today. “Recruiting and retaining the right people’,” says Jeremy “is the key important factor in any business. I am a passionate believer that employees should be managed, motivated, well trained, feel valued, get rewarded and are always treated with respect by their employer. This I am pleased to say is something I feel we get right at The WATCH Lab and is shown by our low staff turnover and most importantly a happy and contented team”.
Now operating nationally from 19 prime locations from Glasgow to Southampton, The WATCH Lab Limited has come a long way. With accessible repair labs for a large percentage of the UK population and a trusted postal service, it is now easy to get watches repaired. With solid IT systems, CCTV and video links to Head Office Master Watchmakers, the customer experience is straight forward, positive and informative. The WATCH Lab Head Office supports its branches with top level Accreditation for many brands including Omega, Longines, Rado, Certina, CK and Tissot.
The WATCH Lab joins Aurum
1st April 2016 The WATCH Lab is bought by Aurum Group Limited, the company behind Goldsmiths, Mappin & Webb, Watches of Switzerland and WatchShop.com amongst others. The decision to sell was driven by the need to expand the business quickly and make TWL’s unique offering available to the majority of the UK’s population rather than just some of it.
Brian Duffy, chief executive officer of Aurum Group said: “We are thrilled to acquire The Watch Lab, a fantastic business and a market leader in this dynamic area. We believe this is a perfect addition to Aurum’s growing portfolio of outstanding retail brands. It’s been a pleasure to work with Jonathan and Jeremy in this process and we at Aurum look forward to working with them as colleagues.
Jonathan Barker added: “We believe Aurum to be the ideal acquirer for The Watch Lab. The strength of Aurum and the synergy between the businesses will further enable The Watch Lab to continue to grow into the household name we always envisaged.”
Jeremy and Jonathan continue to run the business as a division of Aurum Group.