Great value for money – MeisterSinger in Rotterdam
Rotterdam-based jeweler van Willegen serves its customers with the most up-to-date methods – without online commerce.
The main railway stations of large cities usually offer you the choice of two exits: one leading to the heart of the city with its department stores, pedestrian malls, and fashionable arcades, and the other somewhere quite different. In Rotterdam, the rear entrance of the railway station leads to a small idyll with a park and houses from around the turn of the century, followed by the busy Walenburgerweg intersection and the broad, noisy Schiekade arterial road, where jeweler van Willegen’s large retail shop is situated. Its display windows feature the products of a wide range of well-known brands such as Breitling, Cartier, IWC, Oris Tag Heuer and Omega, including MeisterSinger single-hand watches. Anyone who stops for a moment to look at the goods on offer will discover some amazing things, such as City Edition watches that have nothing to do with Rotterdam – but more about that later.
Despite the inhospitable area, the jeweler’s premises are elegant, friendly, and colorful. “We’re not located on the high street,” says Marie-Anne van der Maas, responsible for marketing at van Willegen, “but you will always find a place to park here.” Only a few years ago, the main branch of the family-run company expanded its sales floor space from 80 to 240 square meters, which are spread over various levels and mezzanine floors around a high central room, making it possible to create a number of widely varying spaces, despite the openness. The IWC boutique in the basement (“the furnishings came from the factory, but we replaced the fake books with real ones”) has the dignified atmosphere of a gentlemen’s club. The other fittings are decidedly modern. The furniture and wall decorations are reminiscent of Piet Mondrian and artists of the Stijl period – or come across as trendy, like the little children’s lounge, with large pieces of gold tinsel cast into its transparent plastic floor.
“Young, urban and design-conscious“
The shop is known as a “concept store,” which has less to do with the fact that it offers not only jewelry and watches, but also a small range of electronics such as artistically designed Bluetooth speakers. Far more important for the concept as a whole is the large kitchen on the top floor, which offers its guests not only cappuccino, but also an extensive array of cooked foods every day. “Our visitors should feel completely comfortable in our premises,” says Marie-Anne van der Maas. “They are also welcome to stay here for three hours, eat well, drink coffee, get to know the products and shouldn’t feel obliged to buy anything. That’s fine, as we know that our customers will come back.” The clientele in Rotterdam is rather unusual. As the city was completely replanned and restructured after 1945, it is visually quite the opposite of Amsterdam and that is reflected in its inhabitants. The people of Rotterdam are very patriotic towards their city, criticize in a direct way and are extremely communicative: “Here in Rotterdam we are experiencing something like an urban renaissance, particularly in parts of the city that used to be less attractive. There are still a lot of opportunities to develop here. You can really feel the energy of a large port city like Rotterdam.”
Apart from that, its international spirit gives it a great deal of patriotism, additionally driven by the increasing number of cruise ships that come to visit. That’s why van Willegen didn’t only sell the MeisterSinger Rotterdam City Edition, but also ordered exclusively for other cities such as Brussels or Barcelona and proudly advertised with slogans like “For sale: Hong Kong. Only available in Rotterdam.” The editions were presented as part of a large-scale “world” event, together with the multilingual wall clocks from Biegert + Funk. Events of that nature are also part of van Willigen’s concept. For instance, the shop was once redesigned as a circus ring for 150 guests (an allusion to the first career of owner Martijn van Willegen, who actually wanted to be a clown) or they invited a well-known Alzheimer researcher to hold a talk on neurology, watches, and time. The jeweler also organizes trips to Danish jewelry makers and Swiss manufacturers. “People want to participate and have a feeling of belonging,” Marie-Anne van der Maas believes.
And she also has a number of explanations as to why van Willegen is so successful with its range of MeisterSinger watches. The first of these is quite down-to-earth: “A real Dutch Calvinist wants to have ‘good value for money.’ And that’s what they quite obviously have with MeisterSinger.” However, the second reason is slightly more impressive. “Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the Dutch spend so much time looking at cloudy, gray skies – and that the single hand reminds them of the shadow on a sundial . . .” In any case, the Rotterdamers seem to like the MeisterSinger idea, as the buyers are remarkably young, urban and design-conscious. However, there’s one thing the marketing expert doesn’t understand: “MeisterSinger also makes good ladies’ watches, but always positions itself as a men’s brand and there isn’t a single woman to be seen in the great ‘Rituals’ campaign, which we enjoy being a part of. I think some opportunities are being missed here.”
“We´re staying analog“
The team at van Willegen has clearly decided where it sees its chances: They are not going to create a web shop. “We continue to rely on communication, good advice, and the surprising alternatives that we can offer customers because we get to know them. That’s why we’re staying analog,” says Marie-Anne van der Maas. Their analog campaign includes conservative advertising material such as the hotel folding maps (“We will be happy to pick you up by car”) that van Willegen has rediscovered, but also fine-quality house catalogs, a card game they produced themselves, and a restaurant guide. Cooperation with chefs and traditional artisans is designed to help young, middle-class buyers build a bridge to high-quality, individual lifestyles – and to genuine value for money, of course. In that sense, van Willegen is anything but old-fashioned: “We are well aware that markets do change,” says Marie-Anne van der Maas; “and that’s why we are now open seven days a week. Our 18 employees work with a system of rolling shifts and new communication processes to ensure that customers are always well looked after. All of these points had priority before redesigning our website, which we have now turned our attention to, just like our presence in social media.” Here too, van Willegen has a lot in common with the City of Rotterdam: They both have a lot potential for development.
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