Cobalt creates retail venture

Design, marketing and communications group Cobalt has come up with a revolutionary way of working by creating and backing its own retail chain. It plans to build a global chain of watch stores, starting in the West End.

In a separate move, the group has taken share options in a restaurant chain, rather than a design fee, to show its confidence in its work.

The group has developed Watch2Watch from the ground up, after spotting a gap in the market for a dedicated watch outlet stocking all major brands. A City consortium has funded the venture, with Cobalt as the main shareholder. Watch brands including Swatch, Caterpillar and Seiko are supporting the venture.

“We aim to do for watches what Cobra has done for sports shoes,” says Cobalt managing director Ian Woodhouse.

The modular store format has been developed for easy installation in stores, or as a kiosk in airports or stations.

The first store is due to open in London’s West End in August. Further London stores are planned, followed by stores in prime retail sites around the UK. Stores in Europe and the US are planned in the longer term.

The chain’s identity uses symbols rather than words to side-step language barriers. Cobalt has also created films to be projected on to the store windows, a facility which will be available to watch brands for marketing their products. Watches will be displayed on glass tubes into which customers can put their arms to see how the watches look when worn.

Woodhouse says the chain, if successful, will be a flagship for Cobalt’s work as well as a profitable retail business. Staff at Cobalt may be offered share options in the chain.

Meanwhile, Cobalt has requested and been granted share options in lieu of its fee for work for recently floated restaurant group Montana, which operates the Montana and Dakota restaurants in London. Cobalt has also bought more shares, taking its stake in the company to around 6 per cent.

The third, as yet unnamed restaurant in the chain is to open in Richmond-upon-Thames in August, with “everything, down to the tablecloths”, designed by Cobalt, says Woodhouse. “We wanted to put our money where our mouth is. In the month since we took the options the share value has doubled,” he adds. The move could lead to other clients expecting similar commitment from design groups, he says.

m The Jenkins Group, acquired by Cobalt late last year, is to drop its name and trade under the Cobalt banner. All Jenkins Group staff have been absorbed into the parent group, says Cobalt managing director Ian Woodhouse.

Jenkins Group founder and former chairman Nick Jenkins is to become senior design consultant to Cobalt. He will take a more creative role and spend less time running the business.

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