Feroce looks forward to ‘Army surplus meets Barneys’ project

Former Alex and Ani CEO Giovanni Feroce is returning to the retail industry with a 93-year-old wristwatch company he intends to resurrect as a military-inspired lifestyle brand, he announced Monday. More

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Feroce looks forward to ‘Army surplus meets Barneys’ project

PBN FILE PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
FORMER ALEX AND ANI CEO Giovanni Feroce has announced the first venture supported by the investment firm he set up. He plans to bring back a dormant men's watch line to be the cornerstone of a lifestyle brand that will be military inspired.
Posted 7/7/14

PROVIDENCE – Former Alex and Ani CEO Giovanni Feroce is returning to the retail industry with a 93-year-old wristwatch company he intends to resurrect as a military-inspired lifestyle brand, he announced Monday.

Feroce’s newly formed GF Asset Management purchased the brand, Benrus, from New York City-based M.Z. Berger & Co this month. Terms were not disclosed.

Benrus currently includes a line of backpacks sold at Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters, but last produced its signature line of watches in 1977.

Feroce said he intends not only to bring the watches back, but add lines of apparel and accessories, including jeans, T-shirts, sports jackets, outerwear, belts, sunglasses and cologne.

The new Benrus watches will be the first new products to appear, possibly by September, Feroce said, followed by the apparel lines and the first Benrus store, which will be in Charlestown, S.C. He anticipates having six stores open in 2015.

At least initially, the watches will be produced by M.Z. Berger, but Feroce said he is investigating whether the manufacturing and supply infrastructure exists to eventually make them in Rhode Island.

Benrus’ headquarters will be at the new GF Asset Management offices at 39 Pike St. in Providence, but Feroce said he will likely spend two to three days per week at a Manhattan office and showroom.

GF Asset Management currently has about a dozen employees, including some former Feroce Alex and Ani colleagues.

They include COO David Medeiros, a fraternity brother of Feroce’s at the University of Rhode Island who was also COO at Alex and Ani. Medeiros also will be named COO of Benrus.

An Iraq War veteran who retired from the Army in 2010, Feroce said he first became aware of the opportunity to buy Benrus in his final days at Alex and Ani, when an M.Z. Berger executive approached him about his military-inspired management style and organizational structures.

Before going bankrupt, Benrus produced watches issued to service members, and Feroce said he expects ex-military with an emotional connection to the brand will be a base market.

Ultimately though, Feroce said he sees widespread demographic appeal for high-fashion products with a military design aesthetic and mid-range price point (a watch could start at about $300.)

“I am excited and feel matching the military with the fashion world will be a home run,” Feroce said. “Its Army surplus meets Barneys.”

Feroce said he expects 50 or 60 percent of sales to come from wholesale trade with retailers, plus 20 percent from Benrus stores and the remainder through e-commerce.

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