Watchmaker Wittnauer Attempts to Change Perception With Online Store

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Wittnauer International, a 122-year-old watchmaker, is turning to online retail to change consumer perceptions of the brand as dated.


The New Rochelle, NY, company will go directly to the consumer for the first time through an online store at wittnauerwatches.com. Created by Web design firm Interactive Apparel Inc., the site will debut just in time for Father's Day.


"The key objective, obviously, is to extend, reinvent and reinvigorate the brand," said Kevin Williams, vice president of marketing at Interactive Apparel, Alpharetta, GA. "It hasn't gone away, but it has experienced some competition over the years in a number of places.


"So it's an opportunity to build awareness for the brand, for people to see that the brand has changed and is more appealing to the masses," Williams said.


Interactive Apparel will handle all elements of the online store. These include site design and maintenance, inventory management, customer service and order fulfillment. It gets a cut of all online sales on the site.


Targeting consumers age 25 to 45, the Wittnauer site will sell watches priced at $190 to $3,000. It will replace the existing information-only site, which caters primarily to the Canadian market.


"The new brand positioning is targeted on a more younger, mainstream consumer" than Wittnauer's traditional customer base, Williams said.


Then there's the product styling -- the crux of the image problem.


"We're trying to create newer lines better influenced by watch trends," said Cedric Fletcher, director of brand marketing at Wittnauer.


Williams agreed.


"One of the things that has happened with them in the last 10 years is that there's a lot of new players in the category, along with Rolex and Tag Heuer, [and] Wittnauer, for a while, was looked at as an old brand," Williams said.


"What they've tried to do is refresh their brand, make it a little younger in terms of the style, not necessarily the price, connecting more with the consumer's needs and wants," he said.


Wittnauer currently sells to watch specialty stores, department stores and jewelry chains such as Tourneau, Macy's, Kay Jewelers, Zale's and Gordons.


"What you're going to see on the new site is going to be watches that aren't so heavily gold. They're getting away from that," Williams said. "That's the old tradition, the old sales to a certain consumer."


Wittnauer is confident that going direct to consumer will not alienate its retail channel.


"We don't intend to offer products that are exclusive to the Internet," Fletcher said. "We're trying to reach into markets where we're not well-distributed, and the Internet allows that."


The online store will ride on the coattails of Wittnauer's existing marketing relationships.


Wittnauer is the official watch sponsor of several National Basketball Association teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers. It also sponsors a number of collegiate athletic leagues.


"Obviously, with the NBA season final taking place in June, we're going to target those events because they have a very high male viewership," Williams said.


"Wittnauer today is a sponsor of many NBA teams," he said, "so we're going to leverage a lot of those relationships through relevant online marketing campaigns, including e-mail."


E-mail, in fact, will be the primary means of reaching consumers. The first batch of an estimated 10,000 e-mails will drop in the run-up to Father's Day. Names will be pulled from outside lists, plus addresses garnered from consumer inquiries and requests to Wittnauer via retailers.


"We'll be sending out one every other week, obviously to build momentum and awareness of the site's launch and basically center those around events that typically take place during the summer," Williams said.


Offers will vary. Though it is still a work in progress, an e-mail may tout a promotion that gives a groom a free watch for every three bought for his groomsmen, or an offer of 50 percent off.


Williams said Wittnauer's obvious intention with its online store is to sell more watches.


"But, more importantly, build their brand and deepen the consumer relationship and understanding of the brand," Williams said, "because although there are many people who have worn this brand over the years, there are so many new players in this field, Wittnauer gets lost."


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