November 16, 2019
by John Kim
As I stepped out of my rideshare and grabbed my luggage, which mostly consists of a Pelican case full of camera equipment and a plastic bag for clothes and toiletries, I see two familiar faces loitering by the front entrance of the hotel. They both look at me and say, “We’ve been waiting for you to arrive so we can go and make some bad choices.” I’d arrived in Chicago for the second microLUX event this year, the first of which was LAmicroLUX back in April, and aBlogtoWatch was again participating as the media partner for this event.
MicroLUX was started by Richard Park, owner of whatsonthewrist, and launched the inaugural event in Los Angeles earlier this year. The event was realized with Richard’s passion for watches but also as a way to introduce his love of “microbrand” watches to a wider audience. During the past Los Angeles event, Ariel Adams went on to give a keynote in which he explained where microbrands come from, how to understand which are the better ones, and the outlook for collecting microbrand watches.
The event showcased over 35 watch brands, the majority of them microbrands, with most of the booths managed by the owners of the brands themselves. The brand attendance was almost double that of the Los Angeles event and showed that brands were eager to get their products out in front of prospective customers, as most of these brands focus on direct-to-consumer sales via their websites.
Much like the last event, the general feel was free-form and open to the attendees, allowing them to ask questions, try on watches, and make purchases. This isn’t the first time an event has allowed direct-to-consumer sales, but I’ve always wondered if this was a viable way of generating revenue for a brand or if it was a “nice-to-have” option at these events. I’m not part of the specific demographic that buys watches at roadshow types of events, but from what I’ve observed and the feedback I’ve gotten from the brands, it seems to be based more on the price point of the watches versus the actual watches themselves.
Value Proposition was well-staggered at the event and represented three tiers of pricing: up to $500, $500-$2,500, and $2500 plus. Some of the brands fell into one pricing tier, but many of them had watches that fit into two pricing tiers, with a handful of brands being able to spread across all three pricing tiers.
I saw many familiar faces from the last event but also many new people, all of whom seemed to be smiling while possibly hiding a bit of jetlag and tiredness. Speaking with many of the brand’s owners, I learned that they all loved being able to come out and share their love of watches and present their unique takes on what they love most. All the brands have an origin story, many of them stemming from a need to create something that checked off all the features they deemed necessary in a watch, but some of them out of the need to reinvent themselves. I find the last reason quite compelling because it sheds a different light on why people gravitate toward watches aside from the usual perspective of collector, reseller, and enthusiast.
An added bonus at this event was the partnership with AWCI (American Watchmakers – Clockmakers Institute) and its Build A Watch Event, which allows aspiring watchmakers and watch enthusiasts to try their hand at being a watchmaker for a day. This component was a great feature, as it brought two different types of watch enthusiasts together to converse about their love of watches.
With the state of the watch industry, its marketing strategies and oftentimes appointed figureheads leading the charge for particular brands, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to speak with the owners of the brands and converse candidly about what they’re trying to achieve and the message they’re trying to convey to the customer. One thing was certain: There wasn’t much marketing fluff when it came to these brands and their product lines.
I hope the market for watch enthusiasts continues to grow, and I feel that the awareness and growth of microbrands, as well as independent brands, are contributing catalysts toward this trend. These smaller events facilitate the personal one-on-one approach that many of the larger brands used to have but are now lacking, and they allow the customers to take a few watches out for a “test drive” without feeling like they just stepped into a military recruitment office.
The sound of my bags dropping onto the hotel room floor was followed by the chime of a text message: “We’re at this restaurant, meet us there.” I grabbed my hotel key and started walking the five blocks to the rendezvous point. The group consisted of Ariel and a few other watch enthusiasts. The bad choices? A “few” drinks, lots of wrist shots, mystery meat Gyros (the best kind), watch conspiracies, and questionable establishments. The good? Honest industry relationships.