A Day In The Life Of A Watch Sales Executive

by The Balance Coq

  • August 2, 2023

Your friendly neighbourhood watch sales executive.  The face of watch boutiques.  That first port of call.  The harbinger of success, and failure.  With the latter, they transform into objects of ire.  And with the supply-demand situation being the way it has been for the last few years, that probably happens too often.  Watch buyers are an odd bunch; they do not like to walk out of boutiques, empty of hand, bank account balance still intact.  TBC thinks maybe it is time to check in with a watch sales executive to find out how they are doing.

Photography by Ronald Chew

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In order to afford our interviewee the opportunity to speak freely, we promised him anonymity.  Peter (not his real name) is a sales veteran in the Singaporean watch industry.  He has spent some time in a multi-brand boutique early in his career.  Peter has been in a leadership position for a dedicated brand boutique for the last 10 years.  TBC sat down with him over coffee to get a better understanding of his role, his opinions about the industry and of course, his own watch collection.

Excerpts from that conversation have been lightly edited for length and clarity.


TBC: Thank you for meeting us on your day off.  Let’s start with your story.  How did you get into the watch trade?

P: It is not a pretty picture that I am going to paint.  I graduated in 2008, right when the global financial crisis started to hit everything, everywhere.  I am not suited for the office life, so I focused on sales roles.  My job hunting went as well as you might expect.  After a couple of months, I was getting anxious – my real options had whittled down to three – insurance, real estate or the watch trade.  To be honest, I could not see myself asking classmates out to sell them saving plans.  Or bringing people around to look at houses.  But I love watches.  And as luck would have it, I landed a role as a sales executive at a multi-brand boutique.


TBC: What was that like?

P: So, remember, I already love watches before getting this job.  But the learning curve was still very steep.  Especially so when the veterans were (searches mentally for the appropriate term) reluctant to share any domain knowledge.  And why would they, right?  They probably went through blood, sweat and tears to build up their own customer bases.  It would be like giving their income away!  We did not have Google in the palm of our hands in those days, so it was not a situation where I could simply research my way out of.


TBC: Tough situations don’t last. Tough men do?

P: Indeed!  I stuck with it!  I learnt as much as I could by going through the product catalogues, and speaking to walk-in customers.  I began to build up my own little customer base.  During lull periods, I listened in to the business conversations between colleagues and their clients.  After 5 years of doing all that, I requested to specialise in [the watch brand].


TBC: So, this is where we get to congratulate you, right?

P: (Laughs) Hindsight is always 20/20, but to be honest, I was still ahead of the curve.  We were still in the old days where any walk-in client could get a Daytona or an Aquanaut.  With discounts.  And that only really stopped around 2015, 2016.  I looked at specialisation as a way of adding value and relevance to my clients.


TBC: What does your typical work day look like?

P: The routine starts with a daily briefing to the team.  That is when we run through updates from HQ, which run the gamut from business policy changes to HR matters to new industry developments.  After that, there might be product training.  That can either be conducted by in-house trainers, brand trainers, or myself. Concurrently, some of the team members will do the daily stock check before window dressing.  A lot more time is devoted to this aspect when there are new collaterals and displays.  Brands would usually send their marketing people down, and things can get finicky.  What I do then is to contact clients about their allocations.  Once that is taken care of, I will typically go through the enquiry emails and client correspondences.

During any lull periods, I encourage my team members to read up on industry developments and trends, and be more intimately aware of the less well-known products in the range.  It is either knowledge accumulation, or running of errands.  You may not know this, but we do not go out for our meal breaks.  Team members will take turns to buy meals back for everyone.  It is nigh on impossible to do a lunch hour rotation.  Clients, especially those that we have contacted earlier in the day about their allocation, can come through the doors at any time.  We are expected to be at the boutique to receive them.  That is our reality, working in a retail environment.

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TBC: Anything from the past few years that look like positive changes in the industry for people like yourself?

P: So, remember, I am a sales guy.  The only positive industry-specific change, as far as I am concerned, is that it is much easier to sell [the watch brand] now.  This really is all thanks to the pandemic.  Nothing says sales success quite like bored people, with great internet connectivity and nowhere to go.  As you can imagine, we received many requests and online enquiries in 2020, 2021 and 2022.  It has not slowed down at all, actually.


TBC: And what still needs to change?

