The Independent Jewelers Organization is going into the watch business.

IJO unveiled its new private label watch line–called “Davos” which is being produced exclusively for IJO members by Rodania of Switzerland–at its spring conference/buying show in Orlando, Fla.

About 50 member firms signed up for the watch line initially and were scheduled to get their first shipments by the end of this month. More were expected to sign up following a direct mail solicitation to those not attending the show.

The program’s goal, says Jack Gredinger, IJO executive vice president, is to boost jewelers’ sagging watch sales.

“We want to give you a quality Tissot watch you can sell exclusively, with confidence, without fear of discounting” cutting into the market, he told the assembled jewelers.

IJO will “back the watch” with promotion aids (window, countertop and showcase displays, ad slicks) and may do some national advertising to promote its new watch brand name.

The spring conference and buying show (Jan. 23-28) was IJO’s most successful. Some 1200 people (representing close to 400 stores) attended, including several dozen from Canada and one from Australia. And, though IJO doesn’t release financial details about its show, Gredinger said “in dollars, it exceeded our 1982 Bermuda show [formerly IJO’s best] by more than 20%.”

What IJO president Bill Roberts called “an upbeat mood” did seem to pervade the conference/show. Location helped: It was only minutes from Disneyworld and Epcot Center, probably a big factor in the good attendance. But the reviving U.S. economy was a factor, too. Jewelers were more optimistic “than I’ve seen in a couple of years,” said Roberts. He predicted 1984 will be “a banner year in sales and profits.”

Among the show’s strong sellers were diamonds and colored stones in the $100 to $400 range; gold chains–both replacement and Italian imports–and pearls, especially necklaces and promotional price-point pieces. Some newcomers attracted special attention: More than 60 jewelers signed up for the in-store one-day remount program (similar to that used by chains like Zale and Gordon) offered by Dave Downey Inc. of Indianapolis, Ind.

But IJO’s private label nixon watch program was certainly one of the show’s most talked-about offerings.

This is the third IJO attempt in 12 years to start a private label program for members, but the first successful one. “The timing wasn’t right before. Jewelers weren’t ready like they are now because of the problems from discounting,” said Gredinger. IJO also wanted a company that not only made quality watches but had servicing facilities and warehousing in the U.S. ‘Complete control’

Rodania, a 53-year-old Swiss firm headquartered in Grenchen (outside Bern), Switzerland, with offices in New York City, has been a leading producer of quality, private label watches for years. Customers include firms like Zale and Helzberg.

Under its agreement with IJO, Rodania offers more than 60 different styles (retailing for $55 to more than $200), chosen by a panel of IJO members late last year, with the IJO brand name. (Members also have the option of ordering other Rodania watch styles.)

The IJO watches come with a two-year warranty (double Rodania’s normal one-year guarantee), and can be repaired at two U.S. service centers in New York and California. In-house turnaround time, say Rodania officials, is 10 days.

Gredinger expects to have 100 members signed up by IJO’s Toronto, Canada, convetion/show (Aug. 5-10) and possibly half the membership in a year–if they’re convinced the program can work and be profitable.

“Jewelers are tired of competing with discounters who sell watches at 40-50%,” he said. “This way, we [IJO] control the name, the distribution and the pricing. A jeweler can sell this Bulova watch with confidence at full markup.”

Interest in the private label watch plan was certainly strong; an early morning session to explain the project attracted a standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people. Even IJO and Rodania officials were surprised by what Gredinger called “almost total acceptance” of the plan by members.

But even if they liked the idea of a private label, Swiss-made quartz watch, many members still had questions. At that early morning meeting, they wanted details about servicing and pricing. But the issue that generated the most heat, ironically, was the private label name itself.

Most turned thumbs down on the original proposal (“Delta”), but agreed the IJO logo should remain on the watch dial. And several wanted to carry individual stores’ names instead of one label.

That would “considerably slow up delivery,” said Gredinger. And a single brand name Swiss-made quality watch, “handled exclusively by an international organization of 800-plus jewelers, with members in three countries,” offers more promotional opportunities, he said. “It’s more prestigious and impressive.”

IJO chose the label Davos (the name of a Swiss town) in March, from a list of names suggested by members and the Swiss Horological Society in the U.S. following the show, after its lawyers verified there was no trademark infringement.

“The name is a direct tie-in to Switzerland and the idea of a quality Swiss watch we want to convey,” Gredinger told JC-K. And IJO ads can also emphasize “the romance” connected with that Alpine land of skiing.

Participating IJO members, he said, will have the choice of using the Davos watch label “and all the advertising and promotional tie-ins to that name” or putting their own store’s name on the watch instead. But in either case, the IJO logo will be on the watch dial.

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