EXCLUSIVE: Christopher Ward could accept outside investors to accelerate growth

Mike France, co-founder of Christopher Ward.

Christopher Ward currently makes around 20,000 units at the Swiss-based watchmaking facility it owns in Biel.

Mike France, the company’s co-founder, does not disclose current financial figures in an interview with WatchPro, but he had previously said in 2016 that turnover was $10 million and is growing at around 20% per year. That is likely to put the business on course for sales of around $14 million this year.

The business already has customers in 109 countries and sells from eight geographically targeted websites, but the vast majority of sales still come from the UK and North America. The company has a US dollar website that generates around 26% of global sales, a Canadian dollar website that accounts for 6% and the UK site that generates 48% of sales. The remaining 20% of sales are spread thinly across the rest of the world.

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Christopher Ward’s smaller markets are growing at the fastest rate, but from a lower base. North America is the big opportunity, because it is already selling around 5000 watches there. “The US is a key target market for us, and we feel we are hardly touching the surface,” Mr France says.

Mr France knows all about growing global businesses, having led a management buyout of The Early Learning Centre and transformed it from a company losing $13 million per year into a business that he sold for almost $100 million in 2004.

Christopher Ward was created the same year, and now in its teenage years the company is poised for a growth spurt, according to Mr France.

“We have grown every year since our inception. This year I would anticipate something like 20% growth to around 20,000 watches per annum and we will likely have our most profitable year this year as well. We are very happy about that growth, but we are still relatively small against some of the monoliths out there. The template for the future is better than it has ever been from a business and product point of view and we feel ready to really put the foot on the accelerator for growth,” he suggests.

With the business on such a sound footing, Mr France says the time could be right to bring in outside funding for the first time in Christopher Ward’s history. “Until now, the business has been entirely funded by myself, Peter [Ellis] and Jorg [Bader]. That may change at some point in the future. We may look to bring in outside finance because we have a model that we know works. We have a collection that I think can stand up against anybody in our price bracket, and we have a proposition that is pretty unique in the world of watchmaking. To take that to the world you need money,” he describes.

“I have been around long enough so that I can smell momentum. The numbers are there, but there is something else going on. I really feel that now with Christopher Ward; we are at a tipping point. There is a sense of expectancy and excitement across the company,” Mr France urges.

  • Read the full interview with Mike France in the October edition of WatchPro and online from the first week of October.

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