Ushered into Singapore’s largest permanent Rolex Exhibition centre in Southeast Asia, you get the sense that the Cortina operated Rolex boutique/temple is metaphorically running against headwinds. While most economists are suggesting that the economy is on the downtrend; Jeremy Lim, Chief Operating Officer of Cortina Watch is undeniably upbeat and on the cusp of officially opening the region’s largest Rolex boutique and permanent exhibit dedicated to the Crown’s achievements.
Earlier this 2016, Lim presided over the opening of Southeast Asia’s biggest Patek Philippe boutique in April to a tune of SGD2.5 million worth of renovation works, expanding the space four times larger than the 65 sqm space Cortina debuted in 2009. Given the 6% drop in luxury retail sales beginning of the year according to Euromonitor reports, was this move a sign of management confidence or foolhardiness? Deployant met with Mr. Jeremy Lim to discuss the bold strategy of opening the largest Rolex Exhibition and boutique this side of Asia and how it would impact Cortina Watch.
Singapore Rolex Exhibition and an Interview with Jeremy Lim
Jonathan Ho for Deployant: The watch industry was in turmoil in 2015 and going into 2016, we knew it was going to be tough. Obviously, something on the scale of the Rolex Exhibition was pre-planned years in advance but I wanted to get your thoughts on whether it required a certain amount of courage to push ahead rather than pivot and plan something else?
Jeremy Lim, Chief Operating Officer, Cortina: We wanted the consumer to come experience what the world of Rolex is about. Yes, we are a retailer and therefore we want to be profitable and we hope the Rolex Exhibition tips the balance when it comes to a purchase decision about Rolex or putting Rolex top of mind. Ultimately, the final decision boils down to either buying from Cortina or from a competing retailer, we hope our Rolex Exhibition centre tips the scales in our favour.
Inspired by The Rolex Experience in Shanghai, Cortina Watch’s Rolex Exhibition in Singapore stands second. But when compared in context of size of market, the 513 square metre Singapore boutique and exhibit gives China’s 800 square metre space a run for it’s money. Nevertheless, it’s a huge investment given that the area is completely renovated to Rolex Geneva specifications which is to say: old school Euro-lux with lots of Earth-tones (which happen to coincide with Rolex brand themes) – lots of wood and green. Additionally, situated at Marina Square, a shopping mall right at the heart of Singapore’s tourist attractions, rent would probably command a premium as well. It is a boutique and museum completely staffed by personnel from Cortina Watch and Mr. Lim is shy when it comes to how much the company spent on renovations.
Jeremy Lim: It is not a collaboration or partnership per se. It’s 100% a Cortina Watch investment. I don’t believe Rolex partners with any retailers. We chose to do this because we felt it gives us a competitive edge. I can’t speak to this boutique in particular but in general, we spend upwards of $730 to $750 per square feet outfitting our multi-brand and mono-brand boutiques. Safe to say, it’s costly when most of the elements (fixtures and fittings) come from overseas.
Deployant: What exactly did Rolex Geneva contribute?
Jeremy Lim: Rolex Geneva advised on layout, specifications and materials while Cortina contributed in terms of the retail space. We wanted it more spread out given the breadth of the Rolex collection from different dials and bracelets for each model. We wanted this to be a vastly different experience from our other stores. The worst thing that can happen in a flagship store (mono-brand) is that they replicate products all over the big space. We want to prevent that kind of boredom. As you can see for this flagship, we have a wide range and we have each model in its own space. This makes the Marina Square Rolex boutique very different from how other retailers represent Rolex due to space constraints, ourselves included.
Deployant: Will the exhibits be constantly changing?
Jeremy Lim: At this point of time, this is what has been provided for us. The Rolex Exhibition in Singapore has three main sections – the Rolex Way which explains key Rolex innovations like Cerachrom ceramic bezel and the new Chronergy escapement. The World of Rolex which explores the brand’s philanthropic efforts and sponsorships with artists, musicians, sports and exploration. Finally, it shows the Rolex’s greatest accomplishments like the 1960 deep sea expedition and the 2012 Challenger Deep – showing replicas of the prototype watches and the submarines that followed each journey (Deep Sea Special and Deepsea Challenge). The renovations are designed to be modular so I’m sure they can be changed, but again, this is dependent on Rolex guidelines.
