Author Topic: The 3 Top Watch Sellers  (Read 5426 times)

Offline Ļaughing Ģor

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The 3 Top Watch Sellers
« on: February 06, 2014, 02:54:25 PM »
1. Cortina Watches

Singapore - Cortina Watch is not for sale. "I'm not selling companies to make money," says Anthony Lim - founder, chairman and CEO of the listed luxury watch chain. "I'm selling watches to make money."
 
Forty years after he struck out to open a small watch shop in Colombo Court, the former watch salesman has grown it to 22 luxury boutiques in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Sales totalled $340.5 million in the latest financial year.
 
Cortina got listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) in 2002 - the last of the three local family-owned luxury watch chains to go public (the others being The Hour Glass and Sincere Watch).
 
The Tay family which owned Sincere sold out recently but Mr Lim - who, with his family, owns about 41 per cent of the company - says he's keeping Cortina.
 
"The offer (for Sincere) was 20 times earnings - a lot of money and very tempting," he says. "Many people knocked on my door also. I can sell (Cortina) for 10 times my profits."
 
But Mr Lim, who turns 77 this year and is celebrating Cortina's 40th anniversary in November, says he has to think of his children who are working for him. Elder son Raymond is his deputy while younger son Jeremy is the chief operating officer. Daughter Sharon takes charge of Cortina's distribution arm, Pacific Time.
 
"They like the business and they want to continue," Mr Lim says.
 
The question is: when will he hand over the reins to them?
 
"I can't tell. Maybe in three years," says the still fit-looking Mr Lim. "In many companies, the CEO and chairman work until they are in their 80s. But when I let go, I let go."
 
In any case, he has already started winding down; he's reduced his business travel, delegating it to younger staff.
 
"We have a board of directors," he says. "Jeremy is good in operations and Raymond has the experience. Raymond is not a graduate but Jeremy has university education. They can (still) work together. Whoever takes over (as chief executive) is not important; it's just a title."
 
But it's clear that the next CEO will not be someone from outside the family, although professionals will be enlisted to help run the business.
 
"In our business, experience is very important," says Mr Lim. "We're not in banking or manufacturing. We're in retailing - which still needs the personal touch."
 
In the early days of Cortina, Mr Lim literally went door to door selling timepieces and building up his clientele. And while winning customers and selling watches have become more sophisticated, his son Jeremy says a personal relationship is still important in dealing with not just buyers but also principals.
 
Regarding the latter, he says: "Somehow people in the industry are still a very small group. Even if people move from a company, they remain in the industry. So we still have to cultivate a relationship with them."
 
With customers, Cortina today engages them through events and dinners.
 
But Jeremy says that while selling was the focus in the past, today much attention must also be given to mapping out strategy, picking locations for shops and looking at a "bigger picture" of the business.
 
Customers have changed, his father points out: "Those days, customers came in and asked what watches you had. You just told them what was good and they paid; the watch was sold. Now they come in and tell you what they want. They are more knowledgeable."
 
So one of Cortina's big challenges today is to have a well- trained salesforce to cope with a more demanding clientele, Jeremy says. But manpower is in short supply - and it takes time to train staff, he adds.
 
Another big problem is one faced by virtually every business in Singapore, especially retailers: escalating costs and rentals. But Cortina is not daunted. It's spending some $10 million on expansion, both locally and overseas.
 
Mr Lim is still chasing his dream of making Cortina one of the biggest luxury watch retail chains in the region.

2. Hour Glass

Over the last 20 years, Asia's luxury goods market has gone from strength to strength. One company that has prospered during the boom is The Hour Glass, a watch retailer with branches across Asia and Australia.

The firm was founded in Singapore by Jannie Tay and her husband. Mrs Tay had gained experience in watch retailing from working in her husband's family business.

She recalls that she "learnt everything from scratch…. I learned from the sales people mainly and that was great because I learned how they do the book-keeping, I learned how they order stocks." Her sales colleagues also taught her about the importance of customer service.

But the family business she was working for catered mostly for the domestic market. Mrs Tay had studied at university in Australia. She felt her experience of Western consumerism gave her the ability to exploit a different niche.

She says, "I'd experienced modern shopping, I'd experienced shopping malls, I'd experienced the boutiques that were different and the service that was different."

Mrs Tay decided to go in to the market for high-end watches and in 1979 she launched The Hour Glass. She says that "we actually conceptualised at that time what was a showroom retail space, and asked our partners to set up a Cartier boutique around us, which was the first Cartier boutique in the region."

She believes that image was vital in attracting the customers she wanted. "We set up a 1,200 sq feet shop which was unknown at that time… We were so plush, and so highly sophisticated."

The approach seemed to work: royalty and other 'high net-worth individuals' came to the shop. But Mrs Tay admits that not all felt welcome. "My friends said 'Jannie, I wouldn't dare step in' so that was a bit of a difference. But we were in the tourist belt so we catered for a very specific niche."
 
Mrs Tay says that at first it was hard to compete with other stores selling top-of-the-range watches, many of which had exclusive deals with leading brands.

"We had to contend with the politics of the distribution to retailers" she recalls.

A breakthrough came when she met the watch designer Gerald Genta. His help proved invaluable.

"I was very excited and passionate about his designs…and then later on because of his talent as a manufacturer, his talent as a designer, we were then able to customise watches...that made The Hour Glass a different company."

