Friday, August 10, 2018

The Trouble With Being All-In

As was reported by a few of us a few months back, Niall watches threw in the towel, shuttering their doors on pretty short notice-

I have been queried by several people - fans, retailers and other micro brand owners as to what went wrong.  In the spirit of full-disclosure, I have to be clear that I honestly didn't know anything beyond the what was at first whispered about, then spoken about more bluntly (and loudly) as the realities of the closure of Niall began to be more known.  Although I have met the face of Niall on a few occasions and spoken on the phone with him once or twice, I was never left with any real understanding as to just how good or bad the business was.  And in the interest of fairness, I think it is best to keep any personal impressions about Mr. Wilson that I gleaned from those encounters to myself.  In terms of visibility, I can say that apart from what he was wearing at the time, I have never seen a Niall watch "in the wild".

But a few months on, the dust has finally begun to settle, and through another outlet we can gain some better understanding about what might have gone wrong.  Please feel free to check this news link from the Kansas City Business Journal -

And per that article here are some pertinents:

1.  Around mid-July, Niall filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  For those of you unfamiliar (and I am one), Chapter 7 is in many ways the business equivalent of a "walk away".  Per

The main difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy is that under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, the debtor's assets are sold off to pay the lenders (creditors) whereas in Chapter 11, the debtor negotiates with creditors to alter the terms of the loan without having to liquidate (sell off) assets. 

Essentially, Mr. Wilson clearly opted to do a 180 from his previous credo of being "all in".  In fairness, Mr. Wilson had brought in a lot of investment, and they had probably seen (and had enough).  And this also then begs the question of cost vs profitability.  While the old adage goes that you need to speculate to accumulate, we also know that when you keep going to an expensive restaurant and having them put it on your tab, sooner or later you will have to pay the bill.

2.  In the Chapter 7 filing, Niall Luxury Goods LLC reported $58,922 in sales during the first part of 2018, down from $554,608 in 2017 and $208,537 in 2016.  Those are some pretty wildly fluctuating numbers.  Let's just think about this for a moment - that is more than DOUBLE the amount of sales in 2017 vs. 2016.  And after that magical year, sales returned to (we will assume) approximately the same level as the year before (presuming the $58,922 was based on the first quarter as opposed to the first six months).  If it was the first six months, then that is even stranger.  It also bears mentioning that sales numbers are not exactly always indicative of profitability.  But it does beg the question, where did all the money go?  Better than half a million dollars, in retrospect, is not so much money.  And it is important to bear in mind that these are SALES numbers, NOT profits.  If we presume that Niall had a 70% margin, that number is now $388,225.  Factor in operating expenses, salaries, rent, etc.?  My suspicion is that Nial was mostly dependent on investment.  More importantly, we need to take that number in to context in terms of how many watches were actually sold.  Simply put, we don't know.  My understanding is that Niall sold a few things, including watches.  Again, consider that Niall had more than a few employees, that puts things into sharper focus.  Add to that the rent for a retail location, and all of the equipment that (I suspect, but do not know) had probably not amortized yet, that is a pretty big nut to cover.

3.  Back in 2017, the company replaced Mr. Wilson with a new CEO, Mark Mazzarese -
And if I understand it correctly, Mr. Mazzarese's tenure as CEO lasted from April of that year until sometime in September.  A bit longer than that Pope that got poisoned, but even some of Switzerland's noted serial CEOs have longer tenures (about four to five months because we obviously don't know the real specifics).  Now I don't have an MBA and I am not a habitual reader of the Harvard Business Review, but what I do know about the watch business is that it tends to attract people with egos.  And once you get two strong egos competing, they can clash.  There is, I suspect, more to this story.

Mr. Wilson did a mini publicity tour explaining why it was best for the company that he make way for someone with experience while focusing on what his talents were.

Needless to say, we were all caught a bit off guard when we were informed that Mr. Wilson was back at the helm of the good ship Niall in such short order.

And that almost brings us up to date.  But a few opinions -
While Niall did not bear his name, it was deeply intertwined with Mr. Wilson.  And this came through for better (and sometimes worse) in interviews, publicity pieces and the way that he presented the brand and himself.  There was clearly ego involved.   And in fairness?  You need to have some ego to succeed in this, or pretty much any endeavor.  But you also have to be able to step outside of yourself, and consider the overall impression you are giving, show some humility, and listen to people who are trying to help you.

Contrary to what certain Swiss brand managers and CEOs (and a few more well-heeled colleagues in the 4th and 5th Estates) might think or even say about me, I do not like to see anyone fail.  Generally speaking, I am happy to see people succeed.  And Mr. Wilson and Niall certainly had more than a few opportunities to do so.  We may never know exactly what went wrong, but the fate that befell Niall is no different than the one experienced by several Swiss brands, and even myself when I just couldn't turn the corner with 3thirty3.  It sucks to fail.  It sucks even harder when other people lose their money, and their jobs, and customers are left with watches that will no longer have a valid warranty (if the Niall home page's announcement was to be taken at face value).  

So we come back to that other great commentator on the watch business - General Patton, as played by George C. Scott -

For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph - a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently needed further "$5 million investment to reach profitability". Just thinking about what could be done with that amount of cash into a small independent brand that is already profitable...