P: If you compare the business from when I first joined, to 2023, not much else has changed.  Or should I say, improved.  Our remuneration structure is a great example of that.  I would say our company’s pay arrangement is not too different from the rest of the industry.  What do you reckon we make?


TBC: Hazard a guess? Given the pricing and how [the watch brand] pieces fly off the shelf, SGD15,000 -SGD20,000 a month?

P: I wish!  We have a basic monthly salary, a bonus if the boutique hits the set targets, and a bonus at the end of the year.  I know sometimes you see watch sales executives living the big lives on Instagram, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out just how they sustain it on our salaries.


TBC: How is business these days?

P: I am leery to say business is too good.  Demand for [the watch brand] outstrips supply by a substantial margin.  Anyone might think that is a great situation to be in, but it actually created a different set of problems. (Shakes his head) We do not have solutions for the supply-demand mismatch.  Every watch is hand made.  It takes years to train a watchmaker.  We are not exactly churning out IKEA furniture.


TBC: So then,  too much of a good thing?

P: Yes, there is most definitely stress!  We have to deal with clients who have not gotten their allocations.  What exacerbates this awkward situation further is that we have no control over the shipments coming in.  I can guess what should be coming in, based on past shipments, but it is still just a guess.  I would not know if a [popular watch model] is coming in.  There is also stress in trying to figure out how to sell the models that are not on the Instagram hype trains.  Let’s not forget we still have the new clients to look at.  The prospective clients – the finance bros, the crypto bros, the new money – who are just waiting in the wings.  Contrary to what some might think, it is absolutely in our interest to grow some of these prospective watch buyers into longer term relationships.


TBC: Speaking of new watch buyers, now that you have the cover of darkness, is there anything you wished clients know before calling you, or stepping into the boutique?

P: Please treat us with respect.  I cannot emphasise this enough. We are here to help our all clients.  Under normal circumstances, it would be unprofessional for us to explain to clients that they are not the only ones waiting, and they are not the only ones who can afford [the watch brand], and they are not the only ones with purchase history.  All the non-stop flexing on social media platforms just make it more difficult to placate a longstanding client who is perhaps not accustomed to waiting.


TBC: Speaking of purchase history, how good are you at spotting a flipper?

P: I cannot believe that we must now do KYC (editor: Know Your Client – typically regulatory and banking nomenclature) so we can separate the wheat from the chaff.  This has become de rigueur over the last couple of years.  And yes, with experience, anyone can be good at spotting flippers.   I would say I have a 80% hit rate.


TBC: Can you perhaps shed some light on your KYC process?

P: Remember earlier on, I said I listened in to conversations between my colleagues and their clients?  That is essentially what I do now.  I engage to understand more about the state of their collections.  I try to find out about their end goal – are they after a particular sports model?  I enquire to ascertain the depth and breadth of their horological knowledge.  How well do they know [the watch brand] and its history?  Flippers tend to not hesitate when they are offered pieces, even when it is not what they asked for.  Genuine collectors tend to tell you they need to think about it, and they will come back to you within a stipulated time window.  Another tell-tale sign is that the flippers will know the secondary market prices even better than I do.  (Wearing a wry smile) And yes, I ask to follow them on their social media accounts.


TBC: Alright, something a little lighter – what is the state of your collection?

(He hesitated for a while, unsure of what the TBC reaction would be.)

P: I was lucky to win the M.A.D. 1 Red in the first raffle.  I also have the Sprite, panda Daytona, Hulk, Starbucks, Batman, Submariner, and the Sea Dweller. (pauses) And the blue Snoopy Speedmaster Professional.  And a lot of Casio G-Shocks; almost all of them are limited edition collabs with street wear brands.  I know where you are going next, but other than the M.A.D. 1 Red, I get all my watches from grey dealers.  Inventory is for sales, not for staff purchase.  I cannot fault that logic, but it still stings a little bit, you know?


TBC: We cannot possibly let you go without asking the most important question, and that is this – what is your grail watch?

P: You won’t believe this, but I have eyes on the black lacquered stainless-steel Cartier Santos-Dumont.  I know they are no longer limited edition pieces, but the extent of production is unknown.  I do not really have anything else that I’m gunning for now.  Maybe that is the consequence of being surrounded by watches all the time?


TBC: Thank you for your time!

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