Saturday, November 11, 2023

What I've Learned - The Morning After Edition

Over the past few days, news has slowly trickled out about the most recent round of layoffs at Hodinkee, that by joyful coincidence have come just in time for the holiday season. While I suspect a few luminaries are still sunning themselves by the banks of Lake Geneva, the reality of what is really going on is tightening more than a few sphincters as all of Watch Town's great and good go through duty free picking up their giri (that's Japanese for duty, Gaijin!) gifts including toys and chocolate for the youngsters. Probably more than a few of these fine guys and gals will be updating their resumes and considering going into some other field that is not as dependent on the willing suspension of disbelief in the light of woefully unsustainable business plans. Lucky for them, liquor is still free on most international flights, which should make for a more focused cover letter upon sobering up Monday morning.

So the party, for many, is over. For many others, it's clear that the band has gone home, and the cleaning staff are starting to get a wee bit grumpy.  And this is true for the watch business and watch media business as a whole. Hodinkee just happens to be the canary in the coal mine.

So as much as I hate my prognostications being proven right (albeit years after making them) here goes. I will be calling on the help of several other notable watch industry experts, so here goes -

What I've Learned - The Morning After Edition

“The key to the game is capital reserves. If you don't have enough, you can't piss in the tall weeds with the big dogs.” 

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko in Wall Street.

So as I mentioned yesterday, +$40,000,000.00 doesn't seem to go nearly as far as it used to. To be fair, Hodinkee is not guilty of anything more or less dumb than what many Swiss watch brands have done (and will continue to do). They simply assumed that hiring a LOT of people, launching (in retrospect) an ill-advised watch insurance program, and doubling down on a fairly dubious move into online retail would pay off. 

And curious to relate? They have been forced to go to the well on more than one occasion to top-up the tank. And as I said, this is no different than innumerable Swiss watch companies. Money is always a problem. If you don't manage it, it will manage you. And Hodinkee is not the only erstwhile media company that has been drop-kicked through the goal posts of ill-advised retail. And if those two missteps weren't enough...

"Even Napoleon had his Watergate"

Yogi Berra

Hodinkee's Last Layoff

Now keep in mind, that was back in September. We are now just over 2 months later, and if the rumors are true, this might have resulted in further cuts in terms of headcount than in the previous round. Those who will say don't know, and those who know won't say. It's all well and good to point the bony finger of blame at a seemingly great acquisition gone wrong. But the fiscal realities staring them in the face comes down to more than mere buyer's remorse. Crown and Caliber, in hindsight, might have been an ill-advised purchase. But the deeper question is what really drove that purchase? Let's hope more than ego.

"Always remember why you bought the club (Company) in the first place."

Barry Hearn - The 10 things I learned from owning a football club.

In fairness, I suspect that owing a piece of Hodinkee was a pretty attractive proposition. It even caught the eye of The Wolf in Cashmere. And you never know, it might be attractive enough in its new, "value proposition" (sorry, too soon?) condition that if there is another "Arnault the Even Younger" out there looking for a youth-training opportunity, LVMH might pump in another round of investment and parachute another offspring fresh off a Berlitz English class to take the helm. But the truth in all of this is pretty sad when you think about the many people now out of work. And in fairness, I do feel bad for the founder, one Mr. Clymer. Now in all candor, I think we have met exactly twice, and I think it was equally unmemorable for both of us. Well, probably more unmemorable for him as I am sure that he has no memory of either instance ; )

But at the same time, I also find my sympathy challenging to balance. This is a guy who, after all, came from UBS, and was not one to hide his light under a bushel. But the real test now is how Hodinkee pivots. Hopefully in a positive direction.

"You've been drinking too much of your own bathwater."


As a middle aged man I think I can say this with some authority. Every man thinks he's good looking and has a great sense of humor. And the watch media business is, by and large, a sausage fest. If we are being honest about things, Hodinkee has not been living in reality. $40,000,000.00 seems like a lot of money, but when you live beyond your means, it can be gone pretty quickly. Jack Forster, Jon Bues, Cole Pennington - you may remember them from such roles as: "Editor - Hodinkee." 

They have come and gone. Whether these departures were the result of fiscal concerns remains to be seen (or said). There are some loyalists still in the fold, so we shall wait, and we shall see. But the bottom line is that sustainability is key whether you are running a lemonade stand, or a media/retail venture.

Now beyond anything else, the latest issues at Hodinkee are a bellwether for the watch media business as a whole. One large watch media outlet has apparently done some front-office redecorating with their (now former) US Editor seeking pastures greener. Others are struggling to balance commerce with editorial. It is a tough needle to thread, balancing editorial with commerce. It's an even tougher needle to thread when you have myriad investors expecting a positive return on said investment.

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