From packing watches to conquering the world: An inspiring export story

From packing watches to conquering the world: An inspiring export story

Posted: Tue 26th Apr 2016

From hand-packing £100,000 worth of products to exporting around the world, the story of Andrew Jennings, founder of luxury watch brand Larsson & Jennings is an inspiring one.

The entrepreneur tells the story behind his brand and how Germany is one of his most important markets.

How did you come up with the idea for Larsson & Jennings and turn that idea into a business?

I've been interested in watches since I inherited a vintage Rolex Daytona from my uncle in 1994. It seemed so huge at the time I received it that I couldn't wear it but it I remember being fixated by the way it worked.

Some years later, when I spotted a full page in GQ on my exact model, I learnt of its value and quickly put it away in a safe where it remained for the following 10 years.

The ambition to turn my passion into a business was fuelled by my dad. He has always been entrepreneurial, owning his own construction and joinery company, and growing up in this environment definitely had a knock-on effect on me.

I launched the company in 2011 with money I had saved from working as a wealth manager in the City, as much personal finance as I could leverage. At that stage we were operating solely from the website and I was also continuing with my job as a wealth manager.

Our first Christmas proved a real turning point for the business. Despite recovering from a shoulder operation I packaged and posted £100,000 worth of watches to customers buying presents for their loved ones.

At this point I knew the business had real potential and that I could do this full time. I handed in my notice on my first day back in the office in January 2013 and have been working full time on Larsson & Jennings ever since.

What start-up challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

One of the greatest challenges we faced was generating exposure for a brand that existed solely online. Potential customers were not able to see our watches in Liberty, Harvey Nichols or Selfridges, so creating awareness for the brand was a real challenge.

Fortunately we established a great team and used our own contacts with strong social media followings to introduce Larsson & Jennings to people who we thought fitted well with the brand and would help us to generate exposure in the right places, whether that was in fashion or design but also in music and architecture too. We've always prided ourselves on our brand integrity, so it was all about working with the right people rather the most well-known.

We were also one of the first brands to really embrace Instagram; through which we've been able to amass almost 150,000 followers, many of whom have gone on to become customers. Our watches have an incredibly unique aesthetic and it’s a great platform to really show them off.

What research did you do before you first started expanding overseas?

Before expanding into a new retail market it's important to gather as much local consumer insight as possible.

Ahead of opening our first overseas store in New York store we monitored closely where we were generating traffic and sales through our e-commerce site, set up a series of concept spaces (pop-up shops) to further gauge demand and took advice from industry peers, such as Wen Zhou, chief executive at Philip Lim, who has some great retail experience in the US.

This combination of monitoring online sales, gathering first-hand experience in the market and taking advice from others, allowed us to feel confident about putting our overseas expansion plans into action.

After all it’s a risk, and you don’t want to diminish the success you've achieved in your home market with an under-performance in a new market, so evidence-based decision making is vital.

Why did you decide to export to Germany and how successful has it been?

Similarly to our expansion into New York, we closely monitored our international online sales and noticed Germany was consistently placing as one of our most profitable markets.

Since then we've enjoyed seeing sales increase on an almost month-on-month basis until last year when we sold more watches in Germany than in the three previous years put together!

Germany is also Europe's largest domestic market and provides excellent access to established markets in Western Europe as well as emerging markets in central and Eastern Europe, making it a great hub to do business from across the continent.

What research did you do before expanding to Germany?

Getting on the ground and trying to understand the way that Germany shopped was key to our expansion into the market.

From a number of visits and conversations with friends, we quickly learnt that Germans have a strong 'buy local' attitude and that as an online-only brand we were going to have to get a physical presence in country in order to really succeed.

We decided the best way to do this was to work with a partner retailer in the country that would be able to get our watches in front of the right people. After a number of meetings we signed a deal with Berlin-based Voo Store.

Situated in the heart of Kreuzberg, an area renowned for its spectrum of cultural and creative diversity, Voo Store was able to offer us an inlet into Germany's design-conscious shoppers who knew, from our online sales, already had a liking to our product.

What's more, we were able to create an exclusive collection of watches especially for Voo Store, adding to the 'buy local' appeal. We've now worked with Voo Store for two years and continue to hold a successful relationship today.

What three tips would you offer to other entrepreneurs looking to export to Germany?

  • Do your research: Europe's largest domestic market is not easily cracked so it's crucial to get on the ground and do as much research as possible

  • Localise: Germans are incredibly proud of their manufacturing heritage and love to buy local products. Think about how you localise your product to make it more appealing. As part of this we are re-launching our website in May, offering a full German language version as well as local payment methods

  • Partner up: Work with someone already established in the country to help get your product out there.


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