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iW Interview

Citizen in Perspective

In 2019, Citizen celebrated thirty years of its Promaster collection, debuted the hyper-precise Caliber 0100 Eco-Drive and touted the Eco-Drive Bluetooth on the wrist of tennis pro Naomi Osaka at every major tournament in 2019. With all this activity, plus planning and coordination with other brands in the Citizen corporate orbit (Bulova, Frederique Constant, Alpina, Le Joux-Perret, Arnold & Son, ) we asked Jeffrey Cohen, President of Citizen Watch America, to put it all in perspective for iW readers. His responses are below.

Jeffrey Cohen, President Citizen Watch America

iW: Is Citizen joining other Japanese brands in targeting the high-end market? Or is it the Citizen strategy to let the other member brands go after that segment?

Jeffrey Cohen: As you know our portfolio of brands has grown over the years and we have brands and products to appeal to the $5,000-and-up customer. In the United States market, we prefer to concentrate our product offering into the mid-price affordable luxury category where we hold the number one position in market share. We do bring in limited production pieces like our Caliber 0100 and Eco- Drive One models to satisfy the needs of the luxury watch consumer looking for special precision timekeeping models from Citizen.

How have the Citizen mechanical watches lines been received by the end consumer?

We continue to concentrate our marketing and sales efforts around our proprietary technology Eco-Drive and therefore only sell those products to our wholesale customers. In limited quantities, we do bring in some mechanical timepieces to sell on our Digital Flagship as well as our Times Square Flagship location. But we prefer to keep the messaging clear about who and what we are, which is a quartz-based watch brand.

Inside the Citizen Watch store in Times Square

How has the entrance of the smartwatch changed the Citizen strategy from a product perspective?

Smart technology is indeed an appeal to some consumers. As to how much of the ‘smart’ functionality is being actually used daily by the consumer is still a big question. The early adopters were drawn into the smart category by the newness and exclusivity of the product offering, but as more smart products come into the market at lower prices, is the appeal of smart diminished to that set of consumers?

We have seen many significant changes to the watch industry over the years, from the pocket watch to the wristwatch, from mechanical to quartz, and from quartz to mechanical – and now the smartwatch. What we can be sure of is that there will continue to be changes; that is the nature of the consumer, who is always looking for something new. You can be sure the trendsetters and early adopters are already on the lookout for the next trend.

Citizen was the first watch brand to introduce a connected watch in 2012 with Proximity. We continue to have Bluetooth-connected watches in the collection.

Tennis pro and Citizen brand ambassador Naomi Osaka wears the Citizen Eco-Drive Bluetooth watch.

We launched a concept watch at SXSW this year called Riiiver and our R&D department is continually working on expanding our product offering. Our focus will remain on traditional analog watches, but we do see the need to address the consumer who is looking for more connectivity from their timepiece.

With regards to regional trends, can you offer some thoughts on trends and preferences as it applies to the American consumer?

The U.S. consumer looks for brands that align with their sense of style as well as their sense of purpose. Citizen continues to be a democratic and inclusive brand with a watch collection that is as diverse in styling and price points as the consumers who purchase them.

The talk now is all about sustainability, but for more than forty years Citizen has been creating watches powered by a natural source (with Eco-Drive). We have helped to reduce by the millions the numbers of non-degradable watch batteries from entering our landfills.

With regard to the other Citizen Group brands, can you offer some insight as to how they might act autonomously as well as how they might benefit and cross-pollinate from being part of Citizen?

Within our company we speak of the Power of One. The power gained from having all of our brands under one corporate umbrella. Our back-end operations are led by a team of multi-brand leaders, and we streamline and consolidate actions to be more efficient.

As you would expect, we benefit from our group status in all of our marketing contracts and investments. We have in place Best Practice Committees to oversee all of our business operations with representatives from all the brands working together to find the best business practices to follow. We keep our sales teams separate, but we do cross-pollinate some of our most senior executives in marketing and creative services.

What are the biggest challenges that the brands in the Citizen Group may face in the years ahead?

The biggest challenges we face are the changes in retail and consumer behavior. The watch and jewelry business models were built and grew in the U.S. market through mall expansion. We see now that model is no longer viable. Already some changes have happened, but more will follow, and how we pivot and adjust to these changes will be our greatest challenge.

It used to be you placed your product on a display in a store, trained the sales associate and ran some magazine ads and that was enough. Now, with so much brand discovery and research done online, you need to feed the online beast with product images, video and product knowledge. Instead of fighting for case space we are now fighting for page space.

With regard to retail strategy, what percentage do you envision as the right balance between the traditional and direct on-line sales, and when do you think the industry might reach a somewhat stabilized expression of these methods?

Pundits once thought that luxury items like watches and jewelry would be immune from online sales, but what we see now is that consumers want options. I believe twenty percent of all sales will be executed online.

Any insights or teases for our readers and followers that you can offer from any or all of your brands?

We will continue to see introductions in our Promaster Collection from Citizen, and we have been very successful in Bulova over the years with our Archive Series. You can expect to see some new models that pay homage to our history. Alpina will also introduce some new models inspired by the brand’s rich Swiss history as the first Swiss sports watch. Frederique Constant will continue to bring in new models using in-house Manufacture movements.

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