Jannie Tay rejects the suggestion that luxury watches are no more than pieces of expensive jewellery. But she accepts it takes time to change attitudes and perceptions.

"In the 1970's, when we first started … everyone was so proud of the fact that I've got this watch for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, so how do we change that concept. How do we educate them that it's beyond a timepiece? That it is an investment, it is a piece of jewellery, it is an accessory, it is fashion, and it is also something that you can hand over, an heirloom piece."

 In 1979, the Glass House's luxurious 1,200 sq feet shop was unlike anything else in Singapore. One approach the company has taken is to organise watch fairs. Mrs Tay wants her customers to have the chance to see the processes involved in watch making and speak to the different manufacturers.

She says "We do not want to… get our customers just to buy because we spend a lot of money on advertising. What we actually want them to be is knowledgeable, to understand what they are investing in."

Jannie Tay says being a businesswoman in Asia is sometimes difficult. At the beginning of The Hour Glass she was the only female board member.

She frequently encountered "male chauvinist" attitudes. After dinners with business partners she'd be urged to leave, so that the men could talk in private.

Today she says there can still be a feeling that women should stay at home and be "submissive housewives".

People sometimes ask "why aren't you a normal mother, why aren't you a normal person…they still feel that as a mother, I should be still at home, be very subservient…to my husband and still look after him, put his needs first and my children's needs first".

But Mrs Tay also sees signs that things are starting to change. Male, as well as female employees, now ask for emergency time off to look after sick children. Both parents now "want to share in the upbringing of the child, they want to be there for their education."

Mrs Tay says a more open, flexible society is coming to Singapore: " the younger people can now do what they want, they can live where they want, they can have the lifestyle they want, I think it is a lot more open than it used to be".

3. Sincere Fine Watches

Readers with a sharp memory will see this year’s entry for Sincere Watch of Hong Kong and recall earlier BUB listings—in 2004-05, to be exact—for Sincere Watch of Singapore. Therein lies a story of a business that was sold twice by its founding family and is now in the hands of an ambitious Hong Kong securities industry figure and her son.
 
Sincere Watch was formed in 1954 by Tay Boo Jiang, who foresaw a consumer spending boom in Asia. Tay not only turned Sincere into one of Singapore’s biggest watch retailers but also moved it outward in the region. Sincere went public in Singapore in 1993, and a greater China spinoff listed in Hong Kong in 2005. By that time it had become a key distributor for luxury watches made by Franck Muller of Switzerland.

Suitors were lured over the years, and by the end of 2007 the Tays finally received an offer too good to turn down from Peace Mark, a big watchmaker and seller out of Hong Kong, which was looking to expand in Southeast Asia. Now headed by the founder’s son, Tay Liam Wee, the clan agreed to a bid that valued the business at $368 million. After suggesting it wouldn’t delist the Singapore company, Peace Mark did just that, however.

That wasn’t the only surprise. In the financial crisis aftermath of 2009 Peace Mark became bankrupt. Tay Liam Wee returned as chairman and part of a new ownership group that included L Capital Asia, an investment arm of LVMH, and Standard Chartered Private Equity. It bought back the whole company for a reported $81.4 million, a fraction of what it had sold for a year earlier. The new owners added other prestige watch brands, and sales were buoyant as greater China led Asia’s recovery. Hong Kong unit sales last year rose by 36% to $143 million, helping to lift net profit by 76% to $18 million.

Enter Pollyanna Chu, 53, a watch enthusiast since her teens and current CEO of Hong Kong brokerage Kingston Securities, who ranked No. 32 on this year’s Hong Kong rich list at $1.2 billion. In May Chu, for $186 million, bought the private parent of Sincere Watch from the 2009 consortium. Celebrations all around: Having sold the company twice in four years, Tay was feted in Hong Kong with a symbolic twice-bitten apple.

“Sincere Watch was a big part of my life,” Tay, 53, e-mails. “I remember spending many summers behind watch counters learning the ropes. Doing business and having the entrepreneurial spirit has long been ingrained in me, and I do believe I will continue to be involved in the business world in one way or another.” Meantime, the stock market has welcomed Chu. After key acquisition details were finished June 28, shares of Sincere’s Hong Kong-listed unit have risen nearly a fourth.

Chu expects to push Sincere deeper into China, widely expected to become one of the world’s largest luxury markets in short order. The company currently has 69 Franck Muller stores or sales points in 14 cities, and is looking to reach more than 20 cities in three years. As part of that it is exploring markets such as Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang and Xinjiang.

“Franck Muller has been very supportive during our acquisition process,” she writes to FORBES ASIA. “In our eyes the success of Franck Muller and Sincere is synonymous.”

Chu says there are no plans to inject Sincere’s Southeast Asian business into the Hong Kong-listed subsidiary that is now joining the Best Under A Billion. She didn’t rule out acquisitions in the future, however. “We have the existing expertise, the network and the capital base,” she says.

Son Kingston, 27, a USC grad, will be running the company day-to-day as vice chairman and managing director. Yet don’t expect the busy Chu to stay clear of Sincere. “As a general rule, I am very passionate about any business that I engage in. Taking a backseat role is not in my ­nature.”
Can someone to give me a Loan and then leave me Alone?

Offline samsmith

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Re: The 3 Top Watch Sellers
« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2019, 09:52:55 PM »
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