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Adrienne Forrest: The Pandemic Proved the Power of Relationships

Adrienne Forrest, the Vice President of Corporate Sales for Citizen Watch America, says that the time piece industry withstood the challenges of the pandemic surprisingly well and that a big lesson is: relationships count. The Citizen and Bulova suite of brands are now under Forrest’s direction. 
From a business perspective, the timing of the pandemic could not have come at a much more inconvenient time for Citizen Watch America and its portfolio of brands. The crisis struck just as the company was merging corporate sales for its two flagship brand categories under the direction of Adrienne Forrest, who before that had headed Bulova corporate sales for nearly 19 years. In this interview with RRN, Forrest reflects on the lessons learned from the pandemic, the popularity of her company’s watch brands, the value of having long-standing industry relationships, and the company’s early commitment to selling through distributors. 
Despite the challenges and a “very tumultuous year, our business has rebounded in a remarkable way. We are seeing great results because people are buying watches. It is very rewarding to see our sales results and to see that our brands are compelling and are resonating in the market. The results support the fact that Citizen Watch America comes to the market with No. 1 and No. 2 brands. About one third of watch sales are coming out of our powerhouse under the umbrella of Citizen and Bulova. Our sales last year were stronger than we anticipated.”

The Combination of Two Brand Powerhouses

The two brands have distinct stories that make them highly synergetic, she believes. 
“Bulova is all about telling our story: our rich history of firsts. A great current example is our connection with Frank Sinatra. We have a partnership with the Frank Sinatra Foundation headed by his daughter to provide four collections based on the names of his songs, the elements of his hat, and his signature. Bulova was the sponsor of the Frank Sinatra show in the 1950s. He owned and wore Bulova watches. It’s all about our connections to the past and the present.”
On the other hand, “We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the titanium watch and now have a super titanium model. It’s hypoallergenic,  rust resistant, 5x harder and 40% lighter than stainless steel. We also launched CZ Smart which marries modern technologies with the style and quality you expect from Citizen, and is inspired by the rich design of Citizen’s iconic sport technical timepieces.”
Corporate sales remain “a very strong part of overall company’s business. It speaks to the importance of brands in the marketplace. The brand name is what resonates, tells a story, and which provides the ultimate value to the recipient. For this reason, having the No. 1 and No. 2 brands has an impact on this market.” Citizen Watch America, she says, “is dedicated to this channel. You must be able to meet demands that are very different from retail. The need for personalized service and support for our corporate resellers and the requirements for customization set us apart.” 

Selling Through Promotional Professionals Has Paid Off 

Being first to market selling through promotional professionals, she says, was painful but has paid off. “At first, distributors wondered what we were doing at the shows, and it only took 20 years for them to really get comfortable selling brands,” she says with a smile. She estimates that about 10% of distributors are selling brands and that the percentage will continue to rise as businesses seek more sustainable items. “People hold on to watches, even sometimes passing them on to family. Companies want to give gifts and awards that people keep and value.” 
Like most retail brands, Citizen Watch America has experienced supply chain issues but feels “we are coming out of it. Our product category was in a better situation going into the pandemic, and other categories experienced totally unanticipated demand when suddenly everyone was exercising, baking, or doing other things around the house.” 
While she agrees that the new focus on people in business will be good for the industry, she says it’s difficult to forecast parallel growth in special markets. “There are just so many ways to buy watches out there, that it’s difficult for us to control where they buy from. There are so many brands and products divvying up the market.”
So what are some of the biggest lessons from the pandemic? “The relationships that we have with our customers are very strong. This is still a very relationship-based business. Our customers trust us and that helped us when our facilities were shut down last year and we couldn’t ship. We have developed and continue to build on the relationships using virtual meetings. We have learned to work in a different way with the hope that we can meet again soon in person. Working through the channels has strengthened partnerships. I am glad we have been able to work so well together without seeing people face to face.” 
She believes travel and events will come back, “but I think there will be less. We’ve learned we can do business effectively virtually with presentations and nice photography. Most of our customers are still at home.  There is no one I can even go see. There will be a lasting impact on the way we meet with customers.” 
For More Information 
Adrienne Forrest,
VP, Corporate Sales, Citizen Watch America
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