mantle clockToday we’ll begin covering ways to acquire repair work. I’ll cover some of the different ways I’ve brought in work in the past as well as some venues a few clock and watchmaker friends used and have shared with me. This will most likely be too much information to cram into just one report. It is such an important subject that I will, if necessary continue the topic in tomorrow’s report. What will be covered here is not, of course, the only way to find customers but this report as well as the next should give you a taste of the many alternatives that are available to you.

As mentioned in previous reports beginning by practicing with your own timepieces is certainly a prerequisite for success. Working on family and friends timepieces will help keep the pressure away while working through a timepiece at a pace that’s comfortable for you. When you finally reach a comfortable level (or have run out of friends and family) you can then decide if it’s time to take the plunge into accepting outside work.

The personal story I’m about to write about should bring to light some important points about ‘customer types’ and the importance of laying out a clear understanding of terms as well as building a trusting relationship with each customer.

images (8)I first began taking in trade work from an antique store who had heard through a friend that I was repairing clocks and watches from my apartment. This was somewhere around 1973. Up until that time all work that came in was through family, friends and friends of friends. This word of mouth business just happened naturally.

It was during the beginning of the Antique furniture craze that had hit the U.S. like a storm. Dealers and Antique store owners would head over to Europe and scour the countryside buying up antique furniture, clocks and pocket watches for pennies on the dollar. Filling container after container with these antiques they would then ship them to the U.S. Often the contents would be sold at a substantial profit to U.S. buyers before ever leaving the European port. This form of arbitrage lasted for many years. Literally thousands upon thousands of non-running clocks and watches flooded the U.S. market during this period. Dealers, stores and individual buyers scrambled to find people to service their timepieces. Antique stores were cropping up everywhere loaded with non-running clocks and pocket watches.

One rather large neighborhood antique store who had heard through a friend of mine that I was doing repair work from home asked if I would be interested in servicing their clocks and watches. We came to an agreement which worked out well for a time until the store owner decided to put a clock and watch repair sign in his window to begin taking in work from his retail customers and passersby. Clock Repairing It didn’t take me long to figure out that I now had two customers to answer to for each job taken in; the store owner and the retail customer that brought in their timepiece yet I only received about half of what the retail customer was paying for the repair with the other half going to the store owner. Communication between the retail customer and me was not permitted. Any information between us had to be relayed through the store owner and was often censored. Not being able to communicate and deal directly with a customer presents new problems such as time completion expectations and misunderstandings etc. These additional problems ultimately manifested themselves as pressure in my life.

Because the owner decided to change the dynamics of our agreement without some type of compensation for the additional pressure coming my way I decided that I needed to voice my concerns. His response was that it shouldn’t make any difference to me where the work was coming from and that I should just do my work. His reasoning was that he was bringing in the work for me as well as handling all of the paper work and I just needed to accept the terms even though the new terms created problems for me. I didn’t feel his argument was reasonable or wise which was especially true in a market where clock and watch makers were difficult to find and in demand.

It was time to get a little creative so I decided to have some cards printed up and walked into another antique store a few blocks away. I asked the owner if I could leave my cards on his counter and pay him a small amount per timepiece if they would take in the job for me to estimate and give it back to them upon completion. My pitch was that this was an opportunity for him to offer his customers a much needed service that his competitors couldn’t offer which could possibly help him sell more timepieces and other items by bringing the customer back to his the store. He not only jumped at the offer but asked me to put a sign in his front window! Customers would now leave the timepiece (usually a clock). I would then call MY potential customer directly with the estimate and if accepted would upon completion either return it to the store for the customer to pick up or for a small fee I would just take it to their home and in the case of a clock, would set it up for them. Since most customers lived close by anyway this was beneficial to both the customer and me. This eliminated any chance of misalignment or damage due to problems in transport or setup by the customer which ultimately made life a lot easier for me.

Not only was this new arrangement much more lucrative for me as I now received full retail price minus a small handling fee from the store but due to the direct interaction with the customer a relationship would often develop which more often than not, led to more repair work from them and/or referrals.

