Luxury watch retailer run by Scots-born boss reports 'very robust' demand despite lockdown

Watches of Switzerland, the luxury time-piece retailer fronted by Scots-born chief executive Brian Duffy, has reported “very robust” UK trading despite the extended lockdown which closed non-essential stores for months on end.

Releasing a trading update to investors, the firm said UK revenues were up 3.6 per cent in the 53 weeks ending May 2, compared with the year before, despite store closures for about 26 weeks of the year, against just six weeks previously, alongside “significantly reduced” tourism and airport business.

It pointed to “outstanding” growth in the US, with revenue up 38.5 per cent compared with the year before.

Group revenues came in at £905.1 million, up from £810.5m in the prior 12-month period.

Scotsman Brian Duffy is the chief executive of Watches of Switzerland, which ranks as Britain’s biggest retailer of Rolex, Omega, TAG Heuer and Breitling watches. Picture: John Devlin

There was a “significant step-up” achieved in group e-commerce sales, which leapt 120.5 per cent, year on year.

The group, which ranks as Britain’s biggest retailer of Rolex, Cartier, Omega, TAG Heuer and Breitling watches, also confirmed the planned repayment of all furlough support received during the period from the UK government, as well as the repayment and cancellation of £45m in the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme facility as a result of a “continued strong business performance”.

Duffy, who hails from Glasgow, said: “Throughout the year we either met or exceeded our guidance despite the changing circumstances, in particular, the much longer-than-expected last lockdown in the UK.

“In the UK, we delivered a very robust performance, overcoming a total of 26 weeks of store closures and hugely reduced travel and tourism business. In the US, we generated an outstanding result with very strong momentum.

“We responded to the challenging environment by increasing investment in capex, digital marketing, systems and stock which has resulted in the positive momentum that we carry into [full-year 2022]. Our guidance for [2022] reflects our confident outlook for the luxury watch and jewellery categories and the success of our modern, international and multi-channel model.”

He added: “Looking ahead, we are confident in our plans to continue investing for growth and to sustain the momentum we have built into [2022] and beyond.”

In the fourth quarter of the past year, UK revenue amounted to £126.2m, up 49.3 per cent on the same period in the group’s 2020 financial year but down 2.7 per cent relative to 2019.

Watches of Switzerland Group has 148 core stores across the UK and the US, which includes 39 dedicated “mono-brand” outlets in these two markets in partnership with Rolex, TAG Heuer, Omega, Breitling, Audemars Piguet, Tudor and Fope.

Last summer, the firm took the wraps off what it billed as Scotland’s first dedicated “Rolex Boutique”.

The launch of the flagship outlet in Glasgow city centre followed a “significant investment” in the internal fit out and external facade.

Arranged over two floors and featuring a “VIP lounge” the boutique replaces the group’s previous Watches of Switzerland store at 221 Buchanan Street.

Duffy said at the time: “This store opening is an extremely positive move for our group and testament to our relationship with Rolex which dates back to 1919 when we were the first appointed Rolex retailer in the UK.”

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Sales jump at Scots-led luxury watch retailer despite lockdown

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