By Lenore Fedow
A set of Movado Connect 2.0 watches. The watch company posted a double-digit drop in sales amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Paramus, N.J.—Movado Group reported a double-digit decline in first quarter sales as the coronavirus pandemic closed its stores and hurt comps across both owned and licensed brands.

CEO Efraim Grinberg opened Tuesday morning’s earnings call by addressing the “senseless deaths” of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.

Grinberg said the company has been “having the difficult discussions [with associates] surrounding race, diversity, inclusion, and the biases that exist within all of us” and recognizes it needs to do better.

Looking at its financial results, Grinberg said the year was progressing according to plan in February and early March, but by mid-March, the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of most of its operations and retail stores.

In April, the company temporarily furloughed 80 percent of its North American workforce, approximately 850 employees, and temporarily reduced the work rate of its international employees.

Net sales in the first quarter fell 53 percent to $69.7 million, compared with $146.5 million a year ago.

Sales declined across all segments, including owned brands, licensed brands, and company stores, said CFO Sallie DeMarsilis on the call, adding sales were down in the U.S. and internationally.

Grinberg said he was encouraged by the strength of its online business, pointing to Movado and Olivia Burton as brands performing especially well in key markets while MVMT also saw improvement.

“Although ecommerce sales were strong, they were not nearly enough to offset the declines in our wholesale and company stores businesses,” said DeMarsilis.

China, which saw strong e-commerce sales as well, has begun to reopen its stores.

In North America, 14 out of 47 locations have reopened with 41 expected to be open by June 17.

The 14 stores currently open have performed better than expected, said Grinberg, adding that sales at these stores were down 11 percent compared with the same period last year.

“I actually think that this pandemic has kind of, to a certain extent, really fortified the need for a certain amount of brick and mortar centers, and especially outdoor ones, so we’re seeing that consumers like to shop and they’re coming to our stores and shopping at a pretty high level,” said Grinberg.

While traffic is down about 40 percent at those stores, he said, there are higher conversion rates and higher average transactions.

Looking to the year ahead, DeMarsilis said the company would not be providing specific fiscal guidance, but expects its second quarter to be “significantly impacted by the crisis.”

“Although we expect trends will improve in the second half of the year, our top line is expected to remain below last year,” she said.

The company also borrowed an additional $30 million under its credit agreement to bolster its financial flexibility, she said.

Movado has slowed the inflow of inventory into its warehouses and reduced its capital expenditures with the exception of projects with short-term return on investments, including select digital initiatives.

The company’s quarterly dividend has been discontinued and its share repurchase program has been suspended until further notice.

Movado also announced organizational changes Tuesday, effective immediately, in an effort to streamline the company and accelerate its digital initiatives.

Behzad Soltani, the current president of direct to consumer and chief digital officer, has been promoted to executive vice president, commercial president, and chief technology officer.

Soltani will oversee the company’s global wholesale business, company stores, e-commerce, and digital center.

Current CFO DeMarsilis has been promoted to executive vice president and chief operating officer, while still maintaining her role as CFO.

DeMarsilis will be responsible for finance and accounting, value chain, distribution, and business controls.

Grinberg said the new management structure will help unify the company’s distribution channels.

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