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Hodinkee: Cultivating the Next Generation of Watch Fans

Toby Bateman, CEO of the content-and-commerce watch universe Hodinkee, explains how the growth of e-commerce and community-based retail is primed to shift the business of watches in the years to come.
Toby Bateman, chief executive of Hodinkee. Hodinkee.
Toby Bateman, chief executive of Hodinkee. Hodinkee.
SoF Watches & Jewellery download

This article first appeared in the special edition of The State of Fashion: Watches and Jewellery, co-published by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company. To learn more and download a copy of the report, click here.

Hodinkee has stood apart in a largely analogue industry since its start as a personal blog founded by Benjamin Clymer in 2008, tapping into the passion of a dedicated community of watch enthusiasts. Today it is a diversified content-and-commerce business, known for its growing e-commerce arm, product collaborations and biannual print magazines serving a loyal, passionate audience. The business was valued over $100 million following a $40 million Series B funding round led by TCG in December 2020.

Hodinkee’s ambitions are escalating. After close to a decade at Yoox Net-a-Porter’s Mr Porter, Toby Bateman joined as chief executive at the end of 2020 to capitalise on the growth the business experienced during the pandemic — driven in part by younger shoppers turning their attention from collectables like sneakers to watches. His strategy features an editorial revamp, expanding the assortment of new and vintage watches for sale, as well as layering in services to keep Hodinkee’s customer base engaged as competitors fine tune their own digital strategies.

BoF: In February 2021, you acquired the online, pre-owned luxury watch retailer Crown & Caliber. What opportunity do you see there beyond increasing market share?

Toby Bateman: Whilst [the online pre-owned sector has] become more and more popular, it’s still very much the Wild West in terms of customer experience. It’s difficult [for] customers who go online to understand, “Who am I buying from here? And what exactly am I buying?” [That’s] our opportunity with the acquisition of Crown & Caliber, who are already probably the most well-trusted source of pre-owned watches among everyone working in this space, at least in the American market. And that’s because we own the stock we sell. Equally important for consumers — particularly younger consumers who have a strong sense of sustainability but are probably looking for value as well — is that this is an important part of the watch sector’s circular economy.

Hodinkee launched its own insurance policy for watches in 2020. What other opportunities do you see in the after-sales experience?

The vision that we have for Hodinkee is… a universe of watches. It’s 360 degrees. You can come into the world through the Hodinkee content, maybe as someone that owns a watch but hasn’t really got into the category as a passion project. You can then purchase a watch through the pre-owned section… For the more seasoned watch buyer then, of course, we’ve got the vintage selection. [But] it’s not just about commerce, and it’s not just about content; it’s also about the community. And I think in the next five or 10 years, we’ll see more and more platforms focus on the importance of that community, which effectively is an important part of that after-sales experience.

Is the industry’s approach to selling to women outdated? Will those gendered category divides become less important?

I think some brands are doing better than others [to change the stereotypical gendered approach they traditionally pursued], but for the most part, the recent approach to marketing to women has been outdated. Almost every major brand [at Watches and Wonders 2021] that launched a new watch, launched one that’s a smaller version of something that they’ve had before. I think that maybe reflects a little bit of the unisex effect nature of the watch. A lot of women wear what would traditionally be referred to as men’s watches now anyway, and conversely a lot of men prefer to wear watches that are of a size that would, historically, have been referred to as a female watch. They just prefer it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

summit_watch_jewellery_2021

The inaugural edition of The State of Fashion: Watches and Jewellery report co-published by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company forecasts a shake-up in priorities for hard luxury as well as different recovery scenarios across geographies and consumer segments. To learn more and download a copy of the report, click here.

BoF Professionals are invited to join us on July 13, 2021 for a special live event in which we'll unpack findings from the report. Register now to reserve your spot. If you are not a member, you can take advantage of our 30-day trial to experience all of the benefits of a BoF Professional membership.

Explore the six seismic shifts from the report:

The Future of Watches:

  1. A High Stakes DTC Shake-Up
  2. The Mid-Market Squeeze
  3. The Pre-Owned Market Will Be Worth Up to $32 Billion

The Future of Jewellery:

  1. Brands Battle for Buyers of Unbranded Jewellery
  2. Creating Sparkle Online
  3. Demand for Sustainably Made Jewellery Will See Explosive Growth

Click here to explore more from this special edition report, including executive interviews.

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