I pass this story along to you as its content carries some valuable lessons and each of these lessons carries different weight depending on what type of customer you are targeting in your marketing campaign. For example: When working with the first store owner everything was working perfectly until the store owner (my customer) decided to change the terms of our agreement without my approval to where I would then have two customers (store owner and his customer) to contend with. The result was a benefit for him and a burden for me. This was my fault for not laying out the terms more clearly from the beginning. Although the alteration he made might have been difficult to predict from the beginning a simple agreement could have caused pause in his thinking. That agreement should have included that NO changes are to be made without the other parties consent. This isn’t so much for legal cause as I know zip about law but rather to help remind us that we had agreed not to make any changes so don’t even try to sneak a change in there without a discussion and then somehow try to justify it.

There are many different types of customers to be found in this field. Prior to changing to retail the first store owner would be considered a buyer/seller of timepieces. This type of customer would require a repairman who ideally could service his timepieces to make them ready for resale and maintain them in that ready state until sold. One must take great care when going this route as expectations by this type of customer can sometimes change very quickly. Normally a reseller is looking for good work at fair to low prices. They can often keep a watch or clockmaker very busy which takes the burden of marketing and dealing with separate customers off of the repairer. This arrangement can work out well if certain conditions are spelled out and put into writing from the onset. A danger here though is that it’s also easy to become ‘owned’ by the dealer without ever realizing that your freedom is gradually being taken from you. If a clearly defined agreement isn’t laid out from the beginning it’s easy for the dealer to make subtle changes over a period of time that could eventually make you financially dependent on him.
For example: Your original agreement was to restore and make ready timepieces for resale. If in your agreement the definition of ‘restore’ is vague then eventually it will probably come back to bite you through partial repair requests from the dealer. If the dealer feels free to ask you to ‘just make this timepiece run by doing a quick repair’ then if and when that timepiece stops running you may be expected to ‘get it running again’ without compensation. Getting it running again may this time entail the need to perform a complete overhaul. The customer that bought the timepiece was most likely told that it was overhauled prior to purchase so obviously the customer isn’t going to pay for a repair and the dealer certainly doesn’t want to absorb the expense and lose the profit from the sale so there’s only one person left to blame. This technique – and in many cases it is a technique that dealers use – can quickly put a watch or clockmaker in a high pressure, time consuming no profit dealer dependent position where money is then paid to the watchmaker in advance to ‘help’ him get caught up. Once in this position you can expect the partial repair requests to flood your work load. This is truly a bad cycle to get into.

So what’s the answer? A clear description of what you will and won’t do stating that the restoration must be to your satisfaction and you must be paid for your time. No cutting corners. If you do decide to do a partial repair it is because you feel that it’s all that’s necessary for the repair. It should and must be your choice as to what doing a complete restoration entails. As an example: If a dealer (or any customer for that matter) hands you a repair job and then tells you not to replace a mainspring or insert bushings then the job should probably be declined. After all, you are guaranteeing your work not the customer. It must be your choice as to what work needs to be performed to bring the timepiece to the best state possible. If the work fails and is returned to you then you will be out the time and money. You must protect your business and reputation. Expecting a watch or clockmaker to do less than what he or she believes necessary is both unreasonable and unfair and should not be negotiable. Of course the customer may not agree with your terms and decide not to go ahead with the work which does happen but standing behind your choice is by far the best practice and will serve you very well in the long run.

WorkshopIt’s so important to maintain control of your business by clearly laying out your terms and then if or when challenged, steadfastly stand behind them. Once the leverage is in the hand of the a dealer it’s possible you’ll be told to do a quick cleaning and that’s it. That’s a recipe for disaster! By clearly stating your terms in writing and conveying exactly what a customer should expect from you and what you expect from your customer you should have no problem protecting your business and your freedom.

In the next report I’ll try to cover some different ways to advertise and get your name and services out in front of prospective customers without having to spend a ton of money.



9 Responses

  1. Good information Bob. I wouldn’t want to deal with 2 customers either. You need to be able to speak directly with the owner of the time piece when repairing it.

  2. Thanks for all the info from the reports. I have been working with clocks for 30 years and this information has been helpful in repairing many of the “new” clocks that I have received. I understand the workings of the old clocks, however, I needed this information for the NEW style grandfather clocks.
    PS: will be starting on the pocket watches again. Great part-time job.

  3. Really do appreciate your info. You are really covering all the bases. I agree with you 100%.
    Thank you Bob and keep it up. I look forward to every bit of info you put out.


  4. I don’t want to go into business for myself I’m just using what I learn with this course for a hobby .The content of these articles is excellent

    Colin Northants

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