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One man’s plan to revamp the culture of watch-collecting, starting with a café in Bangsar

I’m an avid smartwatch user because I like having an extension of my phone strapped on my wrist. But if it’s not a smartwatch, it needs to look classy, like a statement piece that’s good enough as an accessory with any outfit.

Instead of having just one versatile watch, Mirzan Meer is trying to cultivate a culture of watch collectors in Malaysians. To do so, he’s opened up a concept store that functions as a watch gallery while doubling as a café on Jalan Telawi, called Vernakular Store (Vernakular).

“The mission is to bring back the art of collecting timepieces which we believe has been lost to both the aggressive marketing of luxury watches and the convenience of smartwatches,” Mirzan expressed to Vulcan Post.

Travelling through time

Mirzan grew up knowing watches as his family has been in the trade since 1958, and this meant they would frequent jewellery and watch fairs in Hong Kong, Belgium, and Switzerland in his youth.

In 2018, he joined Time Zone, a watch distribution company, and is now a director there. Noticing the sheer variety of watches he came across at Time Zone, he eventually founded his own multilabel watch store, The Watch Library (TWL).

TWL catalogues various watch brands in alphabetical order, which are then retailed online and through Vernakular, an extension of the brand. 

Marathon and Bravur watches / Image Credit: Vernakular Store

Working directly with designers of each brand such as Bravur, Ice-Watch, Timex, and Greyhours, the products are sourced from Belgium, France, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, Japan, and Australia. 

According to Mirzan, his upbringing has honed his instincts for choosing the watches for TWL and Vernakular. He’s able to identify quality, creativity, and modernity in both design and craftsmanship. On top of that, he favours independent watch brands built with passion.

Time for coffee

Located in Bangsar, Vernakular is stretched over 82 square feet with a split interior design concept when you walk in.

On the left, white is painted from floor-to-ceiling to imitate a gallery, housing watches by its parent brand, TWL. It also has enough real estate for pop-up stores and has hosted Re{me}dy, a health and skincare refillery.

To the right of the store is where you’ll find its in-house café, PeepCoffee, which has designated seating areas for dine-in guests and takeaway customers. 

When I visited the store a month ago, it seemed to me like a great hangout spot for the Bangsar crowd of millennials and Gen Z’s.

In the past year or so since Vernakular’s opening in October 2020, the store has only been operational for a total of 7 months due to lockdowns, but it’s still been able to gain popularity relatively fast. This is perhaps due to the team’s use of social media and the store’s prime location in Bangsar.

Converting coffee drinkers into watch collectors

Mirzan shared that the biggest challenges he’s faced in running Vernakular have been similar to the financial issues most businesses faced during the pandemic. This includes covering rent over the 5-6 months they were closed since launching. 

All of their efforts were focused on selling the watches on their own site, along with marketplaces including Zalora, Lazada, and Shopee. 

“Buying sentiment [for the watches] has been very inconsistent and if it weren’t for a long-term strategy, we may have not opened the store at all,” Mirzan confessed.

Now with the economy recovering, I was curious to know whether Vernakular was seeing more customers visiting for its café or watches.

Some of the pastries in the café / Image Credit: Vernakular Store

“I would say the coffee has more regular traffic but the watch store engages higher selling value,” Mirzan shared, who also added that many customers who visit the café have, in turn, become watch customers too. “It’s balanced and I can therefore say the mission is on track.”

As Mirzan intends for Vernakular to simply act as a physical gallery for timepieces and drive traffic to TWL, he told Vulcan Post that he has no plans on expanding his concept store. So, if you’re ever in Bangsar, drop by as this is likely the only Vernakular store you’ll ever see.

Bangsar was a strategic choice

Bangsar is known for its influence on the culture and style that has attracted plenty of creatives to the area. Hence, this makes it an opportune location for Vernakular to funnel traffic to its parent company, TWL.

Mirzan also added that more than just a retail space, he hopes to use Vernakular as a community space through programmes or workshops with local artists and makers.

In terms of the business’s sustainability, it appears that the café will likely be the anchor that will attract customers to visit the store. Once there, they can then browse the watches sold by the brand, which can range between RM299 to RM17,000. 

Therefore, it makes sense that although Vernakular’s sales may be inconsistent, each product having a high value can help sustain costs for the most part. 

That being said, Mirzan’s experience at Time Zone is an advantage when he comes to running his own store, as he has more observation data about watch-buying trends in Malaysia.

At the moment, Time Zone distributes about 50K to 60K watches a year, so there’s potential for TWL to hit the same numbers if it’s built and run right. But first, Mirzan’s more immediate plan is to officially launch Vernakular soon.

  • You can learn more about Vernakular Store here.
  • You can read about more Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: The Vernakular Store team

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

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