Shore Projects is a British watch start-up inspired by the coastlines of the British Isles. TOM DAVIS sits down with co-founder Jono Holt to learn more about the company’s recent growth
Having only been in business 18 months, many brands in the watch industry would still be building their brand image and still be on the tough road to convince consumers and retailers alike to start stocking. However this is not the case for young start-up company Shore Projects, which, in that short time period, has developed a strong consumer base by focusing heavily on its social media channels. And not only has it already been stocked in large retailers such as Liberty London, Selfridges and Asos, has even moved across the pond into the US.
“We never believed that we would be where we are so quickly”, says the the company’s co-founder, Jono Holt. Neither of the co-founders had any experience in the watch industry before launching the business.
FOUNDERS: Jono Holt, James Street and Neil Waller.
FOUNDERS: Jono Holt, James Street and Neil Waller.
Shore Projects is the brainchild of three 30-something friends who met while studying at the University of Bath. A few years and various jobs on, sitting in a pub, they decided to brainstorm a product that they could create together. After noticing that none of the three friends actually wore a watch, and with two of them having grown up by the beach, the idea for a British watch brand began to form.
But it wasn’t plain sailing at first. Having no experience in the industry, the trio spent a year learning and researching the structure of the market. “We noticed that, typically, the market was being dominated by quite large brands, so we looked at Michael Kors, Casio, Timex and all those sort of brands,” says Holt. “We noticed that actually it was being under-served by more focused and local brands, that’s really the moment we decided ‘let’s give it a go’.” The three exude good chemistry, all taking on different aspects of the business although despite the hard work, Holt says their success was a mix of hard work and a “bit of luck”.
Shore found a good supplier in the Far East through Street and Waller, who had worked in China before and used their contacts to find a good manufacturing base. This meant they were able to create a high-quality product, with materials and functions including sapphire glass, waterproof up to 100m and a Japanese quartz movement, which Holt says exceeds anything else on the market at similar price points. The three complement each other well and all work in roles where they can flourish: Street works on the products, Waller runs the day-to-day aspects of the business, while Holt, works on the branding of the product.
BRANDING IT SOCIAL
Shore’s brand awarness is driven by its strong social media presence. It has 32,000 followers on its Instagram account and encourages people to take photos of themselves on beaches and coastlines all over the world, sharing them to improve consumer engagement.
The growth of Shore Projects spiralled after it was taken into Net-a-Porter’s ‘fine jewellery’ section relatively soon after its inception. From there it was then picked up by Liberty London, Asos and Selfridges. The quick success lead to a number of challenges, such as the launch of its leather bracelet which sold out across retail stores, but Holt says the challenge is more about “keeping up, which we like”. The brand is now stocked in a number of independents and larger retailers including John Lewis, Topshop, Urban Outfitters and will be soon be stocked by Harrods.
So what are the key factors behind this rapid take-up? Holt puts it down to three core tenets of Shore’s identity. Firstly he comments on the British feel of the brand, with each watch named after the trio’s favourite beaches and coastlines of the British Isles. The Britishness of the brand is particularly prominent in its photoshoots, where authenticity is key – even down to the weather. Holt says: “If it is raining then it doesn’t really matter, we just take the photos anyway. It might be dark and drizzly but I think people like that.”
“The big ambition is to take what is essentially a British brand, global.”
Secondly he cites the company’s interchangeable watch straps, allowing for a ‘different watch’ to be worn each day. Which leads on to Holt’s final point and the company’s target market, unisex. Shore doesn’t have any watches that are marketed towards a specific gender, something fairly unusual for a watch brand. Holt says: “Rarely do you get a watch brand that can do unisex well, and that’s always our design challenge, to create a product that both women and men can buy into.”
The brand’s various faces and innovative watch straps mean that customers have a large selection of choice, although it does mean that the company does not really have a ‘bestseller’. The diverse choice of watch straps and the unisex colours offered mean that the brand tends to get a broad spectrum of purchase on its products. All of these factors create a brand that not only has an interesting story behind it, particularly for those who are intrigued by the British coastline, but also gives it a potentially huge market of fashion-conscious consumers who want to buy a watch that they can make their own, and change effortlessly.
The company was at first run and managed by the three friends, but in just under two years now employs nine full-time employees and is looking to take the brand even further. Holt remains coy on the actual figures, but says “the reflection of the retailers and who we are working with suggest it’s getting big.”
The company launched its third collection, ‘Project 3’, earlier this year but its plans for growth do not stop there. After seeing “significant” traffic from the US, the company is now in talks with retailers across the Pond, with hopes to be seen in the likes of Bloomingdales and Nordstrom. However, “the big ambition is to take what is essentially a British brand, global,” says Holt. The UK is still the company’s bread and butter, but in looking at places such as Germany, and markets even further afield such as Malaysia and Australia, the founders may need to start preparing for even further, and faster, growth.