One of the biggest issues in this industry is what happens to a watch long after it leaves the boutique on the wrist of its happy new owner. Aftersales support and servicing may not be as glamorous as releasing shiny new watches, but it matters. A lot. There’s no quicker way to ruin goodwill towards a brand than with a negative service or repair situation, and from the anecdotal stories I hear it’s happening all too often, with common complaints including long wait times, unexpected costs and process that can be baffling in its bureaucracy.
Still, it’s easy to see why aftersales support doesn’t get the attention it deserves. There are no immediate returns to be had by investing in servicing. If you had to sign off opening a new boutique or expanding your service network, the boutique must seem like the more attractive option, in the short term at least. But servicing is an increasingly important issue for the industry, because with ever increasing numbers of mechanical watches being sold, brands need to meet the needs of consumers by providing an adequate level of support.
Rolex Australia has recently bucked this trend by opening a brand new, expanded Melbourne service centre late last year. Found down a cobbled CBD lane, next to a coffee shop that some might describe as ‘hipster’, Melbourne’s new Rolex Service Centre is perfectly suited to the city in which it’s located, but once inside, the spacious, light-filled, hi-tech space instantly dispels any romantic images of the lone artistic watchmaker working in the same fashion as his 18th century predecessors.
This service centre is state of the art, with polishing, testing and parts storage systems available. The storage system in itself is impressive. Should a part be required for pretty much any Rolex reference, the technician responsible for managing the parts inventory will pull it up. And I mean that literally, the storage system is a massive, computerised wall unit, and in our short demonstration of how it works we cycled through seemingly endless trays of dials, movements, bracelets and all the rest. This degree of organisation might seem like overkill when a simple set of drawers would suffice, but this is Rolex, and it seems that their quest for perfection and efficiency doesn’t end with the watches themselves.
Until I walked through the service centre I didn’t fully appreciate how much work went into a Rolex service. Again it’s that notion of the lonely watchmaker at his desk, regulating and lubricating delicate watch movements. The reality is a little different, with equal importance placed on case refinishing and testing, each of which have dedicated spaces and specialised staff.
This isn’t to detract from the work done by the men in lab coats who look after the movements. In fact, so confident is Rolex in the quality of its movements and the people who service them that last year they boosted their existing three-year warranty to a hefty five years.
Rolex is leading the market in Australia when it comes to taking aftersales support seriously, and the significant scaling up of capacity at the new Melbourne Service Centre speaks volumes for the brand’s confidence in the Australian market – an example other brands would do well to pay attention to.