Compagnie Financière Richemont sells the stuff of suave. It markets Cartier jewelry, Piaget and Baume & Mercier watches, Alfred Dunhill leather goods, and Montblanc pens. Richemont, the world's second-largest luxury goods firm, behind French rival LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, also owns jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels. The company boasts some 815 of its own boutiques. Following the sale of its Rothmans International unit (with Rothmans, Dunhill, Peter Stuyvesant, and Winfield tobacco products) to British American Tobacco (BAT), Richemont is focused solely on peddling luxury goods. As part of its operations, the company also peddles Chloé perfume and womenswear and makes watch components for third parties.
The global economic crisis put a stop to the luxury binge of the mid-2000s, when even the not so rich indulged in high-end goods to the delight of luxury goods makers like Richemont and LVMH. The collapse of consumer confidence (and access to credit) in late 2008 set the stage for a difficult period for Richemont. In fiscal 2010 (ends March) Richemont saw its sales decline about 4%, while its operating profit fell by 14%. Jewelry, watch, and pen sales all experienced declines. However, sales at Richemont's company-owned boutiques rose 4%, outperforming the company's wholesale business, which fell 10%. As a result, retail sales accounted for 46% of the group's total sales in fiscal 2010, an all-time high.
Regionally, Richemont's revenue shifted gears significantly during fiscal 2010, as a result of the weak economies in Europe and North America. While sales in Europe fell to 40% of the group's total sales (from 44% in 2009), and sales in the Americas declined by 2% over the same period, the company's business in the Asia-Pacific region grew to account for more than a third of sales. Richemont is expanding in China, where the demand for luxury goods is growing. Indeed, of the 21 new Cartier boutiques added in fiscal 2010, a third were in China. Also, three Piaget Time Galleries opened in China during the year. More recently, Richemont agreed to acquire the Peter Millar luxury apparel business in the US. The sale is expected to close in October 2012.
Amid declining sales and citing health reasons, the Swiss luxury goods seller's CEO Norbert Platt retired at the end of 2009 after five years at the helm. Replacing Platt in April 2010, was the firm's executive chairman Johann Rupert, who previously served as CEO of Richemont. Also, in a bid to revive its fashion and accessories businesses, the firm in 2009 created a new senior management post responsible for a portfolio comprising most of Richemont's less-prominent brands, including Alfred Dunhill and Lancel, which market so-called soft luxury goods such as leather and fashion.
Richemont began to nip at the heels of its competitor, LVMH, through a 50:50 joint venture formed in 2007 with Polo Ralph Lauren to create the Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry Company. The company, which designs and markets watches and jewelry under the Polo brand, launched its first collection in 2009. More recently, Richemont in June 2010 acquired the 67% of Net-a-Porter, a UK-based online retailer of luxury goods, that it didn't already own, bringing its holding to 93%. – less