“We simply couldn’t go any further.”
“Given the many challenges Marvin faces as an independent brand if it is to continue to offer the best in a highly competitive, mature market, there is no option but to invest heavily. As it was not realistic for us to do this on our own, we have taken the decision to sell the brand to a third party in order to guarantee its future.”
The words of the press release issued at the beginning of December 2014 leave no doubt as to the straits in which Marvin’s independent owners found themselves, seeing no other course but to give up their brand or shut up shop. It was Chinese distributor M. Wu who won the jackpot.
There is no sense that they have failed; quite the opposite in fact. Cécile and Jean-Daniel Maye (Time Avenue SA) took over the Marvin brand in 2002.
Created in 1850 in Saint-Imier by the Didisheim brothers, Marvin has had its share of the limelight, particularly in the 1950s, when it employed up to 350 staff. But it subsequently fell out of favour. Cécile Maye stepped up to give the brand a new lease of life. The new models are very well designed, with an elegant revivalist touch, putting a modern spin on a fascinating heritage that offers many story-telling opportunities. Its marketing is well-thought-out, understated, effective and original. The products are precisely targeted and affordable, offering a good balance of quality, price and image.
They are intended for a young, educated urban audience with an appreciation of design, architecture and 20th century style. Marvin entered into a partnership with Sébastien Loeb, nine-time rally driving world champion, whose signature graced a chronograph collection starting at €1,000. People were astonished that such a high-profile champion should choose to support such a small brand.
Cécile Maye announced at Baselworld in 2014 that the brand, which had already sold 20,000 units, had seen a 63% increase in orders. So what went wrong?
“We simply couldn’t go any further, we couldn’t invest the sums necessary to take us to the next level. We hit a critical barrier,” explains Cécile Maye. “The brand enjoys an excellent reputation, where it is recognised,” she adds. “In order to activate this recognition, we need to have access to the markets. We have a sound distribution network, with almost 300 sales outlets. But clearly that’s not enough! Distributors are in trouble, they’re not buying the stock. Retailers are under pressure. We are told the market is saturated. I don’t really believe that. Let us just say that we are being watched. There is no doubt in my mind that the big groups and established brands have a decisive advantage.
“An independent has to do everything itself: design and production, obviously, but also finance, stock management, marketing, etc.... We could approach financiers, but they would need a return on their investment that we could not guarantee. We were looking to raise 6 million with a turnover of 3 million.
But we have always refused to take the easy way out. We are looking, we were looking, at the long term. Upstream, suppliers are either bought out, or they limit their sales, or they lose control of their orders. Given the sums involved, independent brands, lacking any real possibility of making economies of scale, forced to squeeze their margins, cornered both upstream and down, are unable to move up to the next level.”
What will become of Marvin, now that it has been taken over by its Chinese distributor? “At the end of August 2014, when the takeover was confirmed, M. Wu agreed to take on the entire Marvin team. Fundamentally, the brand’s direction and its location in Switzerland will not change. Marvin is continuing along the course we set, although, clearly, it is no longer our course. It’s a great shame that we have to leave it here, just as everything was taking off. It just goes to show that distribution is absolutely key. In two or three months, M. Wu has already opened 40 new sales outlets in China. And in the current political climate, our modest prices have become a significant factor.”
What do the Mayes plan to do now? “We’re taking a break, taking a step back, taking some time out. We might go off somewhere for a year...” Such is the harsh reality and the privilege of independence.
Source: Europa Star February-March 2015 Magazine Issue