Material Good is not your normal watch store. The brainchild of Rob Ronen and Michael Herman, Material Good does things differently.
For example, Material Good doesn’t have a storefront. In fact, it’s on the second floor of the building it is in.
And the store doesn’t have a large portfolio of brands, it only has two anchor brands, Audemars Piguet (AP) and Richard Mille (RM), and it has short-term partnerships with other brands.
It looks nothing like we’ve come to expect a watch retailer to look like. Which is a good thing.
I caught up with Ronen in his store.
How did you get started in watch retailing?
Michael Herman and I met when we were both in the diamond business in the early 2000s. After about a year in the diamond business and becoming great friends, I left to work at AP and he went into the jewelry business on Fifth Avenue. Over the course of the next 10 years, we both grew the businesses and we stayed very good friends. He introduced me to people who needed watches and I introduced people to his jewelry. We then had a significant customer base.
I was traveling the country and the world for AP and what I noticed that there was a real lack of experiential luxury in retailers, that it had become all about client and price. When a customer came in, it wasn’t about the experience or the romance or enjoyment of the process. It was about “Do you have this watch and what is your best price?”
The Internet is to blame for this.
How is Material Good different?
We believe that if you provide an amazing experience, people will talk about it and they will refer to their peers. We didn’t want to be on the ground floor because we didn’t want foot traffic. I thought it was smart to be on the second floor.
If you are a ground-floor retailer, half your day is battling people who just walk in and waste your time. We’re not private, we are open to the public, but we are different because we are a destination. It’s a great vetting process. Anyone who wants to come experience Material Good should be able to. More than anything, being on the second floor lets us know that the people who come are there for the experience.
How is Material Good otherwise different?
We wanted to create the “anti-store.” If you look into the store, you wouldn’t know it’s a retail space. There are no showcases, there are no counters. We designed it as a place where people will feel welcome and will want to stay. In an experiential environment, sales are secondary. Sales will come if the experience is wonderful.
One of the best questions I get is, “What is this place?” It feels like an ultra high-end Soho loft. We have such a great client base downtown. I never wanted to be uptown, we wanted to do something cool and fun and do it in Soho.
How is business?
We opened with our two big anchor brands, Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille. We couldn’t have done it without their involvement. These two brands have an amazing grasp of what they want their retail network to be.
Within our first year, our expectations have been exceeded and it keeps growing and growing. When we opened, we didn’t want to be a watch store, we didn’t want to be a jewelry store, we wanted to be a luxury store.
Do you sell both new and pre-owned?
We do a huge pre-owned business. We have a lot of clients who buy something and, in a few months, they want to trade it in and buy something else. We are constantly taking watches from clients as a trade on a new purchase.
We focus our pre-owned on Patek, Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille. We are not just a pre-owned broker, we are an authorized retailer for Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille.
We try to provide this ultra-luxury experience but have the ability and knowledge to buy back watches and offer new timepieces. Customers are comfortable dealing with us for new watches and for pre-owned.
How have you grown?
For us, word of mouth is the best form of growth. We do a lot of events. We designed the space to entertain guests. We hold dinner parties here, we have VIP clients who have events here, we have birthday parties and baby showers for our clients. It’s a great way to get the word out.
What do you like about watches?
I fell into the watch business. When I was in the diamond world, I remember the diamond salesmen wearing Rolexes, and they wore them with such pride. I had never known anything like this. One of the guys I worked with got an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, which was beyond anything else at the time. Watches are passionate and represent achievement and status, and I got hooked. And there is so much to watches, including art and craftsmanship. I have a client who would never spend more than $2,000 on watches and after he learned about watches, he spends half-a-million a year on watches.
What are you wearing?
Right now, I am wearing a watch I bought back from a client, a RM-55 Bubba Watson, America’s Edition. I always rotate between AP and Richard Mille.
Are you looking to add more watches to your selection?
I am content and happy with AP and RM. We have watch brands that come to see us all the time, and while we are open to it, I want to go deep with the brands we have. If you want to sell the line, you have to carry the line. People feel comfortable buying AP and RM because we have such a selection.
What are the trends you are seeing?
I am noticing that sports watches have become so much more popular than classical ones. The other thing I am noticing is that the amount of wealth that people are spending on timepieces is incredible. We have a global clientele who buy big complications, million dollar-plus watches, it makes you wonder “How big can it get?”