Entrepreneur Magazine

Just when everybody seems to be weighed down by grim economic news, Secondo, a pre-owned watch and jewelry specialist, is having one of its best times. In December 2008, while other shops were offering price cuts, steep discounts, and tempting freebies just to move their sluggish inventory, Secondo was experiencing near sellouts for its timepieces. Indeed, it could hardly meet the demand for its high-end Swiss watches like Rolex and Omega, which sell at a fraction of their cost when brand-new.

J. Michael Dizon, the owner of Secondo and a certified watch lover, could not be happier because he had actually braced himself for a difficult year in 2008, having seen signs of an imminent financial crisis in late 2007. “I really thought that sales would slow down in 2008,” he recalls. “I actually told my people to prepare themselves for the worst, but our sales last Christmas turnout out to be one of our best.”

Secondo’s remarkable sales performance clearly proves that Dizon and Eduardo Tantoco Lopez III, his partner and fellow Atenean, were not wrong in believing that they could cash in on the niche market for pre-owned, high-end watches in a country where resistance to buying used goods remains significant. It greatly helps, of course, that Dizon is passionate about watches and clocks and a voracious reader of anything associated with them. He also has well-honed skills in appraising expensive watches from his many years of running Agencia de Empeños de Makati Inc., a pawnshop that draws in such expensive items as diamond rings, designer bags and signature Swiss watches.

Dizon, an active member of the US National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, explains: “By now people have realized that the most valuable watches and jewelry are pre-owned. They are valuable because they are collector pieces, and some of the most valuable were not made in quantity but produced in limited edition for special people.”

To get Secondo started, the partners had raised P3 million in initial capital for the purchase of inventory and the development of a simple and clean outlet for displaying some 50 watches that cost an average of P100,000 each. When they set up shop in March 2003, there were already a number of shops specializing in top-tier pre-owned watch brands, but Dizon believed that there was still more than just enough room for Secondo.

The buying and selling of pre-owned high-end watches is not an easy business, though, for it requires the painstaking process of making sure that the watch is from a legitimate seller and not stolen. Thus, when, say, a Rolex watch is offered for sale, Secondo needs to bring it to the Rolex authorized service center in the Philippines for verification. The Rolex service center has access to the extensive Rolex database listing all of the watches it has ever sold and to whom.

For brands of watches without a representative office or service center in the Philippines, Secondo has to have them verified in places as far as Hong Kong and Singapore. Dizon explains: “We want to be differentiated in the market by being truly reliable, credible and professional. Also, people like the fact that our prices don’t swing wildly, and we do take pains to make sure that the watches we sell are legitimate,”

Secondo’s brand of customer service also means extensively training its staff of seven on what makes watches valuable, the specific features of different brands, and even the correct pronunciation of such tongue-twisting brands as Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, Audemars Piguet, Chopard, Tag Heuer, and Piaget.

Dizon says there are still opportunities in the pre-owned watch market for other entrepreneurs, but he cautions that the learning curve is steep and that it takes a lot of patience, diligence, and long-term thinking to get the trust of discriminating buyers.

“It’s quite difficult to get into this business because it requires a lot of expertise and education,” he says. “And the passion, of course has to be there. You really have to love watches to do well in this business.”