“Opening up a retail store is a long-term play.”— Elizabeth Smith, Boutique Director of the Panerai Aspen Boutique
Located on the second floor of the historic Tom Thumb building with sweeping views of Aspen Mountain, Oliver Smith Jeweler is opening its new boutique specializing in vintage timepieces from the world’s most sought-after watch brands, estate jewelry, and the company’s in-house-designed jewelry. We took the opportunity to talk to Oliver’s eldest daughter Elizabeth Smith, Boutique Director of the Panerai Aspen Boutique and the new pre-owned boutique, about the role and the potential impact of opening a retail store in times of COVID-19:
WT: Can you tell us more about the local watch collectors’ community?
ES: Aspen attracts a well-educated watch collecting clientele. The members of the Aspen watch community are able to shop all over the world, so they know their stuff. Rare watches we never thought we would see in person have walked through the door on their owners’ wrists, such as an original 3646 Panerai from Word War II. The majority of Aspen clients do not live in Aspen full time, which has pushed us to creatively engage from afar. In addition to engaging with Instagram, YouTube, and email, we recently held a live watch auction for clients via Zoom. It was a great success, as clients loved the high-energy atmosphere, and it gave us the opportunity to sell to clients during the stay-at-home orders.
WT: You’ve probably picked the most challenging time to open a retail store. What impact does COVID-19 have on your forecast and expectations?
ES: We had the new store scheduled to open before COVID-19 hit, and there was a lot of internal debate over the best way to move forward. We have owned the Panerai Boutique in Aspen since 2018 and knew there was a demand for certified pre-owned representation in Aspen. Of course, we have lowered our projected sales for the year, but we know opening up a retail store is a long-term play. We want to build the right clientele in the right way, and we know that it takes time and commitment.
WT: Why does it still make sense to have a physical retail store?
ES: We continually see our clients blur the line between online and in-store. They may see a watch on our website, but then want to try it on for themselves in-person, or vice versa: they may see a watch for the first time in our store, and then go home online to learn more. We have had 39 years in the business and do not think retail will ever die, but it does have to adapt. We place just as much focus on our online website as we do to the detail and customer service provided in our boutiques. Also, shopping in physical stores is a large part of people’s vacations. They finally have the time to relax and take the time to treat themselves.
WT: Aspen has become a second and third home to many international jet-setters. Many people from the U.S. and abroad vacation in Aspen, especially during the winter. Do you see this as an advantage right now (having more time to get ready), or do you focus on the whole year and the local community?
ES: Aspen is best known for travel in the winter but has become a year-round destination. We especially think during the current COVID-19 climate, Aspen will continue to be a safe haven for second and third homeowners. All that said, though, winter is still the busiest time of year for us. The opening was strategic to hit the busy summer months, but it also gives us time to learn and adapt before the busiest winter season.
WT: How difficult is it to sell a watch during a one-on-one Zoom appointment?
ES: It really depends. If we are speaking with a client who is familiar with the brand or style of watch, it is easier for them to imagine it virtually. For someone who has never seen the watch in person before, it is important to provide them with all the right details. Maybe five years ago, a client would never dream about purchasing a watch seen via video call, but we think we are all starting to understand that there will be times we cannot physically see retail products in-store. We think the key is having the clients’ trust. It also helps to offer the client a return or exchange if they are not satisfied with the watch they purchased.