In March 2022, Jeffery Fowler was appointed CEO of 15-year-old watch hub Hodinkee. First started as a watch blog by Benjamin Clymer, who formerly worked in finance, Hodinkee has since evolved to encompass an e-commerce platform, a print publication and even watch insurance services.
Fowler was previously president of Farfetch Americas. But he has an extensive background in the watch industry, having held leadership positions at Cartier and Tag Heuer.
“What drew me back to this category, after having been at broader fashion businesses in the past, were the human stories and the community aspect,” Fowler said on the latest episode of the Glossy Podcast. “Of all the things I wear when I go out the front door every day, the only thing I could probably tell you a real story about is [the watch I wear]. And something about that is special and magical.”
He added, ”I’ve often said that, in the world of smartwatches, for me, what’s smart is something I can give to my kids and that they can give to their kids. And we’ll have that thing that connects us over time.”
The global passion for watches seems to be at a high. There’s less supply than demand for new watches, which is skyrocketing prices of resale styles. Hodinkee, which sells both new and used styles, is reaping the rewards. It eclipsed $100 million in revenue in 2021.
“Rolex themselves launched a [resale] business this past year, and other watch brands have gotten into the space, as well. So it’s exciting to see it,” Fowler said. “It’s a dynamic time for an industry that is literally hundreds of years old; it’s continuing to grow and set records, and we’re just excited to be a part of it.”
Since joining the company, Fowler has been busy making moves to further fuel Hodinkee’s growth. In February, Hodinkee launched an accessible line of branded merch. And by the end of this year, it plans to enter physical retail.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
From blog to groundbreaking retailer
“It was only around year seven or eight that the business started to meaningfully get into the commerce side, selling watches. That first began with watch-related products, like straps and accessories. Eventually, the limited-editions idea was born. Our first limited-edition collaboration was a collection of watches made with an independent watchmaker called Maximilian Büsser. The brand is called MB&F. These were just 10 watches, and they retailed for about $50,000 each. And they sold out in a matter of minutes. …That led to the opportunity to sell vintage watches. … And then, in 2017 — almost 10 full years after the business was founded — Hodinkee became the first online-only authorized retailer of watches working directly with brands. Watches traditionally have been retailed through brick-and-mortar mom-and-pop businesses, from local jewelers in the market to large, multinational retailers like Tourneau or Watches of Switzerland. [Brands] have been slow and somewhat reluctant to embrace digital distribution and online distribution. And Hodinkee changed all of that. It was eight brands that we launched with, and we obviously wrote about it on Hodinkee.com — so it was breaking news on our own website. Now we have the ability to not only foster the passion for watches as a category, but also to help you connect with the opportunity to find and discover a watch you love. Fast-forward a few years later — it’s only been five years — and we’re now the authorized retailer of 40 watch brands, [including] Hermès, Apple and Omega. And even more recently than that, we’ve layered in the category of pre-owned watches. This is distinct from vintage in that these watches are not 30 years old or older. It’s newer watches, but they’ve previously been owned by someone else. … So, we’re a pretty comprehensive site now, between content, community and commerce.”
Entering physical retail
“We’ll be opening our first physical store later this year in SoHo. It’s in the former location that was occupied for many, many years by Supreme. When they left to take on a larger footprint, they had the store vacant and open, and they’ve sublet the space to us for a length of time. I was thinking, in advance of this podcast, that the last time you interviewed me we talked about ‘the store of the future,’ because that was a piece of the Farfetch puzzle. And I said that ‘the store of the future’ is a great name because, technically, the future is still yet to happen; it’s always evolving. And so, I’ve worked in the digital side of this industry now for the better part of the last 10 years. But now, I’m getting a chance to work with some really talented people on a physical store again — for the first time, quite frankly, in a very long time. And it’s so exciting to think about, No. 1, how does this brand show up in the real world? And, to use that ‘store of the future’ thinking, how do we advance the industry or the way that people shop or congregate around this product in a way that’s novel, meaningful and authentic to us? Also, how do we make sure that it feels like something destination-worthy — because, nowadays, none of us has to go out of our doors; we can sit behind our computer screens if we want to. But knowing that the physical shopping experience for watches is still really important, how does that show up for us? … So there’s a really exciting project on the way. And it’s one of those opportunities that I’ve been charged with, in terms of the growth — to think about this as a new frontier for Hodinkee. It’s not just showing up in your life in a physical way once in a while, like at a dive bar or in a magazine on your desk. But it’s actually more on the day-to-day, like as you’re strolling around New York City. We’ll be there for you. And we’re gonna welcome you any time you want to discover or talk about watches, or just explore.”
Collaborating with John Mayer
“In December of this past year, we did a series of watches with one of our investors and beloved friends and contributors, John Mayer. He actually met Ben back in the early days of Hodinkee. He approached him and said, ‘I love the category. I love what you’re doing. I’d love to meet.’ And through that relationship and friendship, they’ve produced a number of really cool projects together. John did a series of three Casio G-Shock watches with us. Each one was kind of a reference to his musical career in his younger years when he was playing on Casio keyboards; he’d play around with and lust after these kinds of keyboards and hope to get one as a Christmas present from his parents. These were like $200-$250 watches. And in each case, we sold 7,000-9,000 units. We’re talking sold-out in a matter of seconds or minutes online. That’s the kind of captive desire we see for [our collaborations]. And that just goes to prove that, sometimes, it’s not expensive and fewer units [that sell]; sometimes it’s 9,000 units. And now I get a chance, when I’m out and about, to occasionally see someone wearing a John Mayer G-Shock. And it’s pretty cool to see that someone was inspired by something that we’d done.”