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California Retailer Mixes Whiskey & Watches To Build Social Media Following

Heller Jewelers cultivates collectors in store and virtually.

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Brandon Heller, left, son of company founders Scott and Catherine Heller, developed an interest in both the family business and watches when he learned to change watch batteries.
Brandon Heller, left, son of company founders Scott and Catherine Heller, developed an interest in both the family business and watches when he learned to change watch batteries.

WHEN WATCHMAKER OLEG Iosilevsky illuminates a green light, shoppers at Heller Jewelers in San Ramon, CA, gather to watch him take apart or assemble a watch through a specially designed window at a bar. Watchmaking has become theater at Heller’s new store, which is an authorized service center for both Rolex and Cartier. The 4,600-square-foot retail space was designed around third-generation watchmaker Iosilevsky. Heller also boasts the first Rolex shop-in-shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This immersive, in-store experience of watch shopping is hard to beat. But inspired by pandemic shutdowns and hoping to connect with homebound customers, timepiece specialists Markus Martinez and Brandon Heller launched a “Whiskey and Watches” segment on Instagram and Facebook.

In these short clips, the co-hosts review a whiskey and discuss one or two timepieces from Heller’s showcase, highlighting what’s cool about each. The idea sprang from an in-store event they’d done in the past with the same name. “We wanted to engage people with not just product content, so we thought if we incorporated a whiskey tasting, we would catch our audience,” Heller says. “There is definitely a crossover between whiskey lovers and watch lovers.”

Since launching the segments, they’ve found that clients want to show off rare whiskeys they are collecting. One dropped off a bottle of whiskey from his personal collection and asked Heller and Martinez to sample and discuss it. They plan to keep the segment going indefinitely and are considering other pairings of beverages and products, such as cocktails and cocktail rings. “Once we saw the positive response and high engagement on those videos, we have been doing whatever we can to incorporate it,” Brandon says.

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Since the store opened in 2020, the only pandemic-era in-store event held so far has been augmented by video. In May, they hosted a private cocktail event in collaboration with jewelry designer Pomellato, which was virtually curated by a mixologist from Martini & Rossi. Each couple received their own cocktail kit and personal charcuterie board as they followed instructions to create their cocktails on Zoom.

Whiskey & Watches appearances have boosted the co-stars’ visibility and made them more approachable to new clients. “It feels like they already know us,” Martinez says.

Martinez fell into his passion for watches when he was hired 20 years ago as a salesperson at a watch store, where he was inspired by not only his training, but also the passion his mentor had for the subject. “The history behind the watchmaking is very fascinating to me, and hopefully I can convey that to customers.”

Brandon Heller, son of company founders Scott and Catherine Heller, first developed an interest in his family’s business when he was 19 and needed a job after his first year of college. “Dad taught me how to change watch batteries,” he says. “Getting inside watches is what sparked my interest. Every movement looks different. It was a slow, gradual education for me, learning about the patented technologies. It’s a rabbit hole that I fell down that I’m still falling down today. We have the best partners that we could have. Rolex, Tudor, Cartier, Tag Heuer; it’s easy to get behind the watches we sell.”

Whether their interest is piqued in store by the theater of watchmaking or online via an Instagram segment, customers can be turned very quickly into collectors.

“A lot of our best customers who continue to come back started with one watch,” Heller says.

PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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