It is 18 months since Citizen Watch Company acquired Frederique Constant, and only now is the Swiss watchmaker’s UK business being integrated into the Citizen Watch UK operation. This is a timely opportunity, therefore, to ask Peter Stas, Frederique Constant chief executive, how being part of Citizen has helped the brand in other parts of the world, and what it may mean for retail partners and customers in this country. WatchPro’s Rob Corder caught up with him in the South of France to do just that.
Frederique Constant invited journalists to the French Riviera city of Nice in September to unveil its Slimline Moonphase Stars ladies watches. Under late summer skies at the Cote d’Azur Observatory, we were shown a star-themed collection housing the Swiss watchmaker’s 26th inhouse movement.
The event highlighted both Frederique Constant’s impressive rise to become a business capable of creating so many of its own movements, and also the added marketing firepower that being part of Citizen brings to the company.
During a presentation of the new watches, Frederique Constant co-founder Aletta Stas said that sales have increased by 30% since the company’s business in the United States has been integrated into Citizen Watch USA’s operation.
Peter Stas, her husband and chief executive for the brand, picked up the theme in conversation with WatchPro: “What has been important in the United States is that the Citizen organisation is larger and more powerful, and the relationships with retailers, particularly the chains, are more intense. We always struggled to get in touch with the right people, to convince them to give us space, to do collaborations together with chains. But now in the United States the president there Jeffrey Cohen is responsible for Citizen, Bulova and Frederique Constant. This takes the discussions to a different level. That has helped a lot,” he explains.
Mark Robinson, managing director of Citizen Watch UK, was given the new position of group managing director of Citizen Watch United Kingdom Ltd in August this year. The promotion marked the moment that the 20 year Citizen veteran took overall strategic responsibility for all Citizen-owned brands in the UK, which now include Frederique Constant, Alpina and Bulova.
Mr Robinson has not yet given any details about his plans for the group, but Mr Stas provides a few hints based on the successful push of Frederique Constant by Citizen in the USA. “We have started to advertise a lot more in the US, both on a coop level and also on a national level. This gives retailers more confidence to move forwards,” he describes.
“On an organisational side, we have always been really boot-strapped. We were too small, not always able to respond immediately, not able to give the level of support and customer service we would have liked. All of that is being professionalised to another level,” he adds.
The marketing push is designed to simultaneously increase demand from consumers, encourage existing retailers to sell the brand better, and to generate enquiries from new retailers. The ultimate goal is to dramatically increase the number of doors, and to make sure each store has the strongest possible presentation of Frederique Constant. So far, in the United States, the 30% growth figure relates to sell-in to retailers.
“I do not have the exact numbers on sell-out to consumers. I know it is also up, but not by as much as 30%. Typically, we would start more actively on the sell-in, including opening new doors. There have not actually been that many new doors opened yet — we would like them to have gone faster and we are always quite impatient — but they have opened something like 18 new doors this year and closed a few. I think the net increase is up around 6-7 doors. Now we have these doors added to our existing network, we have to focus on sell-out,” Mr Stas says.
As all watch executives know, great presentation in retailers’ stores, windows and websites increases sales. The model is already working in some parts of the world for Frederique Constant, and the company is itching to do more. “We are already doing that type of thing with some retailers in Asia. In Korea, for example, we installed six new serious shop-in-shops and the sales there have exploded. We really create an environment where people feel the brand, the luxury, it really radiates back on the customer and makes it an easier sell,” explains Mr Stas.
“We would like to repeat this with a number of countries. We have some displays here and there, but we need to do it more seriously in places like the US and the UK. I am sure that will make all the difference,” he adds.
Mr Stas concedes that encouraging retailers to make this level of investment in Frederique Constant has been tough in the UK until now, but expects Citizen’s clout to make a big difference. “If you look at the UK, we worked together in the past with Argento Fine Products, which did a very good job on the independents, but they were never really able to get into the chains. Even before we worked with Argento, we were in Ernest Jones, but always in a bit of a lackluster way. Now, with Citizen, which we officially started with on August 1 in the UK, we really need to do the work there too. It is clear to us that Citizen has such a strong relationship with the chains in the UK, and I am sure we will benefit with from,” he suggests.
Frederique Constant expects the UK to be a high growth market, not least because its retail network has not developped anything like as quickly as in other European countries. “I am ambitious about the UK. If you compare it with France, for example, many people say France is much more difficult for watches than the UK, but we do six or seven times more turnover in France than we do in the UK,” Mr Stas reveals.
“I would not say Fredereique Constant has been under-performing [in the UK], but I would say it has been under-represented. There is a huge opportunity in the UK, which is part of the reason why Citizen bought Frederique Constant. They saw that we are very strong in certain countries, but in other countries we are hardly present,” he adds.