Indie watch brands should treasure customer relationships

Most collectors of independent watch brands will tell you that they love the watches, but more often than not, they deeply value the close connection or relationship they can build with the brand and the founders. I even said this in my recent post about Unimatic watches. Another aspect I mentioned in that post, was the way in which collectors of the independent brands will often gravitate towards one another… a ‘fellow’ collector of sorts – we love familiarity as humans, and so, finding somebody who appreciates the same things you do, is likely to appeal to you as well – hell, that’s why we all found each other on Instagram, albeit on a more broader scale – but it’s the same idea.

It isn’t news that I love Unimatic watches. They aren’t the only ones who get incredible love from their owners. MB&F is another brand which really does go out of their way to keep customers happy. They have an owners club called ‘The tribe’ which has some perks which you all might have heard about – but it’s a lot more than that. A friend of mine recently needed to change his strap, and MB&F sent him their special tool to change the strap, which would ensure he didn’t damage his watch. They didn’t have to, they wanted to. I have heard many other stories about brands like Halios, Baltic, Vertex and I am sure I have forgotten many others… they value the community, and they treat them with respect and appreciation.

The point here, is that these brands are not beholden to ‘head office’ or some executive in a tall tower giving them orders to behave a certain way… that’s the beauty of it. The owners or founders are usually customer facing, or one step removed – so they have the power to make decisions regarding customers. Max Busser sends DMs to all his clients … himself. He is the brand, and he owns the customer. When something is wrong, he knows its his name on the watch, and he should make it right.

Sure, schadenfreude is a nasty thing… and it is part of the ‘dark side of collecting’ unfortunately… so to be clear, this isn’t a rant to poke fun at the recent product launch of the new Ming with misaligned hands. It is more a reflection on just how badly things can go, and what it subsequently means for the brand.

So on Ming… nothing about the direction the brand is going truly resonates with me. I don’t have any problem with them per se, in fact I own one. It’s a good watch with a story behind it- a friend sold it to me and it therefore has a bit more meaning than just being another watch in the collection. That said, Ming watches are not particularly outstanding, aside from some of the limited releases powered by Agenhor. The watches are definitely unmistakable, and the design language is spot on – their popularity is a testament to that. The thing is, Ming has plans to move into high end watchmaking, and potentially go on to construct in-house calibres, and even serious complications.

That is of course a long journey, and they had to start somewhere. So far, they have won over the collectors at the lower price points, they have the hype in their favour, and supply is unable to keep up with demand. Unfortunately, the price seems to keep creeping upwards, and as far as I can tell, this is for no good reason, or in my opinion, very little additional value. Some laser etched lume design isn’t exactly the same as hand finishing for example. Sure, what do I know about the cost of production – nothing. So let’s say the cost increases justify the price increases… I don’t see why this needs to be accompanied by hubris.

This recent Ming launch had some issues with the hour hand lagging, which was reportedly due to the GMT movement being used – it needed to be adjusted to have tighter tolerances where the independent hour hand was attached. Sure, it’s fixable, and the widespread nature of the problem was not an ideal PR situation to begin with… this might have been stressful and perhaps some people reacted overly negatively and the schadenfreude came though strongly. This would be a perfect time for the brand to show the power of being an independent watchmaker… having the power to act fast, and help customers with a problem not of their own doing. WHY the problem occurred, and WHO is to blame – is totally irrelevant – the only thing that matters is admission there is a problem, and an unqualified offer to assist and resolve the issue(s). Instead, we saw the Founder blaming the shipping companies while offering refunds, and the collaborator sending rude DM’s to people and refusing to service watches unless sent in by the original purchaser (I have seen the DMs, and a warranty is a warranty, why does it matter if the watch was flipped).

I just get the impression Ming are losing their way in terms of what matters most, and who got them to this advantageous place to begin with – the customers.

Update: Ming has since apologised and agreed to rectify all issues with this model. Got there in the end… albeit the hard way!

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