This interview was done by Nicolai Klingenberg at BaselWorld 2012 and was published on his website My Pleasure in Mai 2012. Big thanks to Nicolai for letting us tell the WristTale about the foundation of Skagen Designs -one of the most successful Danish watch companies to date.
We have to go back in time, more exactly back to the 1990s. At this time Henrik and Charlotte Jorst were living in New York because Henrik was working for Carlsberg. But Henrik was lacking something. Not challenges, those he had plenty of, but something completely different:
“I was tired of not having a watch, and even though the budget was not huge, I was sure that there could be something at approximately $ 100.” – Henrik Jorst
The interview took place at the yearly BaselWorld in 2012, where Skagen Designs were present with a stand that spread over three floors. Something had happened since the couple first came here more than 20 years ago. Back then the couple had trouble to find someone willing to produce their watches at such small quantities that they could afford. The idea was to sell affordable watches with a great design. The reason behind was that it was impossible for Henrik to find a watch at $ 100 – at least not a watch, he would go with.
“My wife and I had a friend from Denmark who sold watches for company advertising and this was the beginning. We met him here in Basel and went with him to BaselWorld. There was a growing market for watches of this sort and we were invited to make a production with our own designs.” – Henrik Jorst
The invitation to BaselWorld in 1990 was a funny experience. They were actually close to being kicked out several times from a meeting with their manufacturer – which today is still the same – as the couple only wanted to buy a few watches and at the same time wanted to change virtually everything in the available designs. In the end they did, however, manage to get a deal for the production of 400 watches, 100 copies each of four different designs, where two models were for men and two for women.
“The goal was to sell 200 watches a month, than there would be enough money to pay our rent. We kind of jumped straight in to it. This may not be the best advice to give to others, but for us it was about to get started with the project right away rather than spend six years making different analyzes. And as it turned out, it worked for us.” – Henrik Jorst
Today Skagen sells more than 2.5 million watches a year, so paying rent is not a problem anymore. All watch model designs go through the two founders and they have always stayed true to their philosophy to offer affordable watches in a “clean” Scandinavian style.
“In the beginning it was a struggle to sell the watches. We could not get any agreements, so we started in the morning to knock on the doors of the shops. Nine out of ten times we were thrown out, but we had an agreement with each other that we did not go home until we had two new agreements in the house. And so it was. The inputs we received, were listened to – for example, suggested someone that the time was hard to read on the clean dial, which gave us inputs for future collections. So came the numbers on the dial.” – Henrik Jorst
It is possible that the couple followed the heart more than the theory book, but the aforementioned feedback from customers and also later from the major department stores have been priceless.
“The big department stores must now have five new watch collections per year with 36 watches. That’s quite a lot and if you do not sell well, then you’re out. On the other hand, you get reports on the units sold, which provides a thorough overview of which designs perform best. The inputs can then be used for future collections.” – Henrik Jorst
In April 2012 it became also official that Skagen Designs for the third year in a row, ran off with a Reddot design award for their watch series ‘Skagen Denmark ® Signature 234’ in the category ‘product’.
It might not be breaking news that Skagen was sold to Fossil last year.
“We heard from Fossil first time in June 2001 and subsequent two or three times a year until we made the deal. Had a deal been made in 2001, it had probably been at a different price. Just before the sale, we were 388 employees, and we were ready for the next step with expanding our product range and having our own stores, and here Fossil are much more capable than us.” – Henrik Jorst
Today the deal is a reality. The Jorst family earned millions with the sale, and will continue to be a part of the company for now.
“We see watches as accessories for men. And we think that watches as accessories are more than an instrument for reading the time. We believe that the role of watches has changed. Back in the days you would have one watch that you would wear for the rest of your life, today people buy a lot more watches.” – Henrik Jorst
At last Nicolai asked Henrik Jorst about his recipe for success:
“We have obviously believed in the project from the very first day, and we have never given up. In addition, it is really important to keep both feet planted firmly on the ground and not to burn any bridges, but also to embark on your project, as I mentioned before. One can analyze stuff to death – for us it was about to get started and get feedback.”
Concludes Henrik, who still cannot understand one thing:
“I simply do not understand that we’ve got $ 236.8 million for Skagen Designs.”
Photo & Story credit: Nicolai Klingenberg