Things are stirring at California watch brand Nixon, both in terms of product innovation and retail. Here, CEO Nick Stowe sheds light on the brand’s most recent developments and strategies.
Please describe Nixon in a nutshell.
A California-based watch and accessories brand, born out of action sports, obsessed with creating products to survive adventures far and wide, always representing our own certain style.
Nixon was founded in 1997. How has the watch industry – and the watch consumer– changed over the last few years?
The industry has changed more than the consumer. There’s more creativity as new companies have entered the market. We’re seeing creativity in style, in function, through new movements and materials, and now also in smart product. Consumers have become more sophisticated and informed, and the internet has radically changed how they discover and shop for product. Put those things together and think of why people buy watches – how they buy them, from whom… it’s all changing rapidly. And the idea of status in watches, what they represent to someone, is changing with it.
How have you aligned Nixon and its product to the new era consumer and general market mood?
We’ve always pushed things that have never been done; a lot of the time through small innovations, through the details. This approach has served us well. We’ve taken advantage of the new in our product – materials like G10, an incredibly tough glass composite or Cerakote, a very resilient finish used in military applications. We’ve also taken advantage of technology in an evolving line of smart product, most recently our launch of The Mission, an Android Wear watch that is designed to be the 4X4 of smart watches, a piece of equipment built to survive in our world of action sports.
Could you please tell us more about The Mission smart watch and how it came about?
It really started as an evolution of the Ultratide, the live-surf-conditions watch that we launched last year– our first Bluetooth and app-enabled product. We wanted to do more for our consumer, and honed in on snow conditions and action-sports-activity-tracking. We decided that the Android Wear platform would let us get there technically as well as offer other functions that our consumers would embrace, functions like fitness monitoring and alerts that we believed would become core functions (the 21st century equivalent of the chronograph or alarm clock). We also realized that none of the existing smart watches would survive our consumers’ lifestyles – none of the smart product was rugged or water resistant to 10 ATM. So that was our challenge: innovate with new conditions and activity tracking functionality, and make it rugged like nothing before. We’ve done that, we love it, and we think others will, too.
What’s next in terms of product innovation?
We’re currently pursuing a few very different paths. One is about really focused functionality centered on exactly what you need, and nothing more. We started that with our Comp surf watch, the world’s thinnest surf watch, and we’ve found some new areas to apply that focused simplicity, including some military applications. Another path is bringing smart functions to our existing analog and digital products – taking them up a notch, adding a few focused functions, but keeping the basic style the same. The final path is taking smart to the next level; dreaming up what we can do when we are able to take advantage of the next level of technology. It requires a lot of discipline to keep focused on functionality and utility and not just tech for tech’s sake…but it’s exciting what we will be able to do.
Your new Neal Street store in London’s Seven Dials area has a customization bar offering a vast number of different watch components. What inspired the move?
We really wanted to help consumers understand Nixon, and as a product company, what better way than to involve them in our process of creating a watch – the decisions, the details, how everything comes together – is by far the best way to get to know us. And it’s incredibly fun and it makes a visit to the store a really memorable experience, something to share. We are expanding customization as we open new store locations, as well as in pop-ups with our retailers, and soon online, too.
How would you define Nixon’s new retail model generally and what’s the strategic thinking behind it?
When we approached retail, we wanted to contribute something new, offering consumers a much more open and contemporary retail experience. So we have elements in the store like the undulating wave table and our sneaker-inspired watch wall, which display product in an elevated way but are also functional. We’ve combined these solutions with open merchandising that makes it easy to interact with the product.
We wanted to radically change the watch buying experience by taking away the intimidation, bring product out from under glass, present watches in a contemporary way so that the merchandising and product stories are easy to comprehend. We sometimes say that we’re sneakers in a brown shoe industry. Hence, we set out to create a retail experience disregarding the rules of the watch world. We’ve won several awards for the stores, which is a nice recognition, and consumers love them, which is clearly the most important outcome.
In which other cities are you planning to open stores?
We’re focused on a pretty small number of the most influential cities globally and cities that share our passion for action sports. So we’re targeting Los Angeles and Tokyo for instance, and we’ll keep an eye out in the cities we’re already in, so London, Paris, New York, Sydney and Melbourne. But the locations have to be right, the team has to be right. So we’re patient.
As for the wholesale business, which territories are strong at the moment and what countries/regions are you planning to break into next?
North America has continued to be really strong, and in Europe, the UK, Spain and Italy have been growing really well. In Asia, our Hong Kong business has started to expand into China as our stockists expand there. As the kids and consumers in that region develop more active and action lifestyles, we’re seeing growing interest in our story and our product. It’s more about where consumers and interest lead us than us forcing Nixon upon people!
How would you describe the Nixon consumer?
Our pinnacle consumers are our athletes; they truly live the life we aspire to. Then there are our core consumers, young adults who grew up with action sports as part of their life and who need products that work in that world every day. Then come a broader range of consumers who have some connection to the world of action sports, either because their lifestyle intersects with that world or they respect the style and function of products that work in that world, that they can adapt and use in their broader active lifestyle.
Nixon is perhaps more of a men’s brand, but women seem to have taken more of an interest in watches – have you noticed this at Nixon?
We’re certainly considered a more masculine brand, but I’d say that our DNA is more about a strong confidence. Much of our product is unisex – it’s more about personality than gender. We’ve been creating more women’s focused product over the past few years though and have built out quite an extensive line. It’s growing about twice as fast as men’s, so yes, we’ve noticed the interest.