Former Alex and Ani CEO Giovanni Feroce has purchased the BENRUS watch company and hopes to transform the company best known for supplying timepieces to the military into a major lifestyle brand.
Bernie Mermelstein, head of the brand’s previous owner, New York City watch company M.Z. Berger & Co., is a partner in the new company with a minority interest. Other terms were not disclosed.
Benrus is planning to open its first retail store this fall in Charleston, S.C., and Feroce wants to open five more in the next year.
“We will position the stores where you expect fashion brands to be: Fifth Avenue, Newbury Street in Boston,” Feroce says.
The company’s military history will play a strong role in its marketing, he says. But he also wants Benrus to be wearers’ “other watch.”
“It will be your comfort watch, the piece that you feel can complement a suit or a pair of jeans,” he says.
As part of the deal, the company will relocate to Feroce’s home base of Providence, Rhode Island. Currently, its product consists of watches and backpacks, but Feroce sees introducing sunglasses, belts, socks, and other types of apparel—and maybe, down the line, jewelry.
And Feroce believes that his new company can rival the success of Alex and Ani.
“I know the formula to create a billion-dollar brand,” he says. “I know the sales volume that I need to hit. I know what the feeling has to be on Wall Street to be a hyper-growth operation.”
“There is some parallel with Shinola,” he adds. “That was a dormant brand that was brought back to life, fueling American manufacturing.”
Benrus’ origin dates from 1921. During World War II, the company became known for the waterproof frogman watches worn by members of the military. Following that, the company was headed and owned by Victor Kiam, best known for the “I liked it so much, I bought the company” ads for Remington Razors. Benrus filed for bankruptcy in 1981.
Feroce says his military background makes the brand is a natural fit for him.
“To me, it just made sense,” he says.
As part of a settlement Feroce recently agreed to, he no longer holds any interest in Alex and Ani nor has a seat on its board of directors.