Sep 17, 2009 10:00:12 AM
Under the microscope:
At Munich's Prannerstraße 13, in a quiet side street behind the famous 5-star luxury hotel "Bayerischer Hof", Ralf Meertz (41) has been running his exclusively stocked "WORLDOFTIME" shop since 2003. His customers value him for the excellent service he provides, while colleagues and competitors alike describe him (almost) without envy as the "best dealer in Munich ".
After receiving his master watchmaker's diploma in 1991 Meertz, who comes from the Viersen district of North-Rhine Westphalia, offered his services by putting an advertisement in a trade journal with a country-wide circulation. "The response was fantastic", he recalls. "At the time you could get a job as a watchmaker anywhere, as long as you didn't have two left hands." He finally decided to accept a job with Clemens von Halem (48), "because he specialised in antique clocks and watches, which have always fascinated me." Meertz stayed for almost ten years at von Halem's "Antike Uhren Schley", before setting up in business for himself. "Even if he himself would never express it in these terms, at present Meertz has the greatest potential as a top dealer ", says von Halem today. "He's very straight in his business operations, hardworking, extremely professional in dealing with customers and suppliers, and always pays right on time, which is always important for us dealers in our transactions with one another." Interviewed by watchPool24, however, Ralf Meertz reacts to such praise with emphatic modesty …
watchPool24: Mr Meertz, are you the best dealer in Munich?
Meertz: Definitely not. This city in particular is so full of good colleagues who are financially in a good position and have a lot more experience than I do. 'Watchandco‘, 'Primetime‘, 'Uhren Eder‘ in the antique segment, to mention just a few. But of course that gives me more of an incentive.
But your customers seem to be highly satisfied with you. On the internet there isn't a single negative comment about you by a disappointed customer …
Meertz: Of course we try to ensure the satisfaction of every single one of our customers – even if it sometimes hurts and you finish up making a loss. The problem with the internet is very definitely its great transparency. Even if you have a dispute with a customer about a trivial matter you can be sure that this dispute will appear sooner or later in some forum or another. This has to be avoided at all costs.
This also means that you have to be able to make concessions …
Meertz: Absolutely. You need to be flexible, otherwise you won't achieve anything.
Instead there is praise everywhere on the web for your first-class service, especially with regard to the care and servicing of watches people have bought from you. You employ a full-time watchmaker for this purpose. Does that pay off?
Meertz: The workshop is of course a permanent cost factor which is too big for most dealers. And in fact it the cost is considerable. If I take my goods to a watchmaker who then issues an invoice the price clearly shows what the repair of this watch has cost. On the other hand if I employ a watchmaker in the shop the costs all merge into one another. In the last analysis I don't know of a single workshop which ends the year with a decent profit. In spite of this I regard it as useful to offer customers this service. It's an overall calculation which has proved itself profitable on the balance sheet for the company as a whole – and clearly also ensures satisfied customers.
You are a qualified watchmaker. Do you still make repairs yourself?
Meertz: Only very rarely, if we have a lot of work in the shop or if I have more experience in a particular area than my colleague. But most of the time I'm a dealer.
Have you ever had to send home a customer with a defective watch or clock?
Meertz: That happens from time to time, either because you don't have the time or the possibility to carry out the repairs, or if the problem is so complicated that it exceeds your own skills. For example I once had to decline the repair of a Kieninger grandfather clock with a musical mechanism because it would have required serious musical skills to get it going again.
Your shop 'WORLDOFTIME‘ is located in Munich's inner city, but even so it's in a quiet side street. Lots of customers still come to you in spite of this. Is the location perhaps not so important for the success of a business?
Meertz: On the contrary, I believe it's very important. Just round the corner here, for example, there is 'Watchandco‘, right next to the 'Bayerischer Hof‘ hotel. People coming from the hotel pass the shop and make a purchase there on the spur of the moment. Such a location is therefore clearly an advantage. However, you also need to be able to handle such a location and have the staff to cope with the business.
Would you be tempted to move?
Meertz: One day, perhaps, but I don't have any concrete plans.
Have you felt the impact of the economic crisis in your business?
Meertz: In some areas definitely. Price levels have changed, without a doubt. In the case of certain models the turnover is simply no longer there. But on balance there are just as many people who have to sell watches at the moment or want to sell for other reason, and on the other hand many people who don't wish to invest their money in shares and would rather buy an attractive investment which they can also wear.
That doesn't sound as negative as many dealers or manufacturers have been talking in recent months …
Meertz: The reason is that in my opinion the watch market has confirmed its own stability, in contrast to other industries. Even if there have been many losses and the industry has suffered to some extent, in my eyes it has confirmed that it is a secure investment.
So should we start buying watches again – or wait a little longer?
Meertz: For those who have the money now is a good time to buy. Prices have fallen quite a lot, but at the moment they are no longer falling. Hopefully it will stay like that.
What sort of watches are selling well at the moment in your shop?
Meertz: Gold watches. In the past people wanted watches made of steel and tended to make an appearance of restraint with their favourite ornament. But as a result of this crisis people have found the way back to the gold watch. People are no longer ashamed of appearing in public with an object of enduring value.
Do you have a watch or a clock in your shop which you would never sell?
Meertz: Perhaps my Riefler. It's been hanging in my shop for so long, I would no longer like to be parted from it. It's an astronomic precision pendulum clock by Siegmund Riefler with serial number 70. It was made here in Munich and spent many years in the Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. It was a sort of predecessor of the atomic clock. In those days it provided the exact time for the United States and was only sold at an auction in the eighties. Theoretically it still works, although naturally I don't allow it to operate here. This clock is a diva, it likes surroundings which are quiet and free from vibrations – conditions which I can't provide here in the shop. Apart from that it also makes a lot of noise.
You've been a member of watchPool24 from the very beginning. Are you more of a buyer or a seller?
Meertz: I hardly enter any goods for auction because I simply don't have the volume of goods which is required for this purpose – I'm far too selective in my choice of goods. But I use the platform as a tool for buying goods. For this purpose I find it very good. My business consists of supplying goods to the consumer, which makes me the ideal customer for the members of watchPool24, who do a lot of business to business anyway.
Thank you for giving us some of your valuable time!