Hodinkee : Master of Watches – Master of Time?

A brand is a name with the power to influence. And Hodinkee is the most powerful non-watch brand of the watch world. They influence more people, more brands, take up more “watch time”, have fingers in more wallets and sway the opinions of more watch experts than any other. They are definitely the winner of 2019.

 

I started writing about the brands of the watch world for two reasons: to justify my own obsession and to learn more about it all. After analyzing both Rolex and Oris I realized that even though the watch brands themselves are interesting, they really are less powerful than we might think and that the online watch media deserves more than they are currently getting. But, Hodinkee seems to be getting exactly what they deserve. As they are truly a great brand by all standards.

I published my first piece on Hodinkee on November 9th. Since then, Hodinkee have knocked out more hard evidence of their dominant position that I could ever imagine.

Here are some highlights:
• The Leica M10-P “Ghost Edition” For HODINKEE
• Announcing that they are now authorized dealer for Omega and Bulgari
• The book “Watches – A Guide by HODINKEE”
• The NOMOS Tangente Sport Limited Edition for HODINKEE

Scottish Watches and Fears Watch Company

In addition, they had Ed Sheeran writing an open love letter to Hodinkee. Actually, it is Ed introducing himself to the community, but you should read it as a Hodinkee flexing its insider- and authority-muscle for all to see.

In the Leica collaboration, The Dinkees themselves are the heroes of the stories. That is quite a stretch for journalism and another trait of a brand that is set on carving out a new brand category. Blending the boundaries of various categories such as journalism, influencers, commerce, digital retail, branded content and advertising doesn´t seem to be a problem as Hodinkee finds new ways of staying relevant and interesting.

James Stacey is apparently a cool and reflected guy that wears casual clothes and “shoot Leica”. Good for him!

 

As an online watch nerd, I couldn’t care less if they are not meeting the standards of editorial integrity or elevating themselves as the subject of their stories. Hodinkee is worthy of my attention as they do it with such precision, dedication and passion. Much like I imagine great watchmaking to be.

With the holidays coming up, it is evident that Hodinkee will win the time game – no other brand will take up so much time and attention in the watch world. One might argue that Hodinkee is a more important brand than the watch brands themselves. A lot of guys will spend too much time consuming watch related content during those lengthy festivities of non-watch conversation.

For many of us, Hodinkee just seems like it has a natural place in our consciousness. Like they have always been there. But, we are actually following an entrepreneurial story about a group of watch nerds that are taking on the aging, boring, ill-content-producing, irrelevant, unremarkable and unsustainable luxury watch industry.

Hodinkee is fundamentally a story about change. It is a company that f***** with the imbalance in the value chain of the watch world. Together with a few other brands, they seem to be the first one to really have a scalable business model based on the actual value they bring to both brands and users. Most other content creating actors in the watch game are left with financial peanuts compared to the value they bring to the brands and users. That kind of industry has a tendency of being disrupted these days.

The most obvious example of the imbalance is that if Adrian from Bark & Jack brings his audience’ attention to a watch, the local dealership is the one that benefits most when that watch is being sold. Adrian is left with drinking coffee and hoping to sell a NATO-strap and “hit that subscribe button”. That is not in any way meant as me devaluing what Adrian is doing. In fact, I think he makes just as great content as Hodinkee in many ways. It is just pointing to the imbalance in the distribution of rewards in the value system of the watch industry that is currently in place.

There are clear signs already that the shift is already in motion:

Watch brands try to take control over their own value chain — skipping Baselworld, like Seiko and Swatch Group, is a sign of a dysfunctional link between buyer and seller as it goes through retailers that are clearly not up for the task.

Brands are looking for a better digital outlet — Hodinkee, Fratello and Revolution Watches are benefiting from brands aligning with media in core markets.

Traditional retailers are being challenged by digital-first retailers – Watchbox opening in Dubai being a good example.

Hodinkee is first and probably best in the contailer landscape. At the end of the day, the ability to leverage a market leader position is what the brand should focus on. That means that Hodinkee will have to continue to deliver value to all sides, but also grow its business.

I have previously mapped out how I see Hodinkee as a brand and listed a number of strategic brand moves, or rather, how they can be even more successful at their own game. So far, it seems as if they have done none of them and now I am expecting them to continue on the path they have staked out. And why shouldn´t they? They are killing it.

But at some point, Hodinkee will understand that consumption stops being something you do and becomes something you are. In light of this, it is interesting to think about what kind of experience Hodinkee can offer that will take up more even more of your wallet and, in essence, how Hodinkee can have more and wider relationships with the world.

It is easy to imagine Hodinkee being an authorized dealer for almost all brands and just increase and improve their content game, but at this scale, it might be that they are too far ahead of the rest of the industry to create enough volume to grow.
One of Hodinkee’s brand traps is to become more like the conservative watch people they hang out with and less like the heroes of global growth like they have in Silicon Valley or even the crafters of luxury like the French or Italians.

A luxury brand like Hodinkee, with an, established, routine based content consumption and high willingness to pay, can be the provider of items you use regularly. By evolving their business towards regular commodities, Hodinkee can truly leverage their professor-like brand. It can be even more physical, more tangible and bring value to people who seek simplicity in everyday life. In luxury, you want the brand to influence you. And you want the brand to recognize and value who you are. So, why shouldn’t Hodinkee send you a box every month with toothpaste, moisturizer and a little pamphlet of wisdom?

A good watch nerd answer to that can be “when Jack Foster talks three minutes about hand lotion”, but, apart from the obvious awkwardness of blending roles, Hodinkee can expand on their life-essential position.
Going offline retail is perhaps the most obvious move. But, they have to do it better than expected. I was not surprised that Hodinkee became authorized dealer for Omega and marked with a pop-up in New York. That it appeared as an inviting lounge packed with watches and books and astronaut suits was also not surprising. And I would not be surprised to see this being the first step towards a regular retail experience.

But doing pop-ups seems easy, doing them better seems hard. As I didn’t have the opportunity to pop over the pond to go to the pop-up, I can’t really assess the experience first hand. But, as far as I can tell, Hodinkee did not offer any other user experience than just… popping by.
No integrated online-offline experience, no customization based on visitor profile. No extra digital buying experience or any other thing than what you’d expect. Not even a limited edition for the store!

Compared to a regular watch boutique is was probably very cool. Compared to what a disrupter, digital savvy contailer can do, it appeared as a great yawn. For Hodinkee to really do great retail, they need to offer more of a valuable experience that not only is more inviting and casual than a regular dealership. If not, those cultural man-pad symbols of taste and brains will just be worn-out leather chairs and furniture of middle-aged men in cardigans.

And that is Hodinkee’s second brand trap: getting boring.
To sum up, what does it all mean for 2020? I think we will get even more Hodinkee, more collaborations, more content, and more products. And maybe even a store or two, or a little nice merger with category buddies such as Fratello or even an established retailer. London seems like the obvious choice for a third Hodinkee land grab.

Or maybe, just maybe, the watch industry starts to understand what is happening and decides to do something about it.

Maybe, by the next time you wrap yourself in your not-ironic-anymore-Xmas-sweater, Hodinkee is a Richemont company. And why not? Richemont already owns Mr. Porter…

Happy holidays, everyone!