Deployant: With your commitment and significant investment to Rolex, does this mean you enjoy preferential treatment when it comes to model/stock allocation?
Jeremy Lim: Good question. I don’t know [laughs].
Deployant: But this means (operating the biggest Rolex boutique in Singapore) means you would have the leverage to ask for more ceramic Daytonas should you wish correct?
Jeremy Lim: [Laughs] Yes, I do want more ceramic Daytonas and yes, it’s a huge investment by Cortina, it is also representation for Rolex in the region and I do believe that it would be good to always have nice representation. I don’t know if this answers your question.[Laughs]
When Watch Idiot Savants gather, we like to talk history and for Cortina Watch, they can be considered one of Rolex’s younger retailers. Beginning in 2003, Cortina had their first point of sale in Starhill Kuala Lumpur. Their second point of sale for Rolex in the region was in Raffles City Singapore, followed by retail operations in Bangkok in 2004. In total, Cortina Watch has 3 Rolex points of sales in Malaysia, 3 in Thailand and 4 in Singapore (including the Rolex Exhibition at Marina Square). In context, it’s amazing growth given that the 13 years of partnership between Rolex and the home-grown brand and it’s progress which Lim is immensely proud of.
Deployant: This is a two part question – how many years in the planning for the Rolex Exhibition and the retail front?
Jeremy Lim: From conception of the idea to when the space became available, it took 2 years. A lot of that time was spent planning.
Deployant: Part two of the question is – seeing the economic climate as it was, did you have data to support your choice for pushing on or was it a gutsy bold move?
Jeremy Lim: No one would have been able to predict the economy today back in 2014. By 2015, things became clearer but we were already in full fledged planning but I’m of the belief that whether in good times or bad, we simply have to calculate our costs, investments, breakeven points and make predictions on what our return on investment would be like. We have to stress test our numbers anyway – our worst case scenarios and our best case scenarios. In the worst case, I was confident that I wasn’t going to lose money, no doubt the size is big and the investment is huge, Rolex being Rolex, I was confident that we could generate certain numbers. We found that at the extreme, we would lose very little and even then, it would still be worth our while in the long run. This economic situation allows us to sell X number of watches but when the economy recovers, we would sell more and cover the gaps. I’m not in the business of month-on-month, I may not sell anything today but my customers are gaining better understanding of Rolex in an environment is unique to what we have in the region. With Rolex at the top of mind, they would be tipped over to buy here. I am confident to say that no other brand now in Singapore is able to give such an in-depth understanding of their brand like what the Rolex Exhibition gives – you would have a whole new view of what Rolex means beyond the prestige. Without being impolite to the other mono-brand stores I run, this is really something. Being in the trade, it’s already a huge thing for me. To the average consumer, it would be an eye opener.
Deployant: In the general business climate, what is the outlook for Cortina Watch? How do you see it changing in the next 12 to 18 months?
Jeremy Lim: I would be lying if I said we were not making money. But my first quarter year-on-year results actually show an increase from last year, that said, it remains tough. We have an increase of 13% in terms of turnover but profits are up 215%. We have either performed really well early 2016 or seriously underperformed in 2015. [laughs]. Truth be told, we suffered far fewer exchange losses from our investments in Malaysia because the ringgit has stablised somewhat and this makes a huge difference.
Deployant: In the last 12 years, just how much has Rolex contributed to Cortina Watch’s turnover?
Jeremy Lim: It is inevitable that with more points of sales, Rolex would contribute greater to our profits. They have played a very important part in our company’s growth and I don’t mind it being more significant in our company’s future. It is easily one of our top three brands in the group in good times or bad. It is a very resilient brand because Rolex never changes what they believe in. Rolex watches have always improved from one generation to the next even if they looked roughly the same – there was an issue with shaky Oyster bracelets in the early 80s and they improved that with a new bracelet. Once upon a time, the clasp lock buckles had to be tightened with pliers and they improved that with the interlocking. For the layman, nothing has appeared to change but Rolex has always been about increasing value to the consumers with better details; with the Rolex Exhibition now, people will learn about these technical improvements which make Rolex more than just a status symbol.
The new Singapore Rolex Exhibition is open daily from 11am to 9 pm at Rolex Boutique Cortina Watch Marina Square
Address: #02-38 Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore 039594