Watch and Learn

Question: Watch World

Ian Reisner: My father was a stockbroker. My mom was in the clothing manufacturing business and I wasn't sure if I wanted to be in retail or if I wanted to be in banking and when I graduated college I took one interview with the Federated Training Program for department stores and one interview with Salomon Brothers. My father pushed me towards the stock side of the business and I started at Salomon Brothers and I had a 15 year career there. Along the way, I had an opportunity to start a retail watch chain with my partner and I got to have a daytime job with an entrepreneurial job helping him grow out a watch company, a retail company.

My partner Matty had worked for many years for the Swatch Corporation and told me that he wanted to start a watch shop that sold Swatch plus everything else. Swatch was a very big seller in the '80s and '90s in the US and once I heard the idea of opening up a watch emporium where you would have Swatch plus everything else, which we named Watch World, I knew that was a great concept, so I spent all my excess time working on designing with my best friend from Cornell, who's an architect, and Matty, to design a store that we ultimately called Watch World. Which was basically a Sunglass Hut for watches. Once we opened that first store it was clear to me that first Saturday that we were onto something unique and different. I could tell from the reaction of the consumers they hadn't found a store where they can see sport and fashion watches displayed in such a neat, museum-like experience where we also offered service for bands and batteries. So we attracted many people from all over the neighborhoods of the city to come to our store to get bands and batteries and while they were there they'd buy an expensive sport fashion watches. Once I saw the success of that first store, I knew it made sense to do a second and a third. Once we did a second or third, I knew it was time to write a business plan and grow the business, and we did and I used my Wall Street connections to raise venture capital from a DLJ retail venture capital group as well as a traveler's venture capital group. We raised around $15 million and grew 119 stores in seven years and then finally I used my Wall Street connections to market and sell the company. We sold the company to Sunglass Hut International in 2000.

Recorded on October 14, 2009

An interesting retail venture helped jump start Ian Reisner’s real estate development career.

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