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A surprise performance from China’s Citychamp

A surprise performance from China’s Citychamp

Wednesday, 30 March 2016
Editor Image
Michel Jeannot

“Eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end.”

Woody Allen

Michel Jeannot is at the head of Bureau d’Information et de Presse Horlogère (BIPH), a Swiss news agency working with a dozen media worldwide.

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4 min read

Swiss brands Eterna and Corum, plus London-based Rotary, all part of China’s Citychamp Group, made CHF 96 million in sales last year, up 17%, and have set the bar considerably higher for 2016. Here’s how they turned things around.

“The lower you start, the easier it is to make spectacular progress,” says Davide Traxler with a smile. Appointed Chief Executive of Corum in September 2015, these six months were spent deciding which products the La Chaux-de-Fonds brand would take to Baselworld, and producing them. Traxler started by asking retailers for their opinion. He then searched the company’s history and inventory for ideas, turning up 25,000 movements, 300,000 hands and 138 kilos of gold worth a whopping CHF 52 million. Ultimately, the brand came to Basel with a major rollout of the Bubble collection, extensions to the Admiral’s Cup line with large nautical flags, an incursion into grandes complications, and new women’s watches.

Corum Admiral’s Cup Legend 47 Worldtimer
Corum Admiral’s Cup Legend 47 Worldtimer
Bubble is back

“Retailers have been asking us to reintroduce Bubble for years,” Traxler continues. “It first made a comeback in 2015 as three models. These sold well, prompting us to step things up this year.” Bubble could be the only range proposed to certain points of sale, depending on their clientele. This year the brand will be focusing on its markets in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and the Middle East.

Corum Bubble Dani Olivier
Corum Bubble Dani Olivier

Corum produced 10,700 watches and sold 8,000 in 2015. It was all go for the brand at Baselworld although as Davide Traxler acknowledges, for many retailers it was a case of building up stocks after letting several years go by without orders… proof that supply is adapted to demand. Corum aims to grow sales by at least 30% this year and to turn a profit. “Last year, most of the progress made by Citychamp’s European brands was down to Eterna,” comments Traxler.

Eterna sold 25,000 watches in 2015, compared with 7,000 the previous year
An impressive turnaround

Eterna’s recovery is almost entirely the work of Robert Dreyfuss, CEO since January 2015. Prior to this he headed the Dreyfuss group, owner of Rotary. In 2014 the group was taken over by Citychamp Watch & Jewellery (formerly China Haidian), which had previously acquired Eterna in 2011 and Corum in 2013. Dreyfuss is also the man who put Davide Traxler’s name in the frame to take over the reins at Corum. In a word, Robert Dreyfuss is central to Citychamp’s strategy for its European brands.

This has been an impressive recovery. The brand sold 25,000 watches in 2015, compared with 7,000 the previous year, and aims to sell 40,000 this year. With sales close to CHF 15 million in 2015, it is now back in the black. All this despite a less than favourable economy. “We completely revamped our offering, tailoring it to a younger audience of both men and women,” says Robert Dreyfuss. “The brand, which celebrates its 160th anniversary this year, is also repositioning in a more affordable price segment.”

Eterna Super KonTiki Chronograph
Eterna Super KonTiki Chronograph
Retailer wisdom

Before restructuring its offering, Eterna also listened to what dealers had to say. “Eterna has had its ups and downs but has always remained extremely popular with retailers because it is a quality brand that sells well. We also let them work the way they want to. After all, they’re a brand’s first customers. If they’re convinced by what we have to propose, they’ll know how to pass this on to end customers. We organised a preview of our Baselworld 2016 collections for retailers, and took their comments into account to fine-tune the products. We value their opinion. The aim isn’t to produce watches that I like, but to produce the kind of watches customers are looking for. And who better than retailers to tell us what customers want?”

The real challenge will be in 2017 when we have to confirm growth.
Robert Dreyfuss, Eterna CEO

Dreyfuss reveals that “in three years’ time, one out of two Eterna watches will be equipped with an in-house movement from Eterna Movement Company, which also supplies Corum. The next step will be to revitalise distribution in five key markets a year, including the United States in 2016.” Like Davide Traxler, Robert Dreyfuss knows full well that strong growth has no real meaning when measured from a low base. “The real challenge will be in 2017,” he concludes. “After relaunching the brand last year and this year, it’ll be about confirming we’re on an upward trajectory.”

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