How I Started A $1.8M/Year Vintage Watch Company

$150,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
3
Employees
product
Theo & Harris
from New Jersey
started February 2015
$150,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
3
Employees
204K
alexa rank
65.5K
followers
platform
email
shipping
accounting
productivity
analytics
blog
design
stock images
freelance

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Christian Zeron, I’m 23, the founder of Theo & Harris and I get people excited about old watches.

Really, I should be getting out of law school in May (with 200k in debt) but instead, I’m turning out over $2M in vintage watch sales a year.

how-i-started-a-1-8m-year-vintage-watch-company

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I started reading about watches about 18 months before we launched and, while extremely passionate, I was absolutely unqualified to buy vintage pieces at scale.

Be self-aware, be fast and be happy. If you're not self-aware, you'll waste time on bad ideas you're romanticizing. If you're not fast, you're either losing your lead or lengthening someone else's. If you're not happy, you won't last long.

It’s a treacherous business - there are millions of dollars to be made, lost and stolen. But ignorance is bliss and I dipped my toe into the market - I invested the only money I had and bought $10,000 in inexpensive, unsexy watches.

The business plan was a far cry from original. Buy watches, take nice pictures, post them on your website and promote through social media. We stole our entire model from the existing players in the marketplace, we just needed a point of differentiation - a command of social media.

how-i-started-a-1-8m-year-vintage-watch-company

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Sourcing quality vintage watches is a full-time job. You're constantly on the phone with owners and wholesalers from all over the world, hunting for treasure and trying not to get robbed.

On a good day, with the perfect storm of prerequisite knowledge, attention and clientele, you can make $10,000 in 18 minutes.

We’ve put real stress on knowing our audience, too. Collecting information on our community, while previously a non-priority, is paramount if we’re going to operate on a higher level. We want to know exactly what they're looking for, so we can provide it.

On a bad day, you send a wire to Singapore and pray you’re shipped something that resembles the photos you were sent.

If you're trustworthy, persistent and a little lucky, you’ll build a network of dealers you can trust, but you're sure to lose a fortune before that. And on the retail front, it’s a never ending process of refining our brand image and online reputation to make our shop synonymous with character, quality and passion. Ultimately, we’re selling products that any one of our competitors could stock so it's imperative that the culture and experience around Theo & Harris be more attractive.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I launched this business in the most makeshift, ghetto way.

A college friend had a Canon, a family member recommended a Hawaiian web developer and I had as much leadership experience has any other (newly) 19 year old. I didn't have a real plan, just an idea and a commitment to myself to make it a success.

Once we laid the foundation (Instagram, website, bank accounts etc) it was just a matter of improving our systems - inventory sourcing, photography, social media posting and community engagement, shipping (it was a long road to a UPS wholesale account!) and accounting - making these processes more professional and efficient.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Our content, specifically on YouTube, aims to both educate and entertain. We bring value to the watch community free of charge, do it on a consistent, professional schedule and, in turn, grow not only the size of our base but traffic on our retail shop. Now, we’re sitting just below 70,000 subscribers now, YouTube brings us 60% of our social media referrals and, without a doubt, the most dedicated T&H fans.

Why are our YouTube fans the most valuable? Because YouTube allows us to develop personal relationships at scale. In luxury products, trust is paramount. Introducing our audience to not just our opinions and shop but to the people behind the company, our personal interests and values, which we do every week through live Q&A’s, vlogs etc, has given Theo & Harris real personality.

That’s what makes Theo & Harris a meaningful player in its market. People would miss us if we disappeared, they'd feel like they lost a friend.

how-i-started-a-1-8m-year-vintage-watch-company

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

For the first time in about 6 months, really well. The business is really growing, maturing and stabilizing. We’ve been profitable since day one, and significantly profitable since for the last two years, but there are much more important things, the big picture, that we were failing on.

In dedicating time to the advertising business, we’ve started to not only increase, but diversify our revenue.

By separating responsibilities and hiring for more positions, every player is very focused on their specialty and productivity is up.

We’ve put real stress on knowing our audience, too. Collecting information on our community, while previously a non-priority, is paramount if we’re going to operate on a higher level. If we’re going to build a major advertising partnership, we can't have a “vague idea” of who our clients and fans are. We want to know exactly what they're looking for, so we can provide it.

There’s still a very long way to go on all fronts, but I’m proud of where we are right now and cant wait for Q4.

how-i-started-a-1-8m-year-vintage-watch-company

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The power of independence and the profitability of small business.

Owning your own profitable business gives you a level of control over your life that most people have never, and will never experience. That control allows you to be brazen in even your most unpopular decisions and, as a result, truly own all of your achievements and failures. It’s one hell of a feeling.

I handle more money in a month than many adults exponentially smarter, more experienced and maybe more deserving than me do in a year. That’s not because of any remarkable abilities I have, it’s because small business has fewer barriers. The only thing keeping me from growth is me. In the corporate world, on the other hand, there are so many variables beyond your control. Intelligent people are often stunted for reasons they couldn't possibly even identify, personal politics being the worst. Short of being a corporate anomaly, the ceiling is much lower than in small business.

how-i-started-a-1-8m-year-vintage-watch-company

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

  • Instagram: I’m not fancy about it but I’m consistent. I post straightforward photos of inventory and keep our fans both satisfied and waiting for more.
  • YouTube: This is where we really develop serious personal relationships with our community. It’s a space where personality is rewarded and we play to our strengths.
  • LinkedIn: Because the overwhelming amount of content of the medium is bone dry, it’s a great opportunity for us to deliver something entertaining to a captive audience.
  • Facebook: This is a missed opportunity for us. I hate thinking about it but growth on Facebook is a huge 2019 goal.
  • Website: Wordpress
  • Editing software: Premiere Pro
  • Shipping: UPS

AND GOOGLE CALENDAR, THAT’S HUGE.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

2015 GaryVee was a big part of my decision to pursue Theo & Harris. So while my business and happiness is proof of the effect tactful and inspirational content can have, I haven't really consumed much or his, or anyone else’s since. I get my guidance from a few guardian angels and I trust my gut.

To me, a lot of the business oriented books, podcasts etc, like so many Ted Talks, are the intellectual equivalent of watching Rocky. They inspire and give you some workout tips but when they’re over, you’re still on the couch eating Milk Duds. Accepting and regurgitating the strategies of successful people is not, in and of itself, a means to market capture or effectiveness. Thats not to say this content is without value, you’re getting practical tips from some of the worlds most successful and intelligent people. I just don't think they move the needle like people think they do. And frankly, it’s not their job to move your needle.

how-i-started-a-1-8m-year-vintage-watch-company

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Be self-aware, be fast and be happy. If you're not self-aware, you'll waste time on bad ideas you're romanticizing. If you're not fast, you're either losing your lead or lengthening someone else's. If you're not happy, you won't last long.

Where can we go to learn more?

Well, there are a few things you can do from here.

Check out John Mayers $10M Rolex collection

Watch me buy $500,000 in watches in Washington DC

Learn why this $29,000 Patek Philippe is worth nearly $60,000 now!

Or, more important than the rest, share this interview with a friend you think would flourish independently!

-  
Christian Zeron,   Founder of Theo & Harris

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Pat Walls,   Founder of Starter Story

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