Interview with CEO Jordy CobelensTW Steel – 5 Years of Big Time
TW Steel, the Dutch watch brand specializing in oversized watches, celebrates its fifth anniversary this month – highlighted by a beach party on Sunday 20th June at The Bloomingdale Club on the beach at Bloemendaal. While the occasion will be celebrated appropriately, with a stellar line-up of DJ’s to keep the party going, for TW Steel CEO and co-owner, Jordy Cobelens, it marks a remarkable accomplishment for ‘The Watch in Steel’.
In advance of Sunday’s fifth anniversary party, the 27-year-old Chief Executive Officer took time out from his schedule to review what has been an amazing journey for TW Steel from a humble four-model collection in 2005 to worldwide distribution and the sponsorship of a Formula One team in 2010.
TW: Can you please share what the initial vision was for TW Steel back in 2005?
Jordy Cobelens (JC): Well simply we noticed there was a gap in the market for an oversized watch at this particular price range. We believed in the opportunity, pursued it and our belief and vision have ultimately proved to be appealing to the consumer!
TW: At what point did you realize that TW Steel had the potential to become a break-out lifestyle brand?
JC: I think when we saw the brand selling really well in some of the first countries to take it on outside of Holland – most notably with little or no advertising. We then took our time and came up with a new collection and they too were very well received which was obviously encouraging.
We knew our first collection was strong but then after launching our second, that’s when I really began to believe we had something special and something capable of keeping TW Steel around for the long run.
TW: In your opinion, what is it that distinguishes the TW Steel brand within the watch business?
JC: Firstly the design and then the price appeal to a lot of people. Our watches look substantially more expensive than they are which makes them very attractive to the consumer. A TW Steel wearer can’t be easily classified which I think is also appealing. Anybody can wear a TW Steel watch, it’s not simply designed for just one particular demographic. We have a mass appeal, from celebrities and sport stars through to the wider public who appreciate what TW Steel has to offer.
TW: Reflecting on your first five years, what are the stand-out moments in the growth of the company?
JC: One of the key moments was committing to the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport in 2008. It was obviously great to be associated with a global sports property but more importantly, as a company it required a big step up for us and we fulfilled that commitment. We had to employ more staff, we moved offices, we really had to focus on how we activated the relationship and all that was required to make the most of the opportunity.
Following that, our first year having a stand at Baselworld, in 2009, was another key moment in the history of the company. The year before we were sitting at the bar in the Ramada Hotel opposite Baselworld with a suitcase full of watches doing deals. To then be a part of the show with our own display was something very special and of course we then made the next step this year by moving into Hall 1.1. with an even bigger presence. Also this year we have our relationship with the Renault F1 Team which is phenomenal but a natural progression from where we started with A1GP.
TW: TW Steel is proudly Dutch – is there a work ethos you bring to the brand based on its Dutch roots?
JC: We’re very family orientated. This is an approach we take to our distributors as well. We like them to become more than partners, we very much want them to become part of the TW Steel family. It’s a productive approach as we develop close working relationships and they really feel that they are part of the brand which is important to us.
We really do listen to what our distributors have to say as we value their experience and inputs. I think it’s important to maintain the small company attitude, keeping things personal, direct and with good communication channels.
TW: Can TW Steel grow too quickly as a brand? How do you manage its global development against the strength of more established brands?
JC: I think in the beginning we had some critical stages, expanding rapidly with the subsequent introduction of a lot of new people. We were possibly a little fragile then but now we have a solid foundation with the right people sitting in the right departments overseeing every aspect of the company.
The growth has been exceptional but I also believe the recent recession really helped us. It brought us a year of stability without the massive growth we saw in the first three years of TW Steel. 2009 really saw us able to reflect on everything that had happened so far and do some forward planning. As a result, the growth in 2010 has been tremendous and we’re better prepared to manage it!
TW: As a young entrepreneurial CEO – do you think you have a unique perspective of the watch business compared to your more corporate peers?
JC: I think I do! TW Steel is completely different to anything else but also, don’t forget I have a lot of experience in the watch business from a young age. A lot of people in the industry might not start until they’re in their mid-twenties but I was actively engaged by my mid-teens! I’ve learned a lot in that period of time.
Perhaps where I stand out is that with being younger I’m more prepared to take risks. I’m keen to see the company grow. Maybe some of the more established operatives in the business are more cautious in their thinking. I’m passionate about TW Steel and I’m working non-stop to ensure its continued success.
TW: 2010 has seen the start of TW Steel’s partnership with the Renault F1 Team. Has that elevated the brand in the mindset of the consumer and is the relationship delivering as a global platform?
JC: The partnership with the Renault F1 Team has really taken TW Steel to the next level. It has demonstrated to our global partners our commitment to the brand and really shown them that we’re not afraid to make a huge commitment to establish ourselves as a global player. There is obviously a big job to do to reach out to the consumer through such a platform but people will see TW Steel as a serious watch brand off the back of our activation in Formula One with the Renault F1 Team.
TW: What are TW Steel’s short-term and long-term objectives?
JC: Short term it’s simply to make a maximum return on our investment in the association with the Renault F1 Team over the three seasons to which we’re committed. We’re also looking to establish a Hong Kong office, which is important to us due to the importance of the Asian region to our on-going growth. Equally, we have to ensure our global map is solid and that we’re represented in every key city in the world.
Looking at our long term objectives it’s ultimately to ensure that we really are the biggest brand in oversized watches in our particular price sector. We want people to automatically think of TW Steel when they think of oversized watches. Similarly, we have to continue to keep at the forefront of watch design with even stronger and more appealing models offered to the consumer.
TW: As you celebrate the company’s fifth anniversary this month, could you have imagined back in 2005 where the brand is today?
JC: No, definitely not! When I was selling the first four models from my record store back then, there was no way I could have predicted where we are today. If somebody had told me that I’d be sitting in a big office building in Beverwijk with more than fifty employees, I’d have likely said that person must have been dreaming.
I definitely like to think big, I do like to think ahead but I could never have imagined that TW Steel would become so big and in such a short period of time. This kind of experience really happens once in a lifetime. It’s a combination of many different things coming together and it’s been a fantastic opportunity and I look forward to the next chapter in TW Steel’s history.