IWC unveils an exciting new retail experience on Zurich’s famous Bahnhofstrasse that highlights not only what goes on the wrist, but what goes on the racing track as well. The Journal talks to Pascal Sbrzesny, Head of Architectural Concepts and Store Planning, about the freshly renovated boutique and what watch lovers can expect.
PS: Pascal Sbrzesby
RT: Rashunda Tramble
RT: The Zurich boutique has been open since 2012. What sparked the decision to renovate?
PS: Last year we got the opportunity to extend our boutique across the entire ground floor of the building, that alone was an immediate motivation to renovate. We wanted to bring it to a more contemporary look, something that we’ve been doing with our entire store fleet since 2015.
We have our current concept called “Evolution”, which is an aesthetic overhaul of the successfully established IWC approach to retail store design called “Black Concept”. It follows the proven layout principles and creates the homey atmosphere and feeling we want to evoke.
Yet it has a much lighter, fresher look and the product presentation is much crisper than it was before. The previous concept was based on dark wood surfaces with library inspired, homey lounges.
For Zurich though we went much further, the boutique is a complete, full 360-degree immersive flagship store concept. This means that you not only have that classic IWC feeling, walking into a welcoming space, where you want to stay. There’s much more to explore and it’s all based on a story from the IWC universe. We chose “IWC Racing” for Zürich, with our team car - a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing - being the boutique’s center piece. Everything IWC touches in the world of racing comes to life in this boutique. Visitors can experience a loft style atmosphere, where garage and living room blend to create this contemporary space, though based on classic vintage racing.
RT: What can we expect when we walk into the new boutique?
PS: A lot. Each area has a personal character, either dedicated to one of our watch families or a chapter of the racing theme. There’s open displays for the Portugieser & Pilots watches, where you can explore the full collection without a glass cube. We’ve placed them right in the lobby as these are our most iconic product lines and to lower the barrier to enter a luxury store.
Our Pilot’s collection is presented next to an original 300 SL engine. And the Portofino family is also displayed in a new format. We’re presenting it vertically on the wall, embedded into a 300 SL-inspired suitcase to underline the style aspect of these watches.
RT: What are some of the other highlights of the new boutique?
PS: Visitors can take a virtual ride in the 300 SL. They can sit in the car and drive the Goodwood track as a VR experience. We also have IWC Racing-branded stationery, food and drinks, gifts and other customized items.
You could say that we’re bringing our trade fair experience out into the open for all IWC customers and fans to enjoy. That was actually our mindset at the beginning of the project. We thought, “Why are we telling our brand stories in such a comprehensive way only at trade fairs for a few days, for a very few selected people? Most of them already know us, and most of them have already been to events with us”. So we decided to have a permanent space that everyone can experience.
RT: How do you balance giving the customer an experience with making sure they get what they come for, which is to buy a watch?
PS: The boutique’s layout is perfect for this. It meets all operational needs; providing areas for people to come in, sit down, get assistance from the sales associates, look at the watches and finally purchase them. But there’s also the experience layer: We have three sales tables, none feels like a generic sales table that you’d see in other brand’s or multibrand watch stores. Each is unique and has a surrounding that tells a story.
One table is placed in the “Engineering Lab”. This is where customers can explore all of IWC’s engineering and material innovations with their history. Next we have the “Custom Studio”, inspired by a car interior workshop. It is about leather craftsmanship and customization of watch straps. Third one is “The Bar” - as hospitality is an essential part of the IWC personality, we offer branded beer and gin. Together with the lounge area, we offer all essentials from trade fairs such as Watches & Wonders. So you have that fully holistic experience to engage with our watches.
RT: How did you keep the renovation sustainable?
PS: In this new flagship store concept we always keep the “base fit out”. This includes the technical installations, air conditioning, heating, as well as general partition walls and so on. Basically it’s everything you don’t see when you walk in, it’s what’s behind the visible layer. Normally this part would be dismantled and rebuilt completely every five or six years to create a new boutique.
What we’re doing now is building it in a way where we can take off the visible layer, modify that and reinstall it to be a completely different environment, but it’s still based on the same layout and base construction. Everything you touch and see can be exchanged, while everything you need to make a boutique operational remains.
RT: And there’s a digital aspect to the boutique, correct?
PS: Absolutely. And it’s not just an aspect. Digital is actually integrated into the boutique in many ways. For example, our on-site watchmaker is outfitted with loupe that has a camera installed. This allows customers to follow along online, while the watchmaker is working on a piece.
We also have a partnership with Mr. Porter. Visitors can see IWC watches paired with outfits from the online retailer in the boutique. They can even order them right there on the premises. And the boutique windows are interactive, so people can have an IWC experience during and after opening hours. They can scan a QR code to “take control” over the window. Not to mention that the entire boutique also comes in a VR experience for those who cannot visit us in Zürich.
RT: What would you like for a customer to know when they visit the Zurich boutique?
PS: The best reaction I could hope for is a clear recognition that this is an IWC environment. Despite all we’ve put into this store to surprise, entertain and maybe even overwhelm - in a good way - they should know that this is an IWC boutique
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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