A case in point
Celebrating history, cultivating quality and offering value for money simultaneously is no mean feat, but family-owned watch manufacturer Pointtec has hit the mark. TOM DAVIS sits down with managing director of Pointtec UK, the company’s UK distributor, to learn about the brand’s ambitions.
It’s rare for a brand to combine a flashback to history while at the same time creating a style that appeals to the modern-day consumer. However Pointtec employs just 30 staff in its Munich head office but exports its watch brands in 33 different countries and has more than 2,500 retailers around the world – using precisely that philosophy. In 2014 the company produced over 150,000 watches for the global market, despite the much more modest operation just five years ago operating only in the German and Austrian markets.
The growth of the company, which was founded by Wilhelm Birk in 1987, has been reflected by steady expansion in its UK market. Led by Hans C. Brandt, managing director of Pointtec UK, the company’s UK distributor, Pointtec now has a footprint of 35 retailers with Brandt doubling his turnover each year since he began in the summer of 2013.
The company has two brands in the UK market, taking their inspiration from Germany’s rich aviation history. Having previously started with the idea of producing watches as a white-label manufacturer, Pointtec now successfully runs it own brands under contracts with some large players in the aviation and engineering industries.
It’s important to start with Junkers, which according to Brandt was the “breakthrough” for the company. Bosch, which owned Junkers, approached Pointtec to design a special watch for Hugo Junkers, the founder of the company and the creator of the first metal plane. Brandt says: “The watch was so popular that Pointtec came up with the idea to create an aviator watch in the name of Junkers, because it’s such a historic name in aviation history”.
Hugo Junkers was a German engineer and entrepreneur who had more than 300 patented inventions to his name. At the end of the 1920s he was running two companies under the name Junkers, one was producing planes and the other heating systems and diesel engines. Junkers created the first plane made completely out of metal – the first time in the world a plane could be used to transport goods and passengers. He was sent to prison by the Nazis for denying them the use of his factory to create weapons. His wife later signed a contract handing the company to the government for his release from prison. The company was handed back to the family after WW2 and was later taken over by Bosch.
Similarly, 10 years ago Pointtec was approached by Zeppelin, a large company which more than 100 years ago used to produce airships, to create a watch to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Birk designed the watch and, after seeing that it was popular, agreed a contract with
Zeppelin to create watches under its name, creating the Pointtec’s second brand. “These two brands,” says Brandt, “are made for the retail market, for independent jewellers. This is a special thing.”
The company also creates watches for luxury car brand Audi, although these are only for the auto maker’s dealers and not wat
ch retailers. Contracts with these companies, Brandt says, are a “real guarantor” of top quality. “They don’t want us to sell low-end watches under their name,” he states.
It’s clear how much inspiration the watches take from these different aspects of German aviation history. To create the first metal plane,
Junkers had to use corrugated metal, which is a thin but stable material, and Pointtec uses this in the Junkers brand as a nod to the aviation innovations of the past.
The brand features busy faces with functions such as chronographs and automatic batteries. The Junkers brand also has a watch range with homages to Hugo Junkers’ support of the bauhaus art movement, which Brandt says is the most successful line in the UK. Meanwhile the Zeppelin brand takes its inspiration from instruments that you would find in an airship, taking on a more traditional and classic look than the Junkers brand.
The brands have a crossover audience, but he says that the aviator style of Junkers is generally aimed at the younger audience of people aged 18 and older, right up to 50-plus, while Zeppelin’s more traditional style is preferred by consumers who are 3-plus. Both watches are generally marketed towards the male market although they do have some female ranges.
In 2014 Zeppelin and Junkers came second and fourth, respectively, in a list of the top 10 watches under €2,000. The list was published in a German watch magazine, Uhren, and voted for by the readers. The top watch was around €2,000 while the Junkers and Zeppelin watches were around €700.
Pointtec takes particular pride in its value for money. “To be honest there are no proper competitors,” says Brandt. “We have competitors in design and quality, but they are for more expensive.” Both brands have high-end watches worth more than £1,000 with models of between
£150 to £350 being the most profitable for retailers. With the company producing other 150,000 watches last year, Pointtec keeps its prices low by bulk buying high-quality Swiss and Japanese parts. Half of the company’s watches have automatic mechanisms, and with a starting price of £160, Brandt says, “you won’t find that in the world in another brand. No chance”.
Brandt also mentions that the company doesn’t really do any public advertising, which he says is reflected in the cost price. He says: “This is a way of saying no, we have a good product with a lot of history, a lovely name and good quality but to be honest it’s word of mouth.”
Both brands have shown potential for fast growth, although keeping to the firm’s family-run roots, Pointtec prefers to keep things slow and steady. “The plan is to grow together with family-run businesses. We are not interested in quick money, we are interested in long partnerships,” says Brandt. The company does not deal with Amazon and major chains, nor does the company “blackmail” customers says Brandt. “Our policy is to grow with them, we don’t tell them that this is the minimum order or you have to have these designs in the window or we won’t have you as a partner. We are quite flexible.”
The company has recently improved its service for UK retailers with a UK-based watchmaker who repairs and supplies spare parts, but there is still room for further growth. Brandt says that he can probably look after 80 to 100 customers, a significant number when considering that the company is willing to offer retailers an exclusive area, depending on how many watches can be sold in any given locale. Brandt says: “When I look at the map, I think if we can end up with 100 customers then that would be a lot, it would be perfect.”