"The fact that we have managed to complete the financial year 2021 with an EBIT of just under CHF 73 million leaves us proud and satisfied."
Markus Bernhard, CEO

You have already drawn a very positive balance for the first half of 2021. How satisfied are you generally with fiscal year 2021?

We are very satisfied with both the financial results and the strategic development of our business. In August, we raised our 2021 financial guidance for the operating result by CHF 6 million to a range of CHF 67 to 72 million. The fact that we were even able to close the 2021 fiscal year with an EBIT of almost CHF 73 million is very satisfying and we are proud of that.

What were the challenges in the 2021 fiscal year?

We had the opportunity to successfully "practice" dealing with the pandemic and the related measures, especially in the retail business, in 2020. Nevertheless, we were challenged in this regard, especially at the beginning and in the final weeks of the 2021 fiscal year. In recent months, we were able to substantially strengthen local management in Germany and Switzerland. This in turn enabled us to support the further development of our business in various areas, such as online and services.

 The Covid-19 pandemic and the associated chip shortage have presented us with the challenge of supply bottlenecks for Apple and Samsung devices in particular. Nevertheless, we can say that we have coped very well with the challenges of the pandemic since March 2020. Our employees have always reacted very flexibly to new situations and have shown enormous commitment throughout the past fiscal year.

As you mentioned, the EBIT guidance was newly raised in August by 10 percent to a range of CHF 67 to 72 million. What is the forecast for the new 2022 fiscal year?

We are continuing to develop our business organically in the current fiscal year. We are convinced that we can build on last year's performance in both Germany and Switzerland. The start into the new year has definitely been successful. We still have a special focus on increasing the EBIT margin; its development in recent years from 4 percent to 7.4 percent makes us confident. Our business model has more than proven itself during the pandemic. We are convinced that we can achieve an EBIT of CHF 70 to 80 million in the current year. In addition, the share buyback is having a positive impact on earnings per share.

The pandemic has caused a massive acceleration of digitalisation in many areas (video calls, home office, etc.). How has this affected mobilezone in terms of customer business? What effects have been felt internally?

We already demonstrated in the previous year that we have a resilient business model. In 2021, we were able to achieve record results in all business segments. In the online business, this is certainly no surprise in the current environment; we were able to more than compensate for the results in Swiss retail with better closing rates despite lower customer frequencies of 15 percent compared to 2019. The B2B business in Germany and Switzerland also developed very well, so we are in an excellent position. The exchange with partners as well as internally via video calls is now commonplace and it is no longer possible to imagine working without it. The resulting increase in efficiency is remarkable. Admittedly, the concept of home office is not relevant to our employees in sales in the shops and in parts of logistics. In various central functions, however, it has been tried and tested for two years now and has become normal.

What lessons do you draw from the pandemic after a good two years, on the one hand for mobilezone, but also for yourself personally?

mobilezone has adapted to the changed and partly new requirements of our customers and suppliers in a very short time. At the same time, we have mastered the financial and operational challenges well. On a personal level, virtual meetings have shaped my daily work. The greatly reduced travel times have given me a little more personal free time.

You previously gave a positive assessment of the Swiss B2B business for the first half of the year. How has this developed overall in the 2021 fiscal year? And what can we expect here?

We were able to carry the positive momentum of the first six months into the second half of the year. Our customised client platforms are used by a large proportion of our B2B clients and their employees. We were able to increase recurring revenue in the B2B service business to CHF 4.5 million by the end of December 2021. "Device as a Service" for business customers will definitely have established itself in the current year.

In the meantime, you have been selling used and refurbished devices of the "jusit" brand for over a year. Can you tell us how you are doing?

We are successfully selling the used and refurbished smartphones in Switzerland. The demand for these sustainable products is higher than we expected. The biggest challenge is buying back used devices from our end customers so that we can give enough smartphones a second life. First and foremost, we sell the smartphones — which have been checked and refurbished by our certified service technicians — online at www.get-jusit.ch and in eleven selected mobilezone shops throughout Switzerland.

Where is jusit heading in 2022?

The topic of a circular economy is more relevant than ever and it has quickly become an increasingly important issue in society at large. We have combined our activities around the repair and refurbishing of smartphones with a focus on the "smartphone circular economy". We want to increase the share of "second life smartphones" to around 2 percent of the total number of smartphones sold at mobilezone in Switzerland.

mobilezone is a financially sound company that continues to impress, even in times of crisis. How do you manage that?

We have subjected our business model to robust development in recent years. Today, we generate more than 38 percent of our sales with our online platforms. Our cash flows from Germany and Switzerland are balanced with the online, retail, B2B and MVNO focus. We are steadily expanding services and recurring revenue year on year. The ongoing investments in all our business segments are the basis for the increasing EBIT margins in recent years. Furthermore, with the sale of the wholesale business in Germany at the beginning of 2021, we were able to complete our announced focusing. 

We were able to reduce net debt/EBITDA from 2.22 at the beginning of the year to 0.92 at the end of December. In April 2021, we were able to pay out a dividend of CHF 25.1 million to our shareholders; the healthy financial situation prompted us to start a share buyback in November, which was completed on 3 February 2022 with a volume of CHF 10.7 million. 

Over the last few years, mobilezone has been able to improve its results very reliably and steadily. To achieve this, we need motivated employees and satisfied customers. Our regularly conducted customer and employee surveys give us very valuable feedback on this, which we take seriously and which motivates us to continue to improve.

Let's take a look into the future. What can we expect from the mobilezone Group in 2022?

In 2021, we strengthened our teams in Germany and Switzerland with targeted additions. We are convinced that we are ideally positioned to maintain or even improve upon our good results. The further organic growth of the contract business with the network providers, our MVNO business with TalkTalk and High, and our online business, will all make an important contribution.

mobilezone's dividend policy was redefined in November. What were the reasons for this? 

When we announced the share buyback in November 2021, we took the opportunity to clarify our dividend policy. mobilezone intends to distribute 60 to 75 percent of net profit to shareholders in the form of dividends in the future. In addition, mobilezone intends to return excess capital below a net-debt-to-EBITDA ratio of 1 to shareholders via special dividends or share buybacks. This applies as long as no more-efficient uses are seen for the surplus capital. We previously carried out a share buyback of CHF 10.7 million from the end of 2021 until February 2022.

You have enjoyed very strong growth in Germany compared to the previous year. What can you attribute this to?

Restructuring of the German companies was completed in the first half of 2021. We are now in the best possible position, so the synergies are taking effect on both the sales and cost side. The result is an EBIT of CHF 36.2 million compared to CHF 11.9 million in the previous year.

The German B2B business under mobilezone handel was affected by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic but recovered in the first half of 2021. What are your conclusions here?

Our retail business in Germany is very diverse, ranging from small owner-operated shop formats to large-scale retail chains. Accordingly, regulation in Germany in 2021 was not only dependent on the federal state and incidence, but also on shop format and size. The different formats had varying degrees of success. Most retailers have come through the crisis well. Already in Q4 2021, some of our sales were above the level of 2019. There were individual insolvencies among our partners, but the big wave of insolvencies in brickand-mortar business fortunately failed to materialise. This makes us optimistic about the future.

mobilezone wants to push its online strategy further with the Pricezilla brand. You see great growth potential in this. What are your conclusions here?

In wearables, for example, smartwatches or fitness trackers, we used the scarce goods available in favour of higher-margin contract business on Sparhandy and Deinhandy. As a result, with sales of CHF 16 million, we fell slightly short of our expectations of CHF 20 million — but we did so very consciously. Pricezilla is well received, the processes work, we have a very high level of customer satisfaction, and even on the peak days during Black Week, everything worked smoothly. For example, we sold 1,100 Apple AirPods Pro and 1,000 Apple Air Tags in 24 hours. In just 6 hours, we sold our stock of Samsung Galaxy Tabs A7 amounting to 900 units.

Where is Pricezilla heading in 2022?

We want to continue on the path we have started, hoping for better availability of smartphones so that we can achieve greater sales in this category. Otherwise, we want to grow in the area of the "Internet of Things". There are various opportunities in the market that we want to seize upon. So, things remain exciting, and it will certainly be an exciting year in 2022.

With Sparhandy and Deinhandy as well as the teleshopping channel Handystar, mobilezone is the number 1 in online business in Germany. What strategic steps are you planning here to remain number 1?

First of all, in 2022, we will complete the largest part of our most important strategic investment in recent years — the changeover from our old shop technology to state-of-the-art new systems. These total investments of around CHF 10 million will give us the opportunity to defend our position as number one in the future, because we will become technical and technological leaders and will be able to quickly accommodate new requirements from the market and customers.

As already mentioned, you operate your own teleshopping channel with Handystar. Isn't this outdated in times of webshops, apps, etc.? Or in other words: Why do you operate a teleshopping channel?

Handystar addresses the growing market of the golden-agers. They want and need to be addressed differently than the rather young customers at Sparhandy and Deinhandy. The teleshopping platform is an important gateway for this customer group. We also modernised the webshop for Handystar in 2021 and are receiving an increasing number of orders through this channel. Two years ago, only 10 percent of Handystar customers ordered their new bundle, the combination of device and mobile phone subscription, online; now it is already one in three. Two thirds of orders are still taken by telephone.