Mike Rivkin, the founder of the Deutsche Optik and WarTimers catalogs, is going fishing. Rivkin, who ran both books under his SCM Corp. corporate moniker, in mid-March sold WarTimers to La Jolla, CA-based holding company Talking Rock Corp. and at press time was about to close on the sale of Deutsche Optik to Yerington, NV-based collectibles cataloger Lilliput. Once he’s retired from the catalog industry, he plans to write a book on the history of an offshore fishing organization.
Rivkin founded Deutsche Optik, which sells military binoculars, scopes, and compasses, in 1990 and launched the WarTimers catalog of military watches in 2001. He decided to sell his business last year. “I started talking to [Lilliput owner] Justus Bauschinger last summer,” Rivkin says. “We realized that both of our companies were selling to the same kinds of customers — upscale men — and spoke of how either I should buy them or they should buy us, given our parallel positions in the market.”
But while Lilliput and Deutsche Optik have similar audiences, their products are rather dissimilar: Lilliput sells model cars and boats. So “we tested our theory by exchanging our lists to make sure we weren’t smoking something,” Rivkin says. “And our lists worked exceedingly well for each other even though there was not much overlap” between Deutsche Optik’s 60,000-name file and Lilliput’s 50,000-name list.
As for WarTimers, Talking Rock plans to at least double sales of the $1 million business in the first year, says Charles Gunderson, who co-owns with his wife, Miriam Bloch. As president/CEO of WarTimers, “I’m going to keep the focus of the catalog on military, but add aviation and contemporary,” Gunderson says. “Before it was focused on vintage watches only.”
Gunderson, who like Bloch is a pilot, believes he can grow the business rapidly because of his own background in aviation and interest in the military and because of the nature of the watch industry. “I see the watch industry as being bipolar,” Gunderson says. “Some niches are overlooked while others are far overdistributed, and it can be hard to differentiate one watch seller from another. WarTimers doesn’t offer ‘wannabe’ watches, like many sport watches offered. There’s a tradition here to be genuine and have a legitimate tie-in to the military.”
Gunderson doesn’t expect to increase WarTimers’ circulation this year; last year it mailed 800,000 copies. Instead he’s focusing more on Internet-based sales through a combination of search engine marketing, partnerships, and affiliate marketing.
“Our primary title has always been our 14-year-old Deutsche Optik catalog,” notes Rivkin, “but the dramatic growth of WarTimers took us by surprise. We knew there was a strong market for original military timepieces, and we’re not surprised that Talking Rock has reached the same conclusion.”