You rent apartments, cars and clothes. Now you can do the same for watches. While ownership is everything to us (well, most of us), you don’t want to put down good money for something only to regret a month later. Buyer’s remorse sucks, especially if you can’t make the money back. This is what Acquired Time aims to combat. What it does is provide an affordable leasing service for anyone who loves variety and needs the time to decide whether he/she wants that piece of Rolex for life. But, what else? We speak with co-founder Roy Tong to find out more.
What is Acquired Time?
Acquired Time is a monthly subscription service for luxury watches. For a monthly fee, users can have a luxury timepiece on their wrist for a month, before switching to another in our collection or staying with the same piece if they’d like.
How did you come up with your service model?
My co-founder and I met through a mutual friend from secondary school, and at that point, I was looking to purchase my first watch. He was wearing a piece by Audemars Piguet and we got to talking about it. And he, being an avid collector and knowledgeable horologist, shared his experiences with his first watch, and suggested a few to me.
A sticking point for me was that there was no way for me to “test-drive” a piece before I sunk a hefty amount of money into it – the fear of buyer’s remorse. He agreed that this was a problem that a lot of people he talked to faced, and suggested that there was a void in Singapore’s watch market. We felt we could fill with a simple solution – a service where people could lease timepieces and feel it on their wrist before making a purchase decision. As someone from a finance background, I ran the numbers on a business like this and found that the returns made sense. So we decided to venture into business together.
Why run a monthly delivery service instead of a traditional watch store?
We wanted to provide a value-adding service to people interested in watches – to the people that have their own collection, this service provides a variety of selection at a value. It allows them to try on watches that they might be interested in but not necessarily want to purchase, and also allows them to try on watches before making a purchase decision. To the people that do not quite have the means to afford a $12,000 watch yet, this is an access play. It allows them an entry point to get a feel of the watches that they are interested in at a far more affordable price. It also sates their need for immediate satisfaction by getting a watch on their wrist while they save for their purchase. This service is all about value-add to the consumer and helping to further generate more interest from budding horologists in Singapore. A traditional watch store does not accomplish any of that.
Why do you think people subscribe to the idea and what makes it the smarter way to shop?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is a “smarter way to shop”. I do not think that this model replaces purchasing a watch, but instead supplements it. Its bridges the gap between potential watch buyers and the fear of buyer’s remorse, it is after all a hefty amount of money to invest in a single asset. People subscribe to the idea because it is a one-stop shop that provides fuss-free options for trying on a plethora of different watches, access to luxury watches and both of these at affordable prices.
What do you think is the key to Acquired Time’s success?
Execution. We are coming in right smack in the middle of the sharing economy revolution and people are accepting luxury watches as an item that can be part of what’s leading to the erosion of “rental stigma” on luxury items. I think that over the past few months, we have proven that there is a market for this business and that the model works. Now it’s all about getting all our ducks in a row and pulling the trigger. When I say execution, I mean operating to the maximum potential of our core strengths to establish ourselves as the go to in the market and this means: 1) optimizing our procurement process, 2) being stringent with our diligence process on our clients to ensure the safe return of watches, and 3) minimising costs while we acquire and retain customers to maximise growth and profitability. A big part of this is also figuring out the total number of watches in our collection that the Singapore population can support.
How do you think you are disrupting the watch-buying industry?
My honest opinion is that true disruptors do not see themselves as disruptors but instead, focus on the value add that they can provide to the consumers/users of the product/service. Like I said, I don’t think we are trying to replace watch purchasing, more so supplementing it. As good as being “industry disruptors” sound, I’ll leave it to the industry stakeholders and the commentators such as yourself to assess if the model is disruptive. We, at Acquired Time, simply wish to bring more watches to more people. To continue to cultivate the lifestyle of horology and create more budding horologists in the country and perhaps region.
How do you feel about watches as an accessory and a lifestyle?
I believe like any accessory, watches should be an extension of your personality, taste and preferences, but it is more intimate than a basic accessory like a belt. That is why I think that people should be able to experience a range of watches, in terms of feeling what it’s like on their wrists, reading up on the history behind the specific brands, knowing the nuances of a specific model and ultimately not making purchases based on impulse or the preferences of their peers.
Naturally, in any society, socio-economic status tends to rear its ugly head so some people view watches as an expression of their wealth. But I tend to think of pricey watches as more of an individuals’ own recognition of attaining their benchmark or target of where they want to be financially. It is great to have targets about which pieces one would want to have in the future, but I believe people should base that on what they like, what they feel comfortable with and how better to make these decisions than using a service like Acquired Time to try on as many pieces as possible.
What brands/models are popular among your customers and who do you get your business from?
Rolex is by far the most enquired about but the models people are looking for the most are probably in the $18,000 to $25,000 price range – Rolex Daytona, Audermars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore, etc. Our target demographic can be split into two broad buckets of men aged between 21 and 35. Those who have the means to purchase and are looking for variety, and the aspirational, who are looking to access these watches at an affordable cost. I would say that the split between the two groups at the moment is 70:30 in favor of the first group, which usually consists of white collar workers. Some examples of the occupations that we have seen utilise our service – architects, chefs, senior management folks and analysts. Like any business that involves consumer possession of high value assets, we would love to have high credit quality customers and we have a diligence process and document requirements for all our clients.
Who consigns their watches and how many in your collection are consigned?
We’ve actually only just started the pilot of our consignment programme so less than 10 per cent of the pieces in our collection are consigned. People that consign their watches are watch owners that probably have too many to utilise all of them and have negotiated with us for some sort of compensation for consigning the watches with us, monetary or not. I believe these owners use these watches two to three weeks in a year at the most.
How do you keep your watches in mint condition? .
We have partners and an in-house curator who maintain the watches. That said, in this line of business, I think it is normal to expect some basic wear and tear such as light hairline scratches which wouldn’t really affect resale value of the watches. We do have a before-and-after physical check of the watches and each time we receive the watch back from a client, we also inspect the internal components to ensure none have been replaced or damaged.
More on Acquired Time here