Creating a luxury product or service is a business model that comes with its own particular sets of challenges. How do you make those initial costs, find the right audience, and ensure your product is of the highest quality possible? We chat to Lee Scott, founder of luxury watch strap business Vulcan Watch Straps, about his experience starting up and creating his premium product.
Tell us a little bit about Vulcan Watch Straps
Here at Vulcan we’ve spent months carefully engineering our aftermarket straps for Rolex watches. Moreover, each and every luxury band is uniquely tailored for its counterpart watch face, therefore ensuring a snug fit alongside the corresponding model.
The straps have been engineered using UK aerospace grade tooling to secure the tightest tolerances and best finishes, whilst the material itself has been developed by some of the leading rubber experts in this world. The team have worked tirelessly to ensure the material can withstand any environment on earth. So, whether you’re trekking through sweltering desserts, or diving the deepest waters, the Vulcan Watch Strap will remain comfortable and intact throughout.
Whilst we’ve covered the engineering side of things, the aesthetics are completely in our clients hands. From the colour of the strap and strap loop retainer, to the buckle material and finish, it’s 100% their decision. There are 7 base colours ranging from Onyx Black to Sunset Orange, whilst the buckles come in 3 premium materials - stainless steel, solid 18k gold and ceramic (each with either a brushed or polished finish). We understand that people’s watches should be as unique as they are.
All of our products are shipped in luxury packaging and come with a 12-month warranty. From start to finish (and beyond) I hope that all Vulcan clients will enjoy a superior, personalised service.
How have you funded the business?
Launching a luxury brand required getting the best people on-board - from the web-designers (who built an e-commerce site that’s capable of allowing our clients to customise their watch straps in real-time) to the engineers (who developed the strap using state-of-the-art aerospace tooling) - everyone has been at the top of their field. And, given we wanted the best of the best, we required some financial support.
Firstly, we approached Virgin StartUp with our business plan, who offered us a loan. To garner the support of a company like Virgin, who stand for premium service and have such an entrepreneurial spirit, was a huge win (both for our finances and our morale!)
The second round of funding came in a more unconventional manner. I currently run another business as a freelance mechanical design engineer, so approached a number of my regular clients. I took them through the story so far, showed them the project and explained my ambitions. The reception was fantastic and I equalled the amount raised through Virgin StartUp.
The third injection of money came from the government. Last year Vulcan Watch Straps was awarded an Innovation Grant to develop the rubber material used for the straps. This was a huge honour and, I believe, reflects the unique nature of our product.
Since then it has been relatively smooth sailing. We have overspent slightly, in order to perfect certain aspects of the product and the user experience, but luckily this has been covered by initial pre-orders and home equity.
What market research was conducted?
Having been an avid watch collector for 25 years, and after spending a number of years designing luxury products, I felt that the market offerings were not as polished as the watch faces they were intended for.
This, combined with a growing desire for customisation (both in the fashion world and beyond), led me to the idea for Vulcan Watch Straps. Individuality is what lies at the heart of the brand. This ethos is reflected in our slogan “Premium Meets Personality”. Vulcan is where luxury materials and manufacturing meet our client’s individual styles.
Therefore, given the overall market trends and my own personal knowledge of the sector, myself and the team were confident that the product would be well-received. The brand will, of course, continue to develop and adapt as time progresses and learnings are made. But, as Steve Jobs said (and I very much believe), “the only way to do great work is to love what you do”.
How do you market luxury to an audience?
It’s my belief that luxury brands are established when they consider the whole consumer experience, both functionally and emotionally, from start to finish. It’s about how your client feels when they come in contact with the brand. At Vulcan Watch Straps we strive to make every individual feel special and like they’re a part of our story. Ultimately, what’s important is that the service people receive is as premium as the products they’re purchasing.
Having been involved in the luxury goods market, on both a personal and business level, I’m a huge advocate of quality products and what they stand for. This for two reasons. Firstly, the customer experience is of a much higher standard - both during and after the buying process – with service teams that are always more than happy to help. You can rest assured that 24/7 you’ll be in caring, knowledgeable hands. Secondly, the product itself is created from much longer-lasting and higher quality materials, making it an investment that will stand the test of time. It is, in my opinion, better to pay more money for a product that you know will last. And, if for any reason it doesn’t, you can trust it will be replaced or repaired hassle-free.
All of the above is what people who regularly frequent brands like Apple, Louis Vuitton and Rolex have become accustomed to. So, for a brand like Vulcan Watch Straps it’s important to meet (and go beyond) these expectations.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
One of the biggest challenges to date has been creating interesting and relevant content for our social media platforms on a daily basis. It’s recommended that brands post engaging content at least three times a day on Instagram and Facebook, along with regular updates across Twitter, Pinterest, a blog site and YouTube. It has, inevitably, been testing at times to juggle this with setting up the business. But, nonetheless, something I’ve enjoyed being involved with. Vulcan Watch Straps social presence spans all of the above platforms and, from the offset, I felt this was important for two reasons.
Firstly, it was essential to garner interest around the brand before the product launch. We created targets for our social media followings and mailing list sign-ups - all of which we’ve already surpassed. On Facebook we’ve amassed around 8,900 likes, whilst on Instagram we’ve recruited over 4050 followers, which has been fantastic in such a short period of time.
Secondly, we wanted people to follow our journey and feel like they’d been a part of it - so starting to tell our story as early as possible was crucial.
What’s been your biggest success?
To date my biggest success has been having the courage to launch this business and take that initial leap of faith. From having the initial idea, to creating a fully formed brand in just 8 months, is proof that you should always follow (and act upon) your passions.
I am genuinely proud of what Vulcan Watch Straps has achieved so far. We’ve hit all of our targets in the business plan and, in return, we’ve received a fantastic response during the brand launch. The comments, far and wide, have been overwhelmingly positive and hugely motivational.
Do you have any tips for others who are creating a luxury product?
My biggest tip would be that no detail is too small. When it comes to luxury products people are prepared to pay a premium if they deem the experience and product worthy. Remember: they are not looking for a bargain. Rather, they are looking for quality (even if it does come with a bigger price tag).
This means that the materials used, the quality of the finish, the packaging and the customer service should all be carefully considered and tailored to your audience. Whilst you may pay more to achieve this in the initial stages, it’s something that I believe you will reap the rewards of later down the line. People’s first impression of your brand is their lasting impression. You never get a second chance at that!
For Vulcan Watch Straps this means using a unique, superior rubber that’s been manufactured from the highest-grade aerospace tooling. In fact, our product is created alongside some of the most renowned rubber manufacturers in the world. By comparison, some of our “competitors” are retailing Rolex rubber straps at half the price of our offering, but also at half the quality without the ability to customise. And, in this market, it really is a case of “you get what you pay for